On February 28, Public Health announced that performance halls in Quebec were authorized to open to their maximum capacity. The rest of America and Europe had preceded the gesture finally allowing musicians to hit the road again, after two years of pandemic. But today, the world of musical entertainment is no longer jubilant: the risks of contracting COVID-19 on the road, the exhaustion of the troops and theinflation galloping are forcing many artists to postpone or even cancel tours, and more and more musicians are questioning the concert tour business model.
On October 10, Animal Collective, veteran of the American indie rock scene whose reputation knows no borders, explained on Instagram his decision to give up on the European part of his tour which, the previous month, had led him at the Rouyn-Noranda Emerging Music Festival and in Montreal.
“In preparing for this tour, we faced an economic reality that just doesn’t work and isn’t sustainable. From inflation to currency devaluation to inflated shipping and freight charges […]we just couldn’t make a budget […] which would not be in deficit, even if everything went as well as possible. The financial losses of this tour, specifies the group, were also dug by the concerts previously canceled due to the COVID-19, each of the members having contracted it.
As British rapper Little Simz first did last April (she recently won the prestigious Mercury Record Prize), Metronomy, Spektor, Animal Collective and Santigold have in turn released their calculators in recent weeks to make tough decisions. “After being inactive for the past two years, many of us [se sont] rushed when it was deemed safe to perform,” Santigold wrote to his fans. “We then faced inflation […]and several venues were no longer available due to a flooded market of artists trying to book dates in the same cities. […] All of this on top of the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional resources we have expended to get through the past few years. Some of us just can’t make a living out of gigs.
“It’s very demotivating,” admits Michaël Bardier, who heads the agency booking and management Heavy Trip, one of the few in Montreal to work with international artists, like Arooj Aftab, who played at the Montreal International Jazz Festival last July after winning the first Grammy award of his career. “We agree, she had an incredible year. Her guarantees are good, she enjoys the interest of the media, she doesn’t miss much, but she doesn’t earn money on tour”, explains Mr. Bardier. The musician even claims on Twitter having lost “tens of thousands of dollars” at the end of the year. “It has become so expensive to go on tour! confides the agent.
Marie-Ève Carrier, from the management team of Half Moon Run, did the math: the production costs of a tour are at least 12% more expensive, almost 5 percentage points more than the rate inflation in Canada. The Montreal trio should have been on a European tour right now, postponed to next year for medical reasons unrelated to COVID-19 or mental health — another factor that has prompted several musicians in recent months to cancel sometimes a series of concerts (Wet Leg, Arlo Parks), sometimes complete tours (Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes).
“I’m not surprised to learn that several artists are canceling their tours,” said Marie-Ève Carrier, pointing out the unfavorable economic context. “These concert dates that we have postponed to next year had been planned for the end of 2021; between the budget I had set up at that time and the one I should have planned today, everything has changed, everything has increased”, the price of meals, hotel rooms, even booking a bus from tour causes headaches.
“To be honest, I had my worst moments on tour this summer,” says the Half Moon Run agent. All aspects of planning a tour got complicated, I’ve never seen that in ten years in the business. “This is without taking into account the shortage of labor with stage technicians:” When the show restarted, everyone was asked. These people no longer have free time and, when they do, they are quickly asked to replace someone. And it’s a medium that stands, the technicians will accept all the contracts because it has to happen, which brings a shortness of breath. »
At a time when revenues from recorded music (album sales, streaming) are no longer enough to sustain the musicians, the tour became the lifeline of a career. Inflation and overwork make it uncertain today. “Afterwards, Quebec artists are lucky because they have access to grants,” says experienced tour operator Louis Carrière, founder of the Preste agency. “Producers also have access to all kinds of subsidies, but it’s still a strange economy. »
“The problem is not so much that a tour generates less income than before, it’s that our expenses are skyrocketing,” adds Michaël Bardier. We make less profit, but I consider myself lucky to be in Canada, where we have access to funding,” from SODEC for cultural businesses, from the Canada Council for the Arts for artists. “I know that I can go on for a while without breaking the bank, but if I was in the United States right now, I would have gone out of business by now. »
In an open letter published on Mondayon the monthly website Toronto Life, musician and author Roland “Rollie” Pemberton (Cadence Weapon) warned the public about the crisis in the world of musical entertainment. To him the last word: “What can music fans do to help? If you see your favorite artist coming to town, buy a pre-sale ticket early. This sends a signal to promoters, venues and turners that the show should happen. Buy music directly from artists, at shows, from their Bandcamp pages or websites. Most importantly, don’t get upset or take it personally, as some do, when an artist cancels a show. There are probably a lot more questions behind their decision than you think. »
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Crisis in the middle of the musical show