Last week, Mercury Prize-winning indie artist Arlo Parks canceled a series of concerts, citing a desire to protect his mental health and telling fans “I’m broken.”
In a note shared with her TwitterParks explained: “I’ve been on the road intermittently for the past 18 months, filling every spare second in between and working myself to the bone. […] I now find myself in a very dark place, exhausted and dangerously low – it is painful to admit that my mental health has deteriorated to the point of debilitating, that I am not well, that I am a human being with limits.”
Parks is just one of many high-profile artists who have canceled large-scale tours for mental health reasons in recent months. Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence recently pulled out of the duo’s Australian tour, after admitting he was “struggling with the intensity, jet lag, lack of routine and being away from friends” .
A few days earlier, Sam Fender had announced the cancellation of a series of upcoming shows, citing a desire to deal with ongoing mental health issues: “I’ve been neglecting myself for over a year now and I don’t haven’t dealt with things that affected me deeply. It’s impossible to do this work on myself while I’m on the road, and it’s exhausting to feign happiness and well-being for the sake of others. business.” And that’s not all – several other artists, including Wet Leg, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, have put aside tour dates planned for this summer in an effort to protect their mental well-being.
Speaking to The Guardian, Joe Hastings of the charity Help Musicians noted that an increasing number of musicians are coming to their Music Minds Matter helpline with issues such as “stress, anxiety and performance anxiety” after a long period of inactivity. This suggests that, following the post-pandemic return to touring, many musicians have been unable to meet the heavy demands of a recovering industry, frantically making up for lost time.
The changing economics of the music industry is likely contributing to the difficulties that many musicians face. As streaming services continue to empty artists’ wallets with paltry royalty rates, many have been forced to rely on ticket sales as their main source of income. This puts increasing pressure on artists, forcing them to push themselves harder than before to book more dates and play more shows. For many, this leads to burnout, stress, and breakdown.
Grammy-winning artist Arooj Aftab expressed his concerns in a Twitter feed this month, describing how, even after a successful tour with “massive attendance”, she found herself in debt tens of thousands of dollars. “This is after artists have already lost so much income during Covid,” she wrote. “Now after covid flights, visa taxes and hotel prices are outrageous, promoters are scared to raise ticket prices, the public is still nervous about going out… what a fucking waste and we are expected to take the hit.”
While the rising tide of tour cancellations no doubt indicates a worrying decline in the well-being of artists, there is some hope that they feel able to speak out publicly on the subject, a possibility that might have been unthinkable ten years ago. “The way artists articulate their experiences was not as common five years ago,” Hastings told the Guardian, confirming that attitudes around the subject have progressed considerably. “It’s important to empower artists to make tough decisions, based on a good understanding of what they need to take care of themselves and have happy, healthy careers.”
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