Lorde Says Touring Has Become a "Demented Struggle to Break Even or Face Debt"

"For some, touring is completely out of the question, even if they were to sell the whole thing out! The math doesn't make sense."

Photo: Renaud Phillipe

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Nov 10, 2022

Getting to read a cute email update from our favourite weird elder stateswoman of pop is always a nice little treat — and in her latest newsletter, Lorde offers a little explainer about the "almost unprecedented level of difficulty" facing the live music industry.

"I don't know how much you've been following the live music industry conversation, but lemme hit you with a five minute explainer, 'cause I think it's interesting, and good to know about if you're going to concerts at the moment," she began.

Regardless of your level of engagement, it's almost unavoidable at this point: artists are cancelling concerts and tours left and right, citing economic challenges and health issues in equal measure. Even major international acts like Animal Collective and Rage Against the Machine haven't been spared, which has some predicting that smaller-scale tours will soon become a thing of the past.

"It's a storm of factors," Lorde wrote of the precarious situation. "Let's start with three years' worth of shows happening in one. Add global economic downturn, and then add the totally understandable wariness for concertgoers around health risks. On the logistical side there's things like immense crew shortages (here's an article from last week about this in New Zealand), extremely overbooked trucks and tour buses and venues, inflated flight and accommodation costs, ongoing general COVID costs, and truly. mindboggling. freight costs. To freight a stage set across the world can cost up to three times the pre-pandemic price right now."

The singer-songwriter admitted, "I don't know shit about money, but I know enough to understand that no industry has a profit margin that high. Ticket prices would have to increase to start accommodating even a little of this, but absolutely no one wants to charge their harried and extremely-compassionate-and-flexible audience any more fucking money. Nearly every tour has been besieged with cancellations and postponements and promises and letdowns, and audiences have shown such understanding and such faith, that between that and the post-COVID wariness about getting out there at all, scaring people away by charging the true cost ain't an option. All we want to do is play for you."

She continued, delving more into how the circumstances have effected an artist of her stature:

Profits being down across the board is fine for an artist like me. I'm lucky. But for pretty much every artist selling less tickets than I am, touring has become a demented struggle to break even or face debt. For some, touring is completely out of the question, even if they were to sell the whole thing out! The math doesn't make sense. Understandably, all of this takes a toll — on crews, on promoters, and on artists. You'll notice a ton of artists cancelling shows citing mental health concerns in the past year, and I really think the stress of this stuff is a factor — we're a collection of the world's most sensitive flowers who also spent the last two years inside, and maybe the task of creating a space where people's pain and grief and jubilation can be held night after night with a razor thin profit margin and dozens of people to pay is feeling like a teeny bit much.

Me personally? I'm doing pretty good. You guys have come to the shows in such mammoth numbers (we sold almost 20,000 tickets in London, like what the hell) and not having crippling stage fright hanging over me for the first time is such a fucking blessing that you could tell me I had to cycle from city to city and I'd still be loving it. But I'm not immune to the stress — just a month ago I was looking at a show that was pretty undersold and panicking, only for it to sell the remaining 2000 tickets in ten days. Wild stuff.

I wanted to put all of this in your minds to illustrate that nothing's simple when it comes to touring at the moment, and if your faves are confusing you with their erratic moves, some of this could be playing a part.

If there's any silver lining to the predicament of touring in the COVID era, it's that we've been seeing a lot more transparency from artists; Santigold and Wet Leg, among many others, have penned vulnerable statements about how unsustainable touring has become.

Recognizing her privilege, Lorde has likewise been making the most of a bad situation while touring her 2021 album Solar Power, becoming a self-proclaimed "D.C. meme" and closing out Rifflandia in Victoria, BC, this summer along the way.

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