‘This should not be normalized’: Why musicians are canceling tours to protect their mental health | Music

In early August, yard law They were at Stansted Airport, waiting for a flight to Sicily, when singer James Smith crashed into a wall. “I felt like I was in a cattle barn,” he says. “I’d hit my head against the table and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.'”

Since post-punk Leeds released their debut album, overloadIn January, their flight schedule was relentless. Critics’ acclaim and a Mercury nomination only amplified the pressure – bigger bookings kept coming, and the band was determined to play it all. “That weekend we were playing castle with The Flaming Lips,” Smith says. “It was a dream come true. You feel grateful and you say you can’t do that.”

His band and crew admitted that they all felt the same way. After consulting with their management and naming, they made the difficult decision to cancel a series of shows in Europe. “Rest time at home is what our bodies and brains need right now,” the band said in a statement.

Yard Acts aren’t alone in their sudden reversal, and their openness about why. A number of high-profile businesses have recently canceled tour dates, citing the need to take care of their mental health, from wet leg to me disclosureAnd the Justin BeiberAnd the Shawn MendesYoung gang and Ross.

this week, Arlo Parks became the latest, Canceling a series of American shows He explained how the constant grinding over the past 18 months had left her “exhausted and dangerously low”. Then her decision came Sam Fender ad it was Cancel the boxes to support his tour in the United States With Florence + the Machine for Burnout: “It seems totally hypocritical that I would defend a mental health discussion and write songs about it if I didn’t take time off to look after my mental health.”

I was hitting my head on the table saying, “I can’t do this anymore”…Leeds Yard Act.

Two factors are at play here: a growing desire among musicians to talk about mental health struggles and the demands of their profession, and an industry desperate to get back to life after a devastating pandemic, with fraught tours and promotional schedules. Even for the perceived wasted time.

Add to this the miserable income from the stream, the rising cost of living, and the pressure to work more and chase success more. “These opportunities are rare,” Smith says of the endless voyage momentum. “Nobody owes you those slots, and you can say no to them, but if you lose momentum, and then those opportunities don’t come again, that’s on you.”

Music minds matter (MMM), the music industry’s mental health service that works in partnership with Help Musicians, has noted a marked increase in footfall. “After a long period of relative inactivity, there has been an increasing number of people coming to us with stress, anxiety, and performance anxiety,” says Joe Hastings of Help Musicians. MMM is able to direct those in need to a range of services, including a 24/7 hotline, therapy, online resources, and peer support sessions.

While the increasing pressure on artists is troubling, Hastings says there is some solace in the fact that people are reaching out for help (some record companies also offer free therapy to their artists) and discussing their issues. “The way artists express their experiences wasn’t popular even five years ago,” he says.

Social media helped here. during summer, Aruj Aftab I spoke on Twitter about the escalating tensions from tours: rising prices for flights, fuel, visas, taxes, hotels, promoters’ fear of ticket price hikes, public reluctance to attend shows after Covid and in the cost of living crisis. She’s back from her latest tour with headlines and sold-out shows all to find herself still in debt by the tens of thousands. “I was told this is normal,” she wrote. “Why is this normal. This should not be normalized.”

Singer and songwriter Cassandra Jenkins She posted about a promoter who threatened to cut her pay a week before her show because she was only planning to play with musicians, not the bigger band she occasionally plays with. The promoter said only the larger range would guarantee the full price. I was forced to find local musicians who could improvise to fill the lineup and get the promised price. “It made me question my relationship to self-esteem,” she says. “Although I remember all the time they lose money too – promoters, festivals, venues.”

“It made me question my relationship to self-esteem”… Cassandra Jenkins performed at the End of the Road Festival.

It came on the heels of a brutal run in which Jenkins needed to fend for herself daily just to maintain some sense of well-being. At some point, she realized she had never taken a day off for two months, and with another two months of tours ahead, she canceled two shows. “Every day, I would ask: Am I burned out? Is that what exhaustion feels like? When you ask that question, you are already past that point.”

Jenkins likens the musicians who talk about this topic to the last issue of the athletes who talk about their weaknesses. “It’s really good to talk about this,” she says. “But it’s also hard to talk about, because it’s really hard for people to think of their favorite artists who are struggling to do what they do.”

Music journalist Ian Winwood is the author of CorpsesA book that offers fascinating and exciting insight into the unhealthy demands and abuses of the music industry. While he “seems willing to have a conversation about mental health,” he says, “the real test is whether she’s willing to challenge the idea of ​​’the show must go on’.”

Winwood recalls interviewing ailing Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, obviously not suitable for a media face, and hearing Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil recount the time he “collapsed at Toronto airport, lay on a stretcher, wires protruding who he is” but continued in playing two Coachella shows “because he trained himself to believe that the band’s career was based on two concerts.”

Of course, many musicians are far from playing Coachella, and it’s hard to believe that for them, canceling shows in the interest of their mental health would be received as warmly as Parks and Fender – or that they would have the safety nets and support networks to do so.

But the open discussion of this high-level business on industry challenges can lead to a negative impact. MMM’s Hastings notes that “it is important to enable artists to make challenging decisions based on a good understanding of what they need to take care of themselves and live happy and healthy careers.” Top performers talking about the mental health requirements of a tour may also educate promoters, venues, labels, directors, and audiences, leading to more sympathy for anyone struggling at any level.

At any point in your career, Jenkins says, this understanding shouldn’t be too difficult. When she canceled her dates in Spain, she was heartbroken by Spanish fans who posted tearful emojis below her Instagram ad. I have written to every one. “I’ve received so much love,” she says. “At the end of the day, people just want to show you they care. They see you as vulnerable.”

She hopes that a similar understanding of musicians’ vulnerabilities will extend to those involved in the touring infrastructure. She talks about the enormous influence of a Swiss host simply cooking her a warm meal and talking while they ate together. And because the Road End Festival is “the best festival I’ve ever done – because it’s so well organised, it allowed everyone to have a joie around.” These were “beautiful, intimate experiences and examples of how real-time care has led to better performance”.

wet leg
“It was not an easy decision at all”…Wait’s leg performance in Las Vegas. Photography: Daniel Deslover/Zuma PressWire/Rex/Shutterstock

In every cancellation statement and every interview for this piece, the musicians were quick to express their gratitude for having a music career, touring the world, playing shows, and meeting their fans. “I can’t express how grateful we are to have such an amazing fan base,” Fender wrote. “Thank you for always sticking with us.” Parks spoke of how grateful she was “to be where I am today” and promised, “I will do everything in my power to make up for this for you.”

Winwood says there is a fear among musicians that if they ever complain, audiences with “appropriate jobs” outside the music industry will think they are presumptuous. But he says it’s worth remembering one thing: “If an artist rises to a point where people know his name, they’re really strong, they’re really resilient. So if they tell you they’re broken, believe them.”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted at 116123. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, Lifeline Crisis Support is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 300 words for consideration for publication, email it to us at guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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