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Why more and more musicians are cancelling tours for mental health reasons

arlo parks
Arlo Parks (Image credit: Getty Images)

Last week, Mercury Prize-winning indie artist Arlo Parks cancelled a series of concerts, citing a desire to protect her mental health and telling fans "I am broken."

In a note shared to her Twitter, Parks explained: "I've been on the road on and off for the last 18 months, filling every spare second in between and working myself to the bone [...] I find myself now in a very dark place, exhausted and dangerously low - it's painful to admit that my mental health has deteriorated to a debilitating place, that I'm not okay, that I'm a human being with limits."

Parks is just one of a growing number of high-profile artists that have cancelled large-scale tours for mental health reasons in recent months. Howard Lawrence of Disclosure recently pulled out of the duo's Australian tour, after admitting that he's "struggled with the intensity, jet lag, lack of routine and being away from friends." 

Days before, Sam Fender announced the cancellation of a string of forthcoming shows, citing a desire to deal with ongoing mental health issues: "I’ve neglected myself for over a year now and haven’t dealt with things that have deeply affected me. It’s impossible to do this work on myself while on the road, and it’s exhausting feigning happiness and wellness for the sake of business." 

That's not all - several more acts, including Wet Leg, Justin Bieber, and Shawn Mendes, have shelved planned tour dates this summer in an effort to protect their mental wellbeing.

Speaking with The Guardian, Joe Hastings of charity Help Musicians noted an increasing number of musicians approaching their Music Minds Matter support service with issues including "stress, anxiety and performance-related anxiety," following a lengthy period of inactivity over the pandemic.

This suggests that, as a result of the post-pandemic return to touring, many musicians have been unable to keep up with the weighty demands of an industry in recovery, frantically making up for lost time. 

The shifting economics of the music industry are a likely contributor to the difficulties many musicians are facing. As streaming services continue to empty artists' wallets with paltry royalty rates, many have been forced to rely on ticket sales as a primary source of income. 

This places an increasing amount of pressure on performers, compelling them to push themselves harder than before in booking more dates and playing more shows. For many, this leads to burnout, stress and breakdown. 

Grammy-winning artist Arooj Aftab voiced her concerns in a Twitter thread this month, describing how, even after a successful headline tour with "massive turnouts", she's found herself tens of thousands of dollars in debt. 

"This is after artists already lost so much income during Covid," she writes. "Now post covid flights fuel visas taxes and hotel prices are outrageous, promoters afraid to raise ticket prices, audiences still nervous to go out… what a fking mess and we are expected to take the hit."

While the rising tide of tour cancellations undoubtedly points to a worrying decline in artists' wellbeing, there's some hope in the fact that they feel able to speak out publicly on the subject, a possibility which may have been unthinkable a decade ago. 

"The way that artists are articulating their experiences wasn’t this common even five years ago," Hastings tells The Guardian, confirming that attitudes surrounding the subject have progressed significantly. "It's important to enable artists to make difficult decisions, on the basis of having a good understanding of what they need to take care of themselves and lead happy and healthy careers."

Visit Help Musicians' website to find out more and support their work. (opens in new tab)

Matt Mullen
Tech Features Editor

I'm the Tech Features Editor for MusicRadar, working on everything from artist interviews to tech tutorials. I've been writing about (and making) electronic music for over a decade, and when I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard or a synthesizer. 

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