Let’s Add ‘Burnout’ to the List of Artist Problems…

If you ask Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino about the aging artist problem, he’ll point you to some very popular younger artists. You see, it’s all a cycle: Lady Gaga will be packing stadiums in thirty years, just like Madonna and the Rolling Stones today. But right now, as a twenty-something, Lady Gaga is recovering from hip surgery, a decidedly seventy-something ailment that led to the cancelation of more than 20 dates.

Just an aberration? Well, it’s also happening to Adele, who underwent vocal cord surgery at 23 and was forced to cancel dates on both sides of the Atlantic. Other signs of burnout aren’t hard to spot: Rihanna, for example, has shown signs of frying while canceling dates, including a late-2011 flame-out in Malmo, Sweden. Even Justin Bieber, the youngest of the lot, is barfing on stage and passing out from exhaustion.

Athletes also get injured. Then again, athletes retire at 32. Which makes these troubling developments for artists that theoretically have fifty years of lucrative, stadium-packing tours ahead of them. At this rate, there’s a distinct possibility that they won’t make it there.

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So what’s going on?  Meat Loaf thinks this is what the modern music industry is doing to artists.  Instead of embarking on grand tours to support lucrative album releases, the collapse of the recording is forcing artists to be ‘always on,’ constantly gigging, recording, and making appearances.

Add the intense demands of digital, and artists are frying themselves.  “That’s the problem with a new artist,” Meat Loaf recently observed. “They don’t sell records like they used to.”

“So they’re forced to do a lot more than just tour.  TV shows, interviews, all that talking and doing extra stuff between shows, that’s when you rupture your vocal cords. Overwork, over-tired and then bam.”

Toya Glasgow, an R&B-focused blogger, pointed to an appallingly overworked Rihanna.  Back in 2011, the non-stop, never-take-a-break rush included a full tour and upcoming album.  “Rihanna has been overworking herself like mad.  She’s been touring excessively with not much of a gap in between so-called breaks.  When she does get a day or two off, she uses it in the studio to finish recording her upcoming new album.”

“It just seems like she’s working herself into the ground just to meet the deadline… Is all this excessive workload causing Rihanna to become ill?”

And remember, these are the wealthiest, best-supported, most mainstream artists around.  So what about everyone else?  For developing and less-lucrative acts, touring now seems closer to a survival exercise than a good time.   And part of the reason is that selling recordings (ie, pressed CDs) on tour is no longer a viable option.  “That kept a tour going,” one source with experience in the van told us, while pointing to newfound pressure on less-lucrative items like specialty vinyl, hats, and yes, t-shirts.

Which means, some will break through, score festival slots or develop a following, but most will face extremely difficult financial choices and punishing schedules.  Because if Lady Gaga has a cloudy future ahead of her, so does every developing, struggling artist.

Written while listening to Mat Zo & Arty.

45 Responses

  1. steveh

    An interesting and disturbing angle.

    Of course this adds another dimension to the downside of the ridiculous “give away your records so you can do lots of gigs and sell t shirts” excuse for a “business model” that is touted by so many fools around here.

        • GGG

          Except that his lesson is a highly simplified, myopic view of a business model.

          But let’s spare DMN from another argument about this…haha.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            That’s just your opinion. You don’t have support from music creators and record labels… sorry.

          • Visitor

            The second one just said if you hit reply, the text should appear under the text box, so even if you can’t read it, you can hit reply and then read it.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            I’m bored. Let’s start another argument on the same topic.

            Are you currently telling potential fans to download music free of charge from your two most successful clients? If not, is it because it is not necessary, as I have been saying all along? If yes, what are the names of the bands and where can I download a free copy? (I am not interested in giving any public critique on their music… I’m not about trying to ruin the promising career of a bunch of good guys… I just want to see if you are actually giving away their music.) If you say it was a temporary giveaway, it does not refute my assertion that a paying fan would still spread the word about your bands. There is no evidence to suggest a non-paying fan would be more effective in word of mouth marketing. A non-paying fan marketing free copies more likely results in another free download while a paying fan marketing a paid copy more likely results in another sale. It is myopic to believe otherwise.

            You said you have a less promising client giving away music on Bandcamp. How many downloads so far and can we verify your claims? My guess is it’s not that many or else you would close that leakage.

            Why would a label owner, such as SteveH, allow you to give away his records to everyone and anyone, if your clients had contracts with his label? He has expertise in bringing music with a price tag to the end market, there is no need to give it away.

            Why would Visitor, a songwriter, write songs for your bands if ever they needed a different perspective on an album but want to give away the songs she wrote?

          • GGG

            To start out, I’m not going to give out any artist names. Call me hypocritical all you want, but it’s just not worth it to me at this point.

            We don’t actively tell anyone to steal our music, except certain cases of actively giving it away for free, whether it’s streaming it, giving a song, an album, whatever. Not consumers at least. We do have links to free files for promo purposes, industry people, etc. We just don’t shoot off angry emails to piratebay if/when we find it there. But it’s not as though we’re encouraging people to torrent the record.

            The rest of the first paragraph is correct. That was never my intended assertion, though. The idea is not that a paying fan is better or worse than a non-paying fan, it’s that there’s more people! There are three types of consumers to me; People that would buy a record whether they can steal it or not (either due to super fandom or not knowing how to torrent), people that would buy a record if it’s only available to buy but who would steal it if available to steal (thus losing a sale, ie the problem of piracy), but also people who would not consume the music at all unless it was available to steal (so not really a lost sale since there was never a potential sale to begin with, and that whole digital vs CD argument we’ve had. I don’t lose any inventory when someone steals a download). Again, I/we do not actively seek out those third people, we just acknolwedge they exist.

            The small band isn’t less promising, they are just new and small. It’s been downloaded 94 times, and I could screenshot Bandcamp stats but I’m not going to. It’s not a lot because they are one of 4 billion bands in the NYC area. Not exactly a cakewalk to get a bunch of jaded hipsters to care about your stuff. But you gotta start somewhere.

            SteveH shouldn’t let a band give their records away to everyone and anyone. But this is also why I chose artist management over trying to start a record label. Not going to start a company who’s main source of income has tanked in recent years. Only one of my artists is signed, to a smaller label that advances nominal, but very helpful amounts of money. They hate torrenting more than I do, obviously, but there’s not really much they can do once something is up on piratebay. But no, it’s not in their interest to give away music.

            From a songwriter’s perspective, it’s a bit strange. Another artist I work with does a lot of pop production/co-writing. But a lot of that is basically free up front and relies on royalty points. He makes significantly more money from publishing those songs than song sales. So in one sense, my mentality can be shared, but in another sense, it won’t be.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            Thanks for your candour. No need for artists names.

            I take it you are saying the artist with the last name Blake, signed to a label with outside songwriters contributing to his latest album, does not need to give away music to anyone and everyone except when engaging fans in a contest to win his music. In this case, I agree with you but is not part of my own marketing plan nonetheless.

          • GGG

            Well, James Blake is a perfect example of where it gets hairy. From the songwriting standpoint, yes, you are correct in that it sucks for writers/co-writers and the record label to be even apathetic about piracy. But from James’ perspective, I think he knows that his career is going to be on the road. His type of music, no matter how much studio time it takes to perfect, is part of a live, party culture. And he’s a perfect example of why I feel like I do toward piracy. If you polled a James Blake concert, I am willing to bet a larger portion stole his stuff than bought it. So piracy essentially fueled his career.

            Another example, to finally spit out a name, is Twin Shadow. I know someone in that camp, and for being a festival staple and able to sell out some sizable rooms (not huge, but decent), their record sales are pretty low. The indie community supports the hell out their bands in the blogosphere/live setting, but fail when it comes to buying records across the board. That is the trade off that sucks, but I think is necessary to understand. And if you’re not or don’t want to be a touring act, you’re sort of just fucked unless you get lucky.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            I would say the reason he is popular and successful is the promotion efforts of his record label to sell records.

          • GGG

            Well, I would not. His first 3 EPs, which were released on small labels, were lauded by Pitchfork, and they gave his debut LP Best New Music. That started the usual avalanche of blogs following suit. He was/is a super hyped indie darling. If you want to say that’s the labels PR dept, go ahead, but Pitchfork is the one that actually gave the review. Getting BNM on Pitchfork is more positive marketing than a record label can do with a million bucks.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            I still say it is the record label. Who sent the EPs to Pitchfork for review? I say it is the small record label through their promotion efforts.

            Similarly, I’ll believe piracy played a driving role in his success if he was initially discovered by pirating methods, meaning it would take someone to search two random proper names, download the file, play it and then tell a friend.

            He is not successful because of pirating. The small record label had faith in James Blake to pull some strings to have his EPs reviewed by Pitchfork which gave him the initial push and recognition that led to his popularity.

            You need to stop supporting piracy as a means of popularity and success. The reality is, it is hardly that.

          • GGG

            The record label didn’t force Pitchfork to review anything of his, let alone give it positive and even BNM ratings. I don’t know how hard you pitched your record, but based on your lack of reviews, I think you know exactly how difficult pitching no-name artists is to outlets with actual reach. Pitchfork is very tied into the underground and gets thousands and submissions every day. They cultivate their image how they want. Look at the band Cults. Pitchfork reviewed and praised ONE SONG, Cults had no online presence other that that song and maybe one other, they blew up in the indie world, and about a year later they were signed to a major label. That was ALL Pitchfork’s hype machine running wild. No label at all. It happens.

            I don’t understand how you see these things as mutually exclusive. Piracy is only a measurable success tool if they were pirated out of the blue? That’s just stupid. Yes, labels believed in him. Yes, they would push for him. Yes, Pitchfork gave the review. But obviously after all that people still wanted to steal the music. Indie music fans love their bands to death, but like I said before, suck at buying records. And because they stole it, maybe many realized they loved it, so maybe they tell friends (who may or may not buy it), maybe go to shows, maybe buy merch, etc. And this rise in popularity, be it percieved or real, then makes his music more valuable for publishing. And now his new record will probably sell more than his last one because he has more “true” fans now, and he can get higher guarantees on the road, etc. And you focus on growing each time. Everything his label does is definitely part of the puzzle but it only goes so far in convincing people HOW to consume the music. The fact their promotion efforts are paired unwillingly with piracy is absolutely a large factor of his success.

            Piracy is a pretty good indicator of popularity, actually, because it IS an indicator of popularity. PirateBay’s music Top 100 is almost completely Top 40 artists, for example. It mirrors mainstream popularity. Success is relative, however, so I won’t say piracy=success.

          • steveh

            Hi Mr triple G

            >”but there’s not really much they can do once something is up on piratebay”

            Oh really? They should try this:-

            It’s not that cheap – but I can assure you it definitely works…

          • GGG

            Serious question here, if you have used this: What do they actually take down, the links in searches or the actual links/files on the torrent sites? Because if all they do is remove links from google, et al, I don’t really see that as helping anything. I highly doubt any substantial number of pirates google their pirating. They have their sites and know where to look.

            However, if this service has somehow found a way to legitimately remove all P2P/torrent files from decentralized servers and all the people seeding (which I don’t think is possible), then they should be given the Nobel Peace Prize and millions of dollars by the RIAA because they just solved the problem.

            Like if I started downloading the Adele’s album right now, and they used this service, would the actual torrent get disrupted and disappear, or just the search engine cache of it?

          • GGG

            I did read it. Was on the site for ten minutes. They CLAIM they can get files off p2p networks, I say that’s nearly impossible. And their enforcement is issueing takedown notices…lol, like PirateBay gives a shit about takedown notices. Search engines may comply, pirate sites do not care.

            If this actually works, ie actually removes torrented files from the internet, why has the RIAA not paid these people enormous sums of money to completely disrupt torrent sites? I could see this being effective in some degrees, ie those shitty sites that get like 15 hits a year and have a download link on it, but the actual torrents are for all intents and purposes immune to this.

          • steveh

            If you think they are a fraud why don’t you email them and query their modus operandi?

          • GGG

            Because I don’t think they’re a fraud, per se. I think they can probably get hundreds of search engine results taken down. And to some people that equals success. I just question their ability to actually scrub files from a p2p or torrent network since the whole idea is that they are constantly changing origins and destinations.

            I also just don’t care, since I will never use this service. But again, if I’m wrong and it’s possible to wipe torrents clean, I would totally be for all labels implementing this.

          • Visitor

            If p2p sites like the old Limewire, who were operating as an apparent legit company with a known headquarters location, refused to comply with DMCA take notices by blocking IP addresses from transferring specific files, they would be quickly shut down by the courts.

            The Pirate Bay is a different situation, they are criminals on the run from any DMCA take down orders. If you send them a DMCA take down at least you have a legitimate civil claim when they are brought to justice.

            Don’t know the pirating industry, but it appears MUSO is effective in almost all situations. Your doubts appear unfounded.

          • GGG

            Right, I’m not saying people don’t have a legitimate claim against Pirate Bay or any site. I’m saying they will see your email/letter and laugh because, as you said, they are criminals on the run and give absolutely no shits. They even just switched countries of “operation” again for that exact purpose.

            If my doubts are unfounded then why the hell have the RIAA and other worldwide lobbying groups across all media not funded the fuck out of this business? If it works then why not use it? This is why I doubt it’s effectiveness past scrubbing links from google.

            Your optimism of this company’s ability seems completely based on what you wish to be true. And for the record, I will gladly eat my hat if we find out this thing works, and I will also support it. Which, working to me would be not only getting files out of torrent/p2p networks, but keeping them out. If they can somehow remove a file, then it goes right back online when a new seeder signs on, it doesn’t count as working. They’re not going to do that much work at those prices. Maybe if you add a couple 0s on there…

          • Yves Villeneuve

            Unfortunately, I am unable to respond. Can’t see GGG’s posts even after it was pulled to the left. I just realized everyone can see it but my device cannot. I am using Safari for iPad.

          • GGG

            If you just hit reply, it will all be visible in the response screen, under the text box.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            Can’t see your message, GGG. When it gets too much to the right avoid the reply link that would put your post further to the right. Choose a reply link further to the left, I will find your message.

  2. Random reader.

    Interesting topic and it would be even more interesting, when looking at the burnout effect on independent artists, to look not just at physical burnout from having to do so much more, but also look at how independent artists who are forced to wear a bazillion hats and churn out constant small-chunk content are effected in their ability to do their actual job: create compelling music. Also, one thing that seems to rarely be discussed these days in terms of indie artists having to do more with less is the fact that the sonic quality of releases for a lot of artists is declining as more and more of them take on the role of tracking engineers themselves and even making the unfortunate choice to attempt to mix and master their own material, all due to the fact that they can’t afford to spend much on making the records.

  3. Visitor

    There’s only one cure:

    Stop Mainstream Piracy!

    Yes, it takes time and creativity but it will cure almost any other disease in the music industry.

    Any other approach is a waste of time.

  4. Visitor

    True indeed…I myself operate as an independent music company thus wearing many if not all hats and often feel overwelhmed with all of the work to be done, but I believe that is what seperates the “passionate and dedicated” from the “wanna be rich and famous”. Any and all business leaders experience times of fatigue and uncertainty but it is the person with the intrapersonal skills to self motivate and manage their time effectively who will excell. Also, being independent gives one much more freedom to work on his/her own terms!


    Andre’ Morgan


    • Visitor

      There is nothing worse than a site that automatically plays music when you go to it.

  5. David@indigoboom

    one name… Keith Richards. Nuff said. Wimps 🙂

    • McG

      On it’s face, Keith seems like an easy example, but let’s face it, he’s an old-guard rock star, who has SUBSTANTIAL breaks between his world tours, doesn’t have to sell records, doesn’t have to do excessive press or personal appearances, and, most importantly, has been touring at the very highest levels for decades: 5-star hotels, his own bus, private jets or at least first class air travel, handlers, catering, the whole nine. He doesn’t have to lift a finger, just roll out of his Heavenly Bed, strum a few G chords and be done with it. Everything else is just handled. Not so for the up and coming artist, or the modern, high-level artist trying to establish a legacy. This burn-out phenomenon is totally legit, and it’s having a real and tangible effect on today’s artists, who are most certainly not wimps. (well, maybe Bieber)

      • GGG

        Modern day Keith is a bad example, but the Stones and plenty of other classic rocks acts toured excessively back in the day. And plenty of modern acts tour excessively now.

        Also, modern high-level artists don’t have to lift a finger either. Half of them don’t even have to strum a chord…haha. Though, there is something to be said about the performance aspect of shows, which probably takes a much heavier toll on the body than simply rocking out.

      • David@indigoboom

        The comparison is pretty relevant. Just because he is not working that hard now… Old school rockstars like Keith immersed themselves in the image completely.They actually gave something of them selves (and partied hard while doing it) Any modern “media phenomenon” is a total dweeb in comparison.

        Name one artist who has changed your attitude towards life lately….

        • D

          While i don’t feel too much either way about her, Lady Gaga has inspired a lot of people.

          oh, and she has played more shows in 4 years than the Stones did in the entire 70s. True, the Stones played longer tours in the 90s, but the albums were shit.

          • Yves Villeneuve

            Despite your statement saying otherwise, you sound like a member of Cult Gaga’s fandom.

          • D

            Don’t even own a Gaga CD, nor have I downloaded any songs. All i did was add up the shows listed on wikipedia. Gaga has performed over 350 shows since 2009, more than the Stones did from 1972-1982

          • Yves Villeneuve

            Let’s put it to the test.

            It seems Gaga was almost wholly inspired by Madonna. I’m sure ABBA and KISS also fit somewhere in there too as her inspirations.

          • D

            You expect me to disagree?

            Gaga is quite derivative. However, she’s a clear example of how artists are burning themselves out physically from overtouring, which directly coincides with the rise of piracy.

            The Stones were seen as road warriors in the 70s, but they toured every two years instead of nonstop for four. That also gave them time to craft their albums well.

            the point is not that “Gaga is better than the Stones” – far from it. The point is that the “give the music for free, make money on tour” is hard on both the artists’ health and the quality of the music.

          • GGG

            I still think she’s sort of a bad example. Her shows are insane spectacles and she dances around in 8 inch heels. Of course that will catch up to her. Her shows are significantly more demanding on her than the overwhelming majority of artists’ shows.

            There are plenty of examples of bands touring all the time without burning out to the point of crashing. As I said last post, there are whole genres of music that revolve around this; jam, bluegrass, alt country, jazz, blues, etc. For a mainstream example, Dave Matthews Band has been touring often multiple times a year for over two decades now, and they were around during the CD buying boom. Obviously you could point to a band like Phish, whose drug use caught up to them a couple times, so I’m not trying to say it doesn’t happen.

          • D

            Forget the physical burnout… consider what constantly being on the road does to relationships and mental health.

            Not to mention that, yes, music suffers. Not everyone likes jam bands. The main point is that artists should not be forced into the touring model if it doesn’t fit them simply because some “fans” don’t value their music enough to pay for it.

            As well, the touring business plan does very little for songwriters, producers, and creators from other media such as literature or movi

          • GGG

            Right, but that’s nothing new…been happening since touring was invented. Sitting at a desk all day can erode mental health, too.

            As for not everyone liking jambands, no kidding, doesn’t take away from the fact that there are many genres of music where people have been road warriors for years. Along with the ones I listed, how about EDM? Those guys exist because of studio technology, yet still spend a ton of time on the road. Because they understand their genre is a live culture. And music, for the time being at least, is a live culture. If anyone has tried to be a musician in the last decade and didn’t understand this, it’s just being naive. And if you create music that doesn’t translate live, or you just don’t want to enter into that model, the risk was yours. Touring has always been part of being a musician, whether you’re the Grateful Dead or Britney Spears.

            And the point of even arguing is simply that I think this is a silly non-issue for the piracy debate and a lame scare tactic, especially given the examples.

          • D

            In the span of years, Lady Gaga has played more shows than the Stones did in the entire 70s.

            true, Stones tours in the 90s were 100+ gigs, but arguably the albums have suffered in that time period.

  6. SelfHelp

    “Because if Lady Gaga has a cloudy future ahead of her, so does every developing, struggling artist.”

    Is there a self help group or artists who read these articles?

  7. GGG

    I think it’s definitely a problem people need to watch out for. I think a lot can be avoided if you curb your vices, too, though (which yes, I understand is easier said than done). By all accounts, Rihanna, for example, stays up all night partying and drinking and smoking and going to strip clubs, etc. I’m totally cool with all those things, but you also have to treat your job like a job, too. If you don’t understand living the “good” life can come back and bite you in the ass, you’re just being way too naive.

    Now, obviously, the press schedule alone of a pop star is probably enough to burn people out pretty quickly, and some people just get unlucky.

    But there’s plenty of artists who toured/tour constantly that rarely, if ever cancel dates. Or if they do, or maybe even break up, it’s often because of drug/alcohol abuse. Look at anyone from the bluegrass and/or jam and/or revival and/or blues scenes. Those guys tour just as much if not more than pop stars, minus the endorsments.