Steve Vai recently spoke with Meltdown from the Talkin' Rock radio show on 101 FM-WRIF in Michigan, and the always very insightful Vai touched on what state the music industry is in, especially touring. Vai released his latest LP, Inviolate in January of 2022—the virtuoso guitarist's 12th album since his 1984 debut Flex-Able.
"By the time the record was released, everything was starting to open up," Vai said. "But it was kind of iffy. It was really weird – you book a tour, and then COVID would spike, and you have to cancel the tour. And then, trying to get out on tour after COVID was incredibly difficult for musicians, because everything was kind of deranged.
"You couldn't get a bus," continued Vai. "All the buses sat for two years, and the bus drivers went to drive trucks. You couldn't get a bus driver, you couldn't get gear, you couldn't get help. And it was really difficult – that European tour I did [in 2022] was the most challenging tour I've ever done. But we got through it. And now things are getting oiled and are starting to come back together nicely."
Indeed, it is quite remarkable how Vai got through his trek of Europe. Last year, bands such as Anthrax, Lamb of God, and Primus all having to cancel European treks due to the rising costs of touring. In September of 2022, Anthrax bassist Frank Bello said, "Everything budgeting-wise is insane right now. [The canceled Europe tour] was three times the budget [as last time]… We would have gone into a bad deficit."
Steve Vai is intuitively aware of this dilemma, telling the listeners of Talkin' Rock, "Some bands actually canceled some of their European tours as recently as this past year, just because they couldn't make it work [financially]. It's remarkable. You know, before you do a tour, you get all the gigs, you get the guarantees, and you look at what your bottom line is. And it's changed, brother.
"Unfortunately… You're lucky if you break even," Vai concluded "I have a lot of friends that are canceling—big bands—because they just can't get the numbers to balance."
Vai isn't the only one feeling the heat in the touring world, either. Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares recently detailed just how expensive touring has become and why anyone without any touring experience can appreciate the costs involved, while Devin Townsend has straight up said he loves touring as a solo acoustic act because it's the only way he can afford it. And don't even get Lord Ahriman started on the whole merch cuts thing.