On Avicii, Adele, and The Inevitability of Burnout

Monday evening's news that powerhouse Swedish dance music superstar Avicii was cancelling all forthcoming live events in order to address mounting hea

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Complex Original

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Monday evening's news that powerhouse Swedish dance music superstar Avicii was cancelling all forthcoming live events in order to address mounting health concerns is an unfortunate circumstance. As well, it offers a point where it's ideal to discuss the potential issues surrounding the future of EDM, a music industry depending upon live performances as a significant revenue source, and the importance of branding and full development of one's potential revenue streams. In comparing what happened to Avicii to what happened when pop superstar chanteuse Adele lost her voice in 2011, there's a number of lessons that can be learned.

While also pushing his career to incredible levels of self-admitted "unexpected" success in the past 18 months, Avicii has also given his body quite the pounding, a pounding that comes with a lesson for all who will likely follow in his "zero to hero"-type mainstream rise.

  • In an oft-discussed interview with GQ Magazine, Avicii describes his alcoholism that led to acute pancreatitis in 2013 as stemming from being "so nervous," and "[getting] into a habit [of drinking], because you rely on that encouragement and self-confidence you get from alcohol, and then you get dependent on it."

  • March 29 of this year found Avicii cancelling his appearance at the Ultra Music Festival due to gallbladder surgery, which, though not linked to drinking, was followed up by Avicii hitting the road for more scheduled dates.

  • And finally, there's yesterday's announcement that due to Avicii's aforementioned gallbladder surgery not healing correctly (and having his ballyhooed follow-up album forthcoming), he was cancelling all future dates.

It's arguable that the last meteoric musical success story of note was British singer Adele's unlikely rise from respected vocalist to "singer of every love song that everyone wants to hear (and buy)" put her in a similar situation to Avicii. Regarding Adele, and the necessity for the vocalist to undergo surgery in 2012 to remove polyps from her vocal cords, Beverly Hills otolaryngologist Dr. Shawn Nasseri stated a few things that when applied to more than singer's vocal cords makes sense regarding Avicii's EDM woes, too. "[Insofar as Adele], cigarettes and alcohol, late-night meals, heavy travel and a five-nights-on, one-night-off itinerary...you have a recipe for damage that could cancel the rest of a tour." As well, Nasseri says, "when [a vocalist is] successful, there's a lot more of everything -- press, promo, they have to tweet, Facebook and chat, they tour and record simultaneously, often late at night … People don't slow down because you've got to strike when the iron is hot. Before, the market would forgive a one- or two-month hiatus; now it's very different."

Spinning records and/or pushing buttons appears on the surface to be less difficult than singing. However, the fact that DJs are also almost seemingly required to be "producers-as-artists," too, while maintaining the above brutal schedules and also "striking while the iron is hot"–in what is arguably an even narrower window for mainstream and global success than a vocalist–makes Avicii's comparison to Adele more than fair.

Since her 2012 surgery, Adele has only had one live performance, a performance of James Bond film theme "Skyfall" at the 2013 Academy Awards. Since suffering pancreatitis and having his gallbladder removed, Avicii has toured non-stop and started working on his second album. Obviously, in both strategies being employed, exploring why this is the case and how situations like Avicii's can be avoided is important.

Obviously, in Adele's case, ceasing live performance–though at a potential loss of $10 million–was possible because she's sold 37 million albums and well over 70 million singles in an eight-year career, and is Britain's "richest young musician." Avicii? Well, dissimilar to Adele, he's five years into a career that didn't gradually grow into mega-acclaim (and profit) until roughly three years ago. Thus, whereas Adele is able to rest (her voice) on her laurels, Avicii is playing gig after gig, just trying to get to Adele's level. Avicii is a performer in EDM, which is globally popular at the nadir of overall album sales (Adele's album success is a music industry outlier), and at the height of corporate sponsorship for pop music. Thus, Avicii's touring schedule satiates not just his need to make-up the profit once earned by albums, but rather also the profit he earns from the likes of sponsorship by Ralph Lauren and others. Thus Avicii isn't just an artist; he's a branded revenue stream catalyst whose production of content must be constant in order to perpetuate his value and earning potential.

Avicii's health concerns highlight the true difficulties of maintaining "success" as an artist in the current era. In there being more "Aviciis" and fewer "Adeles," it may be time to think about the idea of promoting health over accruing wealth, and ensuring artists have longer careers over being short-term earners to keep a failing industry afloat.

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