Jackie McLean of the indie band Roan Yellowthorn grants us an inside look at the making of an album from start to finish in her ‘Breaking The Record’ column.
‘Rediscovered’ – Roan Yellowthorn
COVID-19 has really scrambled up some things. I guess that’s the understatement of the century. Of course, it’s wreaked some level of devastation on every state and country. Some people have been more affected than others. Black people have suffered a disproportionately high mortality rate, likely because of the inherent racism of social institutions.
Some professions have been hit harder than others. While much of the work force has been able to transition to remote attendance, essential workers have not had that luxury. To some degree, every profession has been affected. In some cases, to the disillusion of the career, itself; or the reinvention of it.
Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1
For musicians, a lot has changed. For the most part, we can’t tour. We can’t play in public. Even if touring isn’t a moneymaker for many musicians, it’s still a huge part of the model that musicians follow. And it’s still a huge part of the machinery that kicks into action during a new album cycle.
A lot of the musicians I’m talking to lately are having trouble knowing what to do with themselves. For many of us, free time usually occupied by booking shows and traveling to play them is unspoken for. Now, touring is not an option. A lot of my friends in music are looking for alternative streams of income or even considering pivoting in their careers.
The sad truth is that, even when it becomes safe to play live music, a lot of the venues that indie musicians rely on will be shuttered. The lack of income is a death-knell to many venues, especially the smaller ones. It’s an uncertain landscape.
Maybe something new will come out of the devastation. Maybe, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, new life will be born. What will it look like?
One thing is sure – indie musicians will be hit the hardest. And this will be a tragic loss. Likely, some indie musicians will pivot away from music without the infrastructure necessary to have any kind of familiar career. Without the infrastructure necessary to have the hope of one.
But indie musicians are very adaptable and very driven. And people need music, I believe that. So some solution will have to emerge. Eventually.
Of course, I’m thinking about my own new album, which is coming out early next year. One of the reasons we pushed back the release was in hopes that we’d be able to tour in the summer of 2021. One thing about touring is that it builds. You have to play certain venues to be able to play bigger ones. You have to put in the hours to grow. We and so many other bands have put in the hours to climb up a ladder that is now broken. Even though it was initially looking like the summer of 2021 was going to be safe for touring, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.
So we, along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other indie musicians, are making a new game plan. We’re figuring out what it looks like to be non-touring musicians.
What this means, for sure, is that virtual connection will become more important. Some form of streaming, videos, and digital marketing will, for a while, fill the void left by touring. In-person connection, for the time being, will be jettisoned. And this is weird. Because there’s so much in music that is lost in translation when digitized. Musicians who rely on a live show will have to restructure. It’s a sea change. In some ways it’s a crushing blow. And, at the same time, it may be an opportunity for innovation and a new kind of growth.
What am I doing to adapt? I’m recording from my home studio. I’m continuing to write. I’m using social media more. I’m thinking about visual elements for my upcoming releases. I’m trying to put more of myself on the internet so that people can get a more complete picture of who I am and what my music is, since I can’t see people in person. And I’m reassessing live-streaming. I’ve discovered that over saturation is real and less is more right now. Partnered live-streams with venues or companies that have a built in audience are more effective and efficient for me than ones that I host from my living room or basement. I’m thinking about ways to do virtual shows where people can buy tickets for a personalized and special kind of experience that approximates a live show.
It’s an uncertain time in almost every way. Music has always been a balm for many. Now, even that has been thrown into uncertainty. But there’s one thing I’m sure of. And that is this: music will find a way. It’s too important not to. It’s too necessary. And I believe that individual musicians will find a way, too.
I know that I will. My new album is the best one I’ve made yet. And I’m going to do everything I can to adapt. It may mean going out of my comfort zone. It may mean being innovative. It may mean adjusting expectations and taking more of a long view. But I, like most other indie musicians and artists, have a vision. And, like many other entrepreneurial free spirits, I am willing and able to adapt in order to keep on moving forward. It’s the only option we have.
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📸 © Jackie McLean
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