Breaking the Record with Roan Yellowthorn, Part 38: Full Time Musician

Breaking The Record 2020
Breaking The Record 2020
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.

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:: stream/purchase Rediscovered here ::
‘Rediscovered’ – Roan Yellowthorn

Something weird is happening these days in music. Weirder than usual. Because of the pandemic, live shows aren’t happening. This means that a large part of what full time musicians usually do is now impossible. People are moving over, to some degree, to virtual performance but, still, for many doesn’t replace performing live in terms of exposure, payment, and growth.

Just jumping into the Breaking The Record series documenting the making of our album from start to finish? Read part 1 here!

There are many reasons to tour and play, live. One is that it helps a musician gain exposure. Many times, venues have some sort of guaranteed audience. This can be very few or quite a lot. That’s part of the traditional grind – a lot is left up to chance. Luck. There may be 2 people in the audience. There may be 200. In either case, you have an opportunity to make a genuine connection with someone or many someones. When you make a connection that’s live, it’s often a strong connection – stronger, I’d argue, that one made virtually.

Along with potential exposure, there’s the question of payment. As with turnout, payment can be a variable thing. Sometimes, a show pays well. This is more true, in my experience, of ticketed venues and festivals. Sometimes a show pays nothing or nearly nothing. But there is a potential to make money playing shows and, at least, to break even on touring expenses. Add in the exposure and you may come out on top, for the most part.

Growth dovetails with both of these benefits to touring. Growth. The classic, tried and true, traditional music ladder is all about growth. And it depends quite a lot on live performances.

Here’s how the ladder goes – you play a show somewhere. You use that history to get a slightly better show at a better, more prestigious location, you use that show to get a better venue, and onward and upward until you have enough history to apply for festivals and support slots for other artists with larger followings.


Often, it doesn’t matter that much how many people attend. It does, to some degree, but, theoretically, by returning to certain areas again and again, you can build a base in strategic locations, thus facilitating growth.

This avenue for growth is cut off now. And the traditional ladder stands, dusty, in the corner leaned against a wall strung with cobwebs. Without that ladder, people are figuring out other things.

Many musicians I know who once considered themselves to be full time musicians, are not taking on that identifying phrase any longer. They can’t.

I know many people who are taking on other jobs to have other sources of income and, just as significantly, something else to do. Time, once spent booking, traveling to, and playing shows now has to be reallocated. I know many who spent the first few months live streaming frequently but most have backed off from that. The energetic output is high, the energetic return is low. It’s surprisingly draining. The amount of money required is none. That’s a huge difference from the outlay required for live shows – lodging, food, transportation – but the money you make from streaming is negligible, as well.

There isn’t really an answer right now – something to fill the void that live shows have left in their absence. But something will fill it – whether it’s a specialized platform or more and more musicians experimenting with other things. I’ve been taking other pursuits on lately along with music. It’s a weird feeling. It makes you rethink your whole identity. But that’s a topic for another time.

Roan Yellowthorn
Roan Yellowthorn

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:: stream/purchase my new cover album here: Rediscovered ::

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Rediscovered - Roan Yellowthorn

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:: Breaking the Record ::

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