Amazon’s live-video platform Twitch is best known for its gaming communities, from creators streaming their play-sessions live to professional esports tournaments. But musicians have also used Twitch.
One of them is British artist and producer Dan Le Sac, who joined Music Ally at our recent Sandbox Summit conference to share some of the lessons he learned from broadcasting on Twitch after launching his channel after his musical partnership with poet and rapper Scroobius Pip came to an end in 2014.
“A few friends were playing games, and I watched a bit of Twitch and thought: ‘I’ll try that! That looks like fun: talking to people and playing games,” he said. “And I did, and gradually it went from once or twice a week to a point where I was doing it full-time, mixing a bit of gaming content with a bit of music-production content. Twitch gave me a partnership, which meant I could monetise on there, and then I spent a couple of years basically with Twitch as my job.”
According to its most-recent stats, Twitch has 15 million daily users, with Dan noting that up to three million are watching at any one time, and that at its peak, around 65k channels are live. That means competition for viewers is intense, which is why doing Twitch well really is a commitment.
“The people who are making a living are the people who are focusing entirely on it. Literally it’s like a seven-hour-a-day, solid-block. Maybe you take a day off,” he said, noting that this is difficult for working musicians to commit to.
“From the music point of view, obviously, you can’t do that, and write records, and tour,” he said. “Yet there is still room for people to grow. At this point now, I’ve stepped back from it: this last six months I’ve decided to go down to one day a week. I still make $300 a month, which I know doesn’t sound a lot, but that’s me in my house playing video games.”
Dan shared some of what he learned about building an audience on Twitch, suggesting that compared to other platforms, its discovery algorithms are “a little bit behind… so the way you get seen on Twitch is collaboration with other people”. That can include appearing on podcast-style chat-shows, or simply by playing games with other creators. Once an audience is building, hanging on to them is the challenge.
“It’s consistency, that’s the thing. If you look at the last ten years [of music] EDM is a good example of releasing consistently-similar singles at consistent intervals to keep your audience interested,” he said. “On Twitch it’s the same, but on a daily level. Consistent content, consistently delivered to the same production value.”
Dan also said that the upper echelons of Twitch stars, in terms of viewers / subscribers to their channels, are well above the herd. “It’s really similar to the music industry, in that you only hear of the big ones. But it skews so much bigger: someone who’s big on Twitch is far, far bigger than the next guy down.”
However, there’s also rapid churn: Dan suggested that even the most famous former Twitch star, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, was “already on the down-slope” of his Twitch earnings by the time he was poached by Microsoft for its rival live-streaming service Mixer earlier this year. Other Twitch stars, meanwhile, have fallen from grace speedily. He compared this to the traditional pitfalls of pop fandom.
“When you were in love with Duran Duran, they didn’t have the opportunity to fuck that up until the next issue of Smash Hits. Now, we can change our audience’s opinions of us in a faster manner. It only takes one bad stream to wreck all that goodwill you’ve built,” he said. “Whereas like I say, Duran Duran, it was a whole month before they could ruin their career!”
This – besides his natural distrust of anything that felt like a “proper job” – was one reason Dan pulled back from his own full-time Twitch career. “I was becoming too at ease! So my natural sense of humour was coming through, and I realised: ‘I’m gonna get myself into trouble at some point, so I’ll cancel myself before I get cancelled!'” he laughed.
Twitch, like other social platforms, can feel like a treadmill for some creators, he warned. “That constant consistency is the way you hold that audience, the way you grow. But the problem is that you only need to take a week off to damage that,” he said. “It’s not like a traditional fandom. It’s a softer relationship. If you’re not there, they’ve got 60,000 channels they could choose to fall in love with.”
“Although half of those channels have zero viewers! There’s a culture that’s the Field of Dreams thing. ‘If I do it, they will come’. So you do have people who spend thousands of hours streaming to no one, because ‘someone’s gonna notice eventually!’ That’s amazing to me, but maybe that’s part of culture at large anyway. No one wants to work in McDonald’s, so why don’t I spend my time doing this, just in case I become a billionaire?”
The prospects of musicians squeezing seven hours a day of Twitch broadcasting into their schedules may be remote, but Dan still sees opportunities for artists to do interesting things on the platform.
“Because you can stream to Twitch from your phone, have those hour-before-a-gig things where you can just chat, maybe planning your setlist with the audience. Rather than doing a poll on Twitter, get people over [to Twitch] and walk them round the venue,” he said.
“That sort of thing, rather than making it about the end product. As a musician your end product is the music or the gig. Instead of making Twitch about that, make it about giving people an insight into that other bit. You can also bring people to a rehearsal, you can bring them to a soundcheck, without having to make a big fuss of it.”
Some artists have broadcasted from their studios, even when writing songs, although Dan has preferred to invite fans in to his process at a later stage.
“From an artist’s perspective, I don’t want to share! I don’t want to give the audience an insight into me trying to express my emotions. But at the same time, I don’t mind giving them an insight into doing a mixdown, or those more nuanced bits of production,” he said. “And they find that interesting. I sat there and did some mastering one day, and I had 300 people watching me!”
He ended his Sandbox Summit appearance by talking about how making money on Twitch works. Viewers can subscribe to individual channels for monthly fees ranging from $4.99 to $24.99, with streamers getting 50% of those payments – and 70% once they get more than 500 subscribers.
Meanwhile, Twitch also has its own currency, ‘bits’, which viewers can buy and then donate to channels that they like.
“The tips economy is crazy! There’s a person in France who has never talked to me, who sends me money every month. I mean, enough for a meal. A good meal. For two! And I’ve never talked to this person: I see them in the chat, but they’ve never typed ‘Hi Dan’,” he said.
“I did email them once after about four months of them sending me money saying ‘Are you sure?’ And they never even responded to that email. People out there are willing to directly support things, whether or not you’re giving them that parasocial relationship or anything like that.”
It’s occasionally suggested that music-streaming services like Spotify might have something to learn from the tips economies of platforms like Twitch. However, Dan wasn’t convinced that the model would transfer across neatly.
“The thing about the tipping on, say, Spotify – if you were to integrate that, Spotify don’t want you to highlight the fact that they’re not paying artists. They are paying 70%, yes, they’re paying… but they’re not. Come on. If we’re talking 300,000 streams for a solo artist who is unsigned to earn minimum wage? That’s a lot of streams!” he said.
“That’s the problem with the tipping thing. It highlights that. But the flipside of that, on Twitch, is that they want you to know that. Because by tipping someone, by giving them bits, by giving them subscriptions, maybe you’re going to give them the chance to do this as a job.”
“It’s almost the opposite: that awareness that that person might not be able to eat is a good thing on Twitch, whereas on Spotify that’s bad!”