Live video streaming service Twitch has been one of the (unwitting) beneficiaries of the global pandemic, as musicians scramble to find a way to compensate for the near-total shutdown of live music. In their recent “State of the Stream” report, StreamElements and Arsenal.gg claimed that Twitch’s Q2 2020 chart bars “look like skyscrapers compared to Q1’s single-floor dwellings”, with the company experiencing a 56% growth in hours watched from Q1 to Q2.
Perhaps more interesting for the music industry, though, was the news that Twitch’s “Music and Performing Arts” category was the 16th most viewed category on the platform, with a 268% increase in hours watched and a peak of 25m hours in May.
Twitch, of course, is still better known as a platform for live streaming games, with games like League of Legends (135m hours) Grand Theft Auto V (96m) and Fortnite (95m) several times bigger on their own than the entire “Music and performing arts” category. But Twitch has been making notable moves into music over the past two years, which appear to be paying dividends.
Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, which acquired Twitch in 2014, may have rather muddied Twitch’s reputation among the music industry when he said during a recent US antitrust hearing that he didn’t know about music licensing on the service. But away from those headlines Twitch has been building its music team, hiring former Spotify employee Tracy Chan as VP of music, as well as agreeing an exclusive deal with US rapper Logic. At the same time, it has become increasingly common to see musicians taking part in Twitch streams, from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda creating new music on the platform to dubstep DJ / producer Plastician hosting pub quizzes on his Twitch channel.
Chan will take part in a panel focused on Twitch at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit Global on Thursday, September 24 alongside Allyson Toy, Twitch’s music partnerships manager. Ahead of that, Music Ally sat down – virtually – with Chan and Toy to ask how musicians can make the most of Twitch, where it should sit in artists’ promotional cycles and what the company’s plans are for music.
Music Ally: Even without live music, musicians have so many demands on their time, with social media, promotion, recording etcetera. So why should they spend their precious hours on Twitch?
Tracy Chan: The really special thing about Twitch is that there is really no better service out there that helps you connect with fans. Sure, you have social media, Instagram and services like that. But Twitch is really purpose-built for artist and fan connection.
The funny thing about Twitch is, people think of it as just live streaming. But it is actually something quite different. The beauty of Twitch is that artists and fans are actually creating content together. I know that is a little vague. But the real special sauce of Twitch is that the audience in chat actually affects the outcome of what is happening in the stream. So it is everything from just talking with the artist and getting answers back. It could be things like doing song requests, or the participants in chat can actually trigger interaction on the screen: that could be on-screen overlays, it could be changing the lighting of the room. It is really that cocreation that creates a sticky community.
And that is between the artist and the fans. The fans are also interacting with each other and forming bonds and friendships. One of the really special things is, when artists are spending time with their audiences repeatedly, they get to know who their fans are by name. Which is something that really doesn’t happen on a lot of other platforms.
MA: Similarly, why should artists use Twitch, out of all the live streaming platforms out there?
TC: Similar answer: it is all about the community. And I think the special thing about our community is that there is a built-in expectation with the Twitch audience that they are here to support their favourite creators. And so monetisation works extremely well with the community. We have a number of monetisation products, like subscriptions to artists, where you can pay and show your support for an artist and get exclusive content like emotes – which are custom emojis created by the creators – that you can take to other streams as well, which is good marketing for the artists.
The artists get paid: there are Bits and Cheers so you can show your support through our virtual currency. And the community is so important. One of the most powerful commerce tools that we have is gift subscription, so if the four of us are in a stream, I can purchase subscriptions on behalf of the three of you – and the artist gets paid. Other services don’t have that community aspect that leads to direct monetisation.
MA: Obviously Twitch is well known for gaming – does that colour the type of artist that should use Twitch and the way in which they should use it?
TC: There is a built-in expectation that you should interact and that you really want to engage your audience. If your goal as an artist is just to do what you would normally do on a stage, that probably won’t work that well on Twitch. Interaction is an ingrained expectation of the audience – and the types of artists who do really, really well are not only great musicians but great hosts as well.
Allyson Toy: I would say it is definitely not necessary [for music creators to lean into the gaming side]. There is obviously a benefit to doing that if you are already a gamer. But if not, that is totally fine too.
Maybe in the past Twitch has been known primarily as a gaming company but at the end of the day, it really is a live stream platform. And so you can come here and do nothing but music, you can come here as a viewer and watch nothing but music, and have a lovely time doing just that. But I think the thing that is interesting – when we have polled some of our audiences and our viewers – is we have found that there is a lot of overlap in interests generally. So, fortunately, if you have come here to do just music or just gaming, for a lot of your viewers, your fans, part of your community, those two interests are not exclusive of one another.
TC: Fans are just craving interaction with the artists. There is music performance and gaming is a way to interact with fans. But we also see artists doing things like live streaming [themselves] cooking, or they are doing things like creating podcasts or doing Q & As.
MA: You get people streaming to thousands of people on Twitch – how can you keep that proximity with such a big audience?
AT: The platform has features built-in that help manage that audience. One thing that’s great about Twitch is it is a really great way to identify your biggest fans, your super fans, you know them by name. For example, if a fan of yours subscribes, when they talk in chat, they will have a little icon showing up next to their name that delineates that they are a subscriber. Which is important for anyone streaming because it allows them to quickly identify: ‘OK, who are my top engagers, who are the people who support me the most?’
Also in the chat, which is where all that audience interaction is really happening, there are capabilities like Slow Mode, which could make it so that people who are sending messages can’t send back-to-back messages really quickly. So it just slows down the tempo and the rhythm of the chatter there, which makes it easier to digest.
Similarly, you can make your chat follower-only or subscriber-only, so it is only your super fans who can participate in the chat at that moment if it gets really busy. That’s also another way to up-sell subscriptions.
TC: There are a number of tools that we have: polling tools, so if you want to get lots of feedback from a lot of people, you can do that. And we have a thriving extension ecosystem: third-party visual overlays which you can use to engage your community as well.
MA: Mike Shinoda put together an album on Twitch – what other examples would you highlight of musicians using Twitch in interesting ways?
TC: Mike Shinoda is pretty interesting because he has released two EPs: basically, he collaborated with his Twitch community to create those. You said that there are lots of pulls on your time, so why should you use Twitch? Artists are creating all the time – spending time creating, producing, writing, that sort of thing – and all those use cases are pretty great on Twitch as well. Kenny Beats is another big producer, he is actively creating content [on Twitch]. As is T-Pain. T-Pain is hilarious. And he is making beats on Twitch all day long.
AT: One very interesting artist for me is a creator called Sereda, who really is what we refer to as a Twitch Native. She didn’t really have a huge amount of fans or community or following and had never been on tour before streaming on Twitch. And this is really how she made it. She, similar to Shinoda, made a record all on stream. She allowed her fans to feedback on the things she was doing, she would run polls so that people could decide: ‘We want take one! Versus take two.’
She really leaned into the community and involved them in her process, such that when it came time for the album to be released, she was able to make it onto the Billboard Heatseekers chart, and get loads of pre-saves. Which I think for someone who’s never had playlisting, doesn’t have a traditional music manager, agent, publicist, and whatnot was a really interesting feat.
On a very practical level [sharing the process of creation] sort of makes it easier for artists to wrap their minds around streaming regularly. Rather than looking at it as: ‘Hey the camera is turning on, it’s time for me to be performative, larger than life, perfect hair and makeup,’ which is kind of the expectation when you do an on-camera interview, or something of that nature.
Conversely, on Twitch it is an opportunity to think of it more like: ‘Hey, how do I turn the camera on to the things that I am already doing that I want to bring my community along for?’ Music-making and beat making sessions are a great example of that.
MA: How important is it to do things regularly on Twitch? Do you need to be on there every day? Every week?
AT: It definitely varies, creator by creator. You really do benefit quite a lot by streaming regularly, especially because – compared to watching a video on demand – artists really have to treat it like appointment-based viewing, because it is live. So the more you can set a schedule and stick to it, the easier it is to promote, and the easier it is to drive retention – and get your audience, who are maybe used to interacting with you on other platforms, used to hanging out with you on Twitch. Another way to think about the community building and monetisation tools, [is that] a lot of it is geared around subscription. Quite simply, if you are only streaming once a month, it’s a harder sell to convince somebody to pay $5 for that, as opposed to going live quite regularly.
MA: If someone is new to Twitch, what tips would you give them to help them build an audience?
TC: The biggest tip that I would give is: come onto Twitch Music, find a creator who has a similar style to you and just get involved in the community.
I think that really helps the creators understand all Twitch has to offer, in terms of the community benefits and products, and it really starts to help the creators ask the right questions in terms of: how do I get subscriptions? What are these bot things?
People love music creators engaging in the community as viewers and chatters, both in the creator and viewer side. Again, interaction isn’t just you on camera, it is you participating in the community overall.
AT: For somebody who is just starting out anew, I would first encourage artists to think about what we had just spoken about before: live streaming is a different type of format than Instagram, than YouTube, than other platforms that you might have interacted with in the past. Get familiar with the medium. Recognise where it can be quite flexible and sometimes quite informal. But I also recommend coming with a bit of a plan. Maybe think about: ‘Today I am going to make some beats on stream, and am going to talk about XYZ.’ Having a really rough ‘run of show’ is helpful for an artist who is used to that kind of structure.
MA: Logic signed a deal with Twitch earlier this summer: can we expect any more deals of this type?
TC: In terms of deals, we are kind of in the mode right now where there is a lot of demand – obviously with tours in the real world being paused globally – of partners really figuring out: how do we come onto Twitch? How do we work with people like Allyson to get us set up for success? So that is really where our focus is: we really want to make sure that we can get our creators on board and comfortable and really leveraging the best of our platform.
MA: Obviously Twitch is owned by Amazon. Recently we saw Twitch integrated into the Amazon Music mobile app, there was the Amazon Music sessions (on Twitch): how many more tie-ups are we going to see between Amazon Music and Twitch?
TC: Really our goal for the latest product partnership that you mentioned was, there is nothing better for fans when you can both interact with your favourite artist and listen to their music in the same place. We think it is just that huge flywheel: if I get to interact with my artists, I am going to listen to them a lot more, I am going to save them to my playlist, I am going to share them with friends, and so we think that this is overall really awesome for artists.
We have got a ton of feedback from artists – it has only been a few days [since the tie-up with the app was announced] but we have had over 1,000 artist accounts sign up. And it is artists of all sizes, it’s big artists, emerging artists.
Tracy and Allison shared their best tips at SandBox Summit Global 2020. Watch the full panel here: