If you haven’t watched the video clip of the moment a Metallica livestream on Twitch had its audio abruptly switched to a pastoral folk tune, we thoroughly recommend it, not least for the viewer in the chat who immediately commented “That’s better”. It’s certainly ridiculous, but so is the situation that led to the performance, on Twitch’s own ‘Twitch Gaming’ channel no less, being overdubbed.
Yes, licensing again. Metallica were (remotely) playing the opening ceremony of BlizzConline, the press launch-slash-fan convention of games publisher Blizzard Entertainment. And while the performance was aired unaltered on Blizzard’s own Twitch and YouTube channels, its simulcast on Twitch’s flagship gaming channel was the one that, in a move we’re calling The Reverse Dylan, abruptly went from electric to folk.
With none of the relevant parties commenting so far, early reports are suggesting that Blizzard cleared the rights for the performance for its own channels, but that this did not extend to Twitch’s channel. It’s unclear at this point whether the decision to switch the audio feed was human or algorithmic. If the latter, we applaud the sentience that was surely involved in picking the music to pipe in.
But really, nobody should be applauding: this shouldn’t happen. Twitch is already a powerful service for a bunch of musicians, and it could be a really valuable online performance platform for many more – both during this pandemic and once physical tours return. But that can only happen with appropriate (for both sides) licensing deals.
Twitch *has* been striking agreements with collecting societies, and it’s important to remember that there are two forms of music on the service that have different licensing requirements: live performances on one hand, and recorded music used in the background of non-music streams and archived on-demand clips (e.g. gaming).
There has been progress, then, but when Metallica are being given a sudden xylo/accordion remix, you know there’s still a long way to go. We still think there are ample incentives for both sides to get there, given the value that Twitch can offer for music, and music for Twitch.
In the meantime, if we were Metallica, we’d be recording a new version of ‘Enter Sandman’ in the style of Twitch’s overdub today; sticking a clip up on TikTok tomorrow; and releasing it to DSPs on Wednesday. There’s a silver lining to every embarrassing online-licensing cloud…