Sound & Vision: Making Money and Playing Music Live on Twitch

Sound and Vision
03/31/2020
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.


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As the coronavirus has spread across the country, music venues have closed for the next few weeks and tours have been canceled. Some musicians are now gravitating toward streaming home performances online to connect with fans and generate revenue. Many are streaming live on Facebook or Instagram while giving away their Venmo account names. Yet, a program generally associated with streaming video games live is also a place to generate revenue for live music performances – Twitch. Karen Allen, author of the book, Twitch for Musicians: A Step-by-Step Guide to Producing a Livestream, Growing Audience, and Making Money as a Musician on Twitch, says that artists are using whatever platform is most convenient for them.

“I think artists are just trying whatever is at their fingertips. And they're having to learn at a breakneck pace,” Allen says. “So, some of them are just doing the easy thing and going on Instagram Live because that's where their fans are and it's easy to stream from there. Some are doing YouTube. Some are doing Facebook. Some are trying to replace their ticket revenue for their tours that they had to cancel with doing a series of shows on Stage It. Stage It is a livestream platform and where you can actually charge a ticket price. So, I think they're just trying everything. Twitch is definitely on the list. It's a little more complicated than the other platforms. And a lot of them don't have audience there. So they're just trying to figure it out.”

Twitch has a lot more bells and whistles, but it was built to be more interactive than a polished performance on YouTube. Twitch fans are also more engaged. Allen says the average Twitch streamer stays on the platform for an hour and a half on average.

“Livestreaming in general is really more of a lean-in experience than every other sort of social content medium. On Facebook, on Instagram, you're kind of scrolling through and taking little quick bites of content and the content is meant to be consumed to quick bites. It is the complete opposite on livestreaming. You're there to hang out. You're there to get to know the streamer. They’re there to get to know you. You're meant to chat with everybody else who's watching. What the streamers are doing on there is, they're playing a song and then they're checking out the chat and responding to comments and having a conversation. And then they're playing a song and then they're going in the chat and playing a song and going in the chat. So it's a whole different experience,” Allen says.

Allen says those viewers want to feel connected to the artist they are listening to.

“What I really love about Twitch is that it's a real community. It's not a livestream feature that's buried in a larger social media platform. It's actually a dedicated live stream community,” Allen says.

Community is something Twitch musician Marina V has seen. She was a touring musician for 20 years, but joined Twitch last year after becoming pregnant with her first child. Twitch has allowed her to continue performing while being able to be at home with her baby. Marina V says her Twitch fans even threw a baby shower for her during one of her livestreams.

“I would play a song and say, ‘OK, this gift is from Joe Smith from Washington State.' And I would unwrap the diaper bag,” she says.  

While Marina V isn’t making the same kind of money she did when she was touring, she says Twitch has been a good alternative to be able to perform as a new mom.

“Being on Twitch has changed my life for the better, because if it weren't for being able to tour from my living room, I don't know how I would proceed as a musician because performing live is such a big part of who I am and who I've been and connecting to my fans,” she says.

There are some artists on Twitch who’ve been able to quit their day jobs and rely on Twitch for their main source of income, including Megan Lenius.

She, like many serious Twitch musicians, performs a few times a week for three hours or more at a time.

“The most amount of money I made in a stream was probably $3000,” Lenius says. “I had somebody donate $2,500 for me to get a brand new guitar. I’ve funded all of my singles, a bunch of equipment, anything that I need, I fund that all through Twitch.”

Lenius is in her early 20s and grew up trying out many different streaming platforms like Youtube and Periscope. She says a lot of those platforms were already oversaturated when she arrived. She got into Twitch early and has been able to utilize the platform’s emphasis on monetization.  

“The cool thing about Twitch is that the attitude that they’ve built into the platform is that it's okay to give money. It's a cool thing to give money to support the streamer,” Lenius says. “People want to support you and they want to give you money. They want to donate. They want to see you surprised when they give you a $100 donation or when they gift 10 subscribers. It's built into the fabric of the platform and that's something that a lot of other places don't have.”

Twitch also comes with some fun ways for musicians to work for that money. Viewers can donate and request songs or even ask musicians to learn a song right on the spot. Because Twitch creates an environment where it’s taking viewers to a musicians bedroom or living room, it’s inherently less formal and can also be used as a time for musicians to simply work on their craft while generating some income from it. Lenius says she doesn’t want to be just a professional Twitch streamer and instead wants to use the platform to enhance her music career.

“I look at Twitch as my practice. I have my Twitch streams where if I have a new song, I can play that for all of my viewers, [my fans] can see the process of me rehearsing it and putting it together, and then they'll buy a ticket to an actual show and they'll see the finished product. I don't think it will ever replace touring . . . but it's something that's easily added on top of it,” Lenius says.

When it comes to livestreaming during the coronavirus, both Lenius and Marina V have seen an uptick in viewership during the past few weeks. If you’re a musician thinking of hopping on the livestream train during these times, here’s some advice from Karen Allen, author of Twitch for Musicians.

“The biggest advice I give to artists who want to stream is I really ask them, do you want to be a streamer or do you want to just do a few streams? If you want to just do a few streams, then I say, go where you already have audience. YouTube does have monetization, it’s very similar to Twitch, it’s just harder to qualify into. Facebook does have monetization. It's nowhere near as good as Twitch. Instagram has no monetization. But if you just want to connect with your fans and sort of get through this hump that we're in right now, go where you already have audience. You’ll have a lot more fun. If you want to stream over time, Twitch is really your best home for that,” Allen says.

Meanwhile, you can check out some other live streamed music events recommended by the KEXP team at our Virtual Events Calendar. You can also see all of KEXP’s live in-studio performances on our Youtube channel.

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