On Tuesday evening, musician Marc Rebillet streamed live on Twitch, looping several layers of piano while singing over the top to create a jazzy lo-fi track in no time. Any other day, this would have been a common performance for Rebillet, who is known for recording his solo sets. But Rebillet shouldn't be home on Tuesday evening. It was supposed to occur in Australia. Like many other musicians, his tour was suddenly canceled due to the new corona virus pandemic. Now he is stuck at home and hopes that Twitch can mitigate the financial damage through canceled shows. "I'm just trying to survive," he says, "and Twitch has the highest earning potential for live streams."
Rebillet is part of a rapidly growing community of musicians migrating to digital platforms to perform "quarane streams" during the pandemic. Many bigger artists like Charli XCX, John Legend and Diplo opt for Instagram, but indie artists mostly flock to Twitch.
There is a probable reason: While Instagram is an easy way to reach lots of people, Twitch offers a wealth of ways to make money. "It's financially more focused," says musician and longtime Twitch streamer Ducky. “It supports different levels of subscriptions and donations. People can subscribe to a channel for free with their Amazon Prime account. Fans can tip in small amounts with things like cheers. Other platforms usually only pay out advertising revenue or the number of games. "
Ducky produces a track on Twitch.
In other words, Twitch's flexible moneymaking capabilities are becoming an emergency solution for many indie acts, as the novel corona virus has essentially frozen the music industry in recent weeks. Conferences, festivals, and nightclubs are closed, and the federal government has recommended that public gatherings not exceed 10 people. This has effectively cut off an important source of income for artists: shows. "There are a lot of artists who won't be fine without touring in the next six months, and who are just trying to get into Twitch Streaming to make an income to survive," says Ducky.
Although Rebillet makes money from YouTube, merchandise, PayPal donations, and streaming royalties, he says most of his money comes from selling hard tickets. This is the norm for most American musicians. A study by the Music Industry Research Association found that the average US musician has three sources of income, with the lion's share coming mainly from live performances. If months of shows are canceled unexpectedly, it can be financially devastating for indie musicians. "The more you can show that you can sell hard tickets, the more you are worth when you are booked," says Rebillet. "I am looking for a way to continue living the way I want to live."
Jim Tomaszewski (aka JSTJR) is another artist who turned to Twitch to add to his income. Although he set up a YouTube channel last year, he recently turned his attention to Twitch as it is financially more immediate. "I lived month after month in the last year, but I didn't have to worry," says Tomaszewski. “I had a busy schedule and was booked months in advance. It was kind of new to me. Now I have no more shows, who knows how long. Many people realize that all artists are rich, but they don't really understand it. It looks pretty bleak. "
JSTJR live streaming of a DJ set on Twitch.
Artists like Rebillet, Tomaszewski, Ducky and others have created weekly Twitch live stream schedules without knowing when the live shows will resume. Mondays produces Ducky tracks. Tomaszewski DJs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Indie artist Mija, who was in the middle of the tour when all of her remaining shows were canceled, is now painting on Tuesdays and playing acoustic sets on Wednesdays. The electronic artist Sam Vogel (aka Jauz) holds a “demo roulette” on Mondays, where he works on Ableton projects submitted by fans. Vogel was planning to stream his radio show "Bite This" live from a studio on Fridays, but he doesn't know "whether (traveling there) is more possible because literally everything changes every day."
In a hurry to get set up on Twitch, some musicians learn the rules of the platform the hard way. Rebillet was banned 24 hours during his first live stream for taking off his shirt and "singing about sex". (His account has now been restored.) On the other hand, fans seem excited to see how artists join Twitch and fill chats excitedly. "Are you going to stream more now?" someone asks about Mija's first Twitch stream. "Maybe," she says in response. "Now that my tour has been canceled, I don't have much to do but make shit. I make music here, I just have to find out how to set it up."
At the moment, the musicians say that Twitch will get back only a fraction of the lost money, but they believe it will be more sustainable. And many say they intend to maintain their Twitch presence when things return to normal. "Could I live from what I'm doing on Twitch? Absolutely not," says Vogel. "But I think live streaming will be a crucial part of a musician or entertainer. It will inevitably happen in the future."
Established Twitch musicians like Ducky watch the influx with cautious optimism. Great artists can bring swaths of new music fans onto the platform, but they can also disrupt the communities that many like her, Grimecraft, matphilly, and others have worked on to grow Twitch. In a recent tweet, Ducky expressed concern about the wave of great artists making the leap. "Twitch has etiquette," says Ducky. "There is a culture on Twitch that you should get familiar with, especially if you come to the platform with an integrated audience."
What if great artists who built platforms and (probably) saved more revenue from higher fees, etc., switched to streaming anyway and immediately generated more income than smaller artists who tried to do the same would use these platforms, to build the growth of the community
– DUCKY (@QUACKHOUSE), March 16, 2020
For those new to the platform, there are two things Twitch musicians can do to support each other, according to Ducky. The first is raids, where streamers send their viewers to another person's live channel at the end of their stream. The second option is to set up auto hosting lists that allow a channel to send another user's stream when it is not live. "When you think of an artist going on tour … what are they doing?" says Ducky. "You book support acts. That's how I see raiding and auto hosting. It is an opportunity to build up other musicians. "
From a fan's point of view, it is exciting to get in touch with your favorite artists in a new and intimate way in the chaos of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel corona virus. And while many musicians are now working with Twitch to find an economic way forward in uncertain times, it also fulfills another need: to establish a social and emotional connection to the outside world. "I always felt like I was one with my fan base, rather than someone they should admire," says Tomaszewski. "We are all there together."