SAN FRANCISCO (Hypebot) – Twitch, a service which allows users to live stream their video game playing to fans, remains a largely untapped source of potential revenue for gamer musicians, with the exception of some early adopters like Deadmau5 and Imagine Dragons.
Guest Post by Cortney Harding on Medium
A few years ago, I was hanging out with the head of an indie label and complaining that one of his artists blew off an interview we had scheduled. The artist told me that he was “too busy” and would need to speak another time. When he heard this, the label head laughed hysterically; the artist in question spent most of the time he wasn’t playing live or recording parked on his tour bus couch, smoking pot and playing video games. “Too busy” probably meant that he was about to beat a level and didn’t want to take a break.
I bring this up not to bust this artist’s balls, but to point out a potential revenue stream that many artists are missing out on — Twitch. The site, which launched in 2011 as a spin-off of Justin.tv and was acquired by Amazon a year ago for almost a billion dollars, allows users to play games live while others watch, and the viewers and gamers to interact. Top Twitch users can bring in significant money, and even small time gamers can take donations and make a little extra beer money. Beyond the money, one user told me, it’s a way to meet people and make friends who share similar interests.
So far, very few artists have done anything with Twitch. A few, like Deadmau5 and Imagine Dragons, are powers users, and the site has also partnered with Boiler Room and Ultra to livestream events and hosts a library of pre-cleared tracks for gamers to use. But given the number of artists who at least know how to navigate an Xbox, it’s a small drop in the bucket.
Twitch can certainly be intimidating to even talented gamers — the site hosts some of the best players in the world, and watching them burn through challenging games can be intimidating. But once you get below the top tier, there are plenty of hobbyist gamers who just like to hang out, and if they happen to lose a level, it’s not the end of the world. On a few of the channels I observed, the game was almost secondary, a jumping off point for chatter about other topics. And that’s exactly why artists should be embracing Twitch — because it’s another platform for them to communicate with fans and to monetize that communication.
Most artist/fan communication confers no tangible financial results, although it is often tied to concert attendance and merch sales. But Twitch, like YouTube, allows partners to share in ad revenues from streams, and if you’re going to spend time on the tour bus playing Grand Theft Auto, you might as well make a few extra bucks doing it. Not to mention the fact that you humanize yourself to fans as you either burn through a game or flail around. Even if all you do is drive around in GTA and listen to the fake NPR station, your fans will probably enjoy being part of your day.
Twitch’s live streaming concert deals also offer monetization options for artists, and that’s only the beginning. Imagine how many fans would chip in a little money to watch a band in the studio working on a new album. They could pay a minimum to see the sessions and pay extra for privileges like voting on which version of a guitar track sounds better, or what the first single should be. As the legions of reality TV shows prove, people actually like watching other, more famous people do nothing but sit around and shoot the breeze. Even the least glamorous parts of being in a band (hanging out in the studio, spending hours on a tour bus) seem exciting and sexy to someone chained to a desk all day.
What Twitch can deliver, more than any other platform, is the ability to feel like you’re just hanging out with someone. In-person meet and greets are always limited by capacity and often feel rushed and forced — get in, say hi, and keep moving down the line. Even though you’re the only person in front of the artist at a given moment, the chance for any real connection is very low. With a platform like Twitch, even if you’re one of thousands of fans watching the band play Call of Duty, or work in the studio, or just goof off and eat dinner, you feel like you’re getting to know them on a deep level.
Young fans have shown time and time again that they want stars to be imperfect and relatable. The most popular YouTubers often joke about how messy and goofy and quirky they are, to the point where it almost seems like shtick for some of them. But they inspire fierce loyalty for those same reasons, because fans see them as friends and not media creations passed down from on high to be consumed. In an ever crowded music space, where choices are virtually endless, showing fans that you’re just like them is a valuable move. I’m not suggesting that artists need to give up all privacy and live like reality stars, unless that’s what they want. But it does make sense to take what is essentially wasted time and try to use it to the best of their advantage, and maybe even make a little money off it. The only thing I would caution against is spending time as a user on Twitch — not because it isn’t interesting, but because your day will disappear before you know it.