As jobs in the live music sector have taken an unprecedented hit in 2020-2021, musicians who make their living playing live shows have suddenly become highly motivated in the investigation of online alternative income streams. The idea of performing live from their living rooms as a substitute for their normal gigs has fully made its way around the block via social media and word-of-mouth.
Though live performance is not my sole income source, nor do I want it to be (writing music is my first love), I have been put out by the pandemic in a big way, and miss playing for people in a way I haven't felt in a long time.
Although I've by and large enjoyed the occasional livestream on my Twitch.tv channel over the last 4-5 years, I've continued to hit the same roadblocks and difficulties trying to make it a regular part of my schedule. It's very difficult to make anything a part of your regular schedule if you're trying to make ends meet and it doesn't generate any revenue. But I am under no illusion that I've given what it takes to be profitable on Twitch--I'm quite certain I don't have what it takes to be, and I'm okay with that.
So I want to unload a bit about what I've noticed about people aiming for a living wage by Twitch stream.
Virality on Twitch
One very notable aspect of livestreaming on any platform, is that monetization is extremely polarized. There are several million people broadcasting on Twitch, the largest livestreaming platform, on any given month, and a few 10,000 'partnered' channels (an indicator of consistent viewership and subscription fee accumulation). If you were to look at the distribution of revenue across all Twitch channels, I imagine it would look much like the general wealth distribution in the world right now, with the top 1% of earning channels accounting for over 99.9% of all site revenue.
As a statistical punt, I think it's agreeable to say that the top 100 streamers likely earn 5-10 million dollars a year on in-site subscriptions and live viewer donations, while the bottom 3 million make less than a dollar.
Though this may appear to be essentially a lottery of internet-made fame, a closer look will reveal the other factors that determine who tends to make it into the league of extraordinary wealthy home-bodies.
Several key factors are apparent with anyone who has achieved a high viewer-base (and therefore income stream) on Twitch, some of which are:
1) They have been streaming at high volume (30-40 hours/week) for months, or more often, years
2) They have a distinctive physical likeness, either by conventional attractiveness, a sense of quirk, or a novel costume concept
3) They have a high-energy personality (or persona), using huge contrasts of speech dynamics and emotions to capture and keep viewers' attention
4) A sense of opportunism around all things unexpected (big or small), drumming up a sense of community and group history by constantly referencing previous events (see "meme factory")
5) They may have a core competency (gaming skill, comedic skill, singing talent), but they may also have zero core competency, thus alluding to a skill of being successfully unskilled.
It's a video game platform.
You may have the feeling that I am a bit jaded about the above indicators of success on Twitch, and you may be right. But consider that Twitch's audience is a sharp demographic slice of males under the age of 50 (over 50% between 18-34), who almost certainly play lots of video games, and in my opinion, are often introverted and inclined to find a community that they feel included in, led by a stirring and charismatic personality. By design, anyone with a successful Twitch stream is, in fact, spending their days in front of a computer in their bedroom playing games. It's frankly scary to me how similar a multi-millionaire Twitch streamer can look to a video game addict with severe social anxiety (which, while absolutely should not be shamed, is undoubtedly a sad place to be in life).
Twitch is a nerd platform, and speaking as a nerd who loves playing games and game music, I think it's really important to get outside of your culture bubble as a music performer and diversify your outreach. Just like you're prone to meet a variety of 'types' in a jazz club during your breaks, you should be open to meeting people that don't have all the "in-knowledge" of your particular culture. Meeting people with different backgrounds is what makes us more empathetic and understanding to our fellow man, and it's just plain fun.
Music isn't like games, where if you don't know what a "Battle Royale" or an "MMORPG" is, you are squarely unfit to understand or contribute to the conversation. Music doesn't require any explanation, just ears and an open heart. However, a little explanation about music performance, practice, or music theory can be interesting to some people, especially those who want to learn to play an instrument for the first time, or develop their existing skills to reach the next level of performing or writing.
For now, Twitch.tv is my favorite platform for streaming music, because it has the wonderful quality of being completely removed from all professional connections (like an "anti-Facebook"), and its vast community of generally encouraging and kind viewers lets me be myself, quirks and all, without trying to "be successful" or play music that impresses other musicians. It's the closest thing to a bar-lounge on the internet there is so far, and until someone rightfully dominates Twitch on this corner of the market, I will be streaming there from time to time. I play the piano from my home studio and take a wide variety of requests from my viewers for free. It's a good show to put on in the background, too!
You do not need a Twitch account to watch a stream on the website, but if you want to join in the live conversation and make requests (always free!), you will need to create one.