This column originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Canadian Musician magazine
By Melissa Lamm
It’s a simple question I ask most musicians I meet: “Have you heard of Twitch?” The livestreaming platform is best known for its gaming-related content, but its lesser-known live music section has exploded since the pandemic hit last year. In a world where live shows are on hold, Twitch has become an unlikely host to established artists and producers like Steve Aoki, Kina Grannis, Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park), Timbaland, San Holo, and T-Pain. But it’s not just for the big guys; independent musicians are thriving on Twitch.
My name is Melissa Lamm and I’ve been livestreaming musical performances on Twitch for two years. Of all the social media platforms I use, it’s by far my favourite. Through Twitch, I’ve been able to successfully launch several musical releases, find and connect with listeners around the world, and – most shockingly – fund all of my musical projects. Last June, I released my debut EP, All the Words I Thought I’d Say, a collection of pop songs that was fully funded by my amazing online community. Everything – recording, mixing, mastering, producers fees, distribution, cover art photography, promotion, music videos – every part of this recording project was made possible by my Twitch community.
As a small, independent artist, it often feels like an uphill battle getting people to buy a ticket to live shows. In comparison, my livestreaming journey on Twitch has been quite simple. I perform music live on Twitch four times a week from the comfort of my home. I sit in front of a webcam with my keyboard and microphone, and take song requests from viewers who are watching live. In between songs, I talk to the chat, which is full of messages from people around the world watching live. Somehow through all of this, I managed to raise enough money to make an EP. So, how does that happen?
On Twitch, all livestreams are free to watch. Viewers can choose to support their favourite streamers by donating, tipping with “bits” (a digital currency), and subscribing to their channel. Donations go directly to a streamer’s PayPal account, while bits and subscriptions are paid out by Twitch monthly to affiliated and partnered channels. There are ways to incentivize subscriptions or donations. On my channel, I offer free original music downloads to subscribers, a priority song request from my song list, and a plethora of thank-yous. It’s not much, and honestly, I’ve found that most people donate or subscribe to me because they enjoy my channel and want to show their appreciation – not for the perks.
How such a system of goodwill could exist on the internet puzzled me at first. I was astounded by the number of people who would donate to me and I was grateful for their support. I was also slightly uncomfortable taking their money, and often felt like I was giving them so little in return. In hindsight, I realize that while viewers appreciate live, interactive musical content, they also find value in the sense of community that Twitch channels can bring.
Online communities are groups of people who usually come together through a shared interest. On Twitch, I’ve seen communities bond over music production, live drumming, acoustic sets, virtual EDM festivals, freestyle rap, live looping, and even improvised violin. I’ve watched virtual songwriter’s circles, artists performing with their pets on their laps, famous producers critiquing viewers’ demos, and a record-breaking 30-hour freestyle rap livestream. Twitch’s audiences are as diverse as the artists who use its platform. If you can bring high-quality and unique musical content to the platform, you may just find your own niche audience that slowly blossoms into a supportive online community.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but as my channel has grown, I’ve found an incredible online community. As I showcased my style of music and my authentic self on Twitch, I began to attract like-minded people who enjoyed my personality, shared my taste in music, and eventually championed my musical projects like their own. I know many of them by name, if they have a dog, even their favourite flavour of pie. They know that I have a phobia of most fruits, and an affinity for white t-shirts and tacos. I look for ways to include my community throughout my musical projects, whether by showing snippets of an upcoming track or giving lots of updates on the recording process. By the time my singles and EP were ready to be released last year, my community was genuinely excited to support them and helped me launch them successfully into the world. They pre-saved my songs on Spotify, added my music to their playlists, and shared my songs on their blogs and social media accounts. The day of the EP release, over 1,300 people tuned into my EP launch livestream to celebrate with me.
As a smaller artist, it can be hard to capture a high level of enthusiasm and support for your original music. Twitch offers an opportunity to reach people around the world, and for musicians, it’s a platform worth paying attention to.
Melissa Lamm is a Toronto-based pop musician, songwriter, and producer. Her music has been featured by Spotify’s Fresh Finds Pop and New Music Friday Canada playlists, as well as CBC Radio, Wave Music, Airwave Music, comeherefloyd, and Le Futurewave. You can watch her livestreams at Twitch.tv/melissalammmusic, where her channel has earned over 190,000 views, and find more from her at MelissaLamm.com.