I lost money, gigs and community in lockdown. Streaming on Twitch brought it back | Music

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This year, Covid-19 shut down live music and with that, the majority of income for working musicians disappeared. For me, gigs are not only a source of income, but an invaluable means of introducing my music to new ears – particularly in the cut-throat world of Australian radio programming.

That was all taken away from me so quickly in March, and I needed to find a new way to get my work out there. I needed a grassroots way to grow my audience; I needed to stay in touch with my current fans; and I needed to supplement the income that I had lost.

Livestreaming performances and my songwriting process was never something I had considered before – but this year, musicians all over the world have been forced to innovate and improvise. For me, I kept my Instagram stories updated with new music snippets and snapshots of life in Melbourne lockdown; I performed at the first edition of streaming festival Isolaid; and finally, in May, I joined Twitch.

Owned by Amazon (which complicates how I feel about it), Twitch is a livestreaming platform through which people can broadcast themselves from their own home. It’s best known for video gaming: players set up a webcam to film themselves as they chat about what they’re playing, and share a screen to show their gameplay at the same time. But it also hosts a great number of diverse and thriving subcommunities as well. My most-watched content before I made my own account was particularly niche: drag queens playing the survivor horror video game Dead by Daylight. My favourite streamer? An ageless Scottish grandmother known only as the mononymous Granny, who broadcasts four times a week to thousands of viewers from a delightfully crafted scene of her bathtub.

The best thing about Twitch is how its builds community, while helping to support the streamer. Viewers can chat with their favourite streamer and other viewers in real time through the “chatbox”, and, most significantly, they can support the streamer using in-platform currency, channel subscriptions and PayPal donations as small as 1 cent.

Eilish Gilligan performs during lockdown

“Music”, as a category, is huge on Twitch. Big-name artists such as T-PAIN, mxmtoon and Hana use the platform on the regular for thousands of viewers – and it’s not just for sharing performances or finished music: some might share a screen to show their sessions in Ableton as they write a new song.

As a RuPaul’s Drag Race tragic, I was inspired by the weird, modern world of Twitch-drag: a whole new subgenre that is so delightfully artistic and strange you’d never see it on TV. It made me feel that my music and I – currently not getting much love at radio – could find a new home in this place too.

My first Twitch stream was on 4 May 2020. I performed a short acoustic set of covers and originals to about 20 viewers and felt buoyed by the warm reception. My content has shifted significantly since that first stream. At first, I was only streaming for about an hour at a time.

As I grew to understand the platform and its penchant for longform media, I began to expand my content. Original sets would be peppered with classroom-style deep dives into my songwriting process. I began a series of themed performances every Monday night (recently we did an “Evermore” celebration, where I covered songs from the new Taylor Swift album). I started streaming production sessions both for myself and for other artists (with their permission). During the Australian Bachelorette season, we’d discuss the latest episodes at length on the stream the day after they aired.

Eilish Gilligan’s Twitch set-up.
‘It feels a little strange to know that my largest shows to date – by far – were performed live from my bedroom’: Eilish Gilligan’s Twitch set-up.

As my audience grew, I found myself streaming for three hours’ straight, doing nothing but talking to my community. Just this week, I went live from my kitchen, baking cookies while chatting to my viewers about their Christmas plans.

In the depths of lockdown in Melbourne, some days the only thing that would get me dressed and out of bed would be my strict streaming schedule. I needed to be there, streaming to my community, four times a week – week in, week out – because they expected me to be there. In all truth, I probably needed that routine more than they did.

And streaming that much means I know my viewers – and they really know me. They knew when I started dating someone new; they knew when a P-plate driver ran into the back of my car; we are friends, and, more importantly, they are friends with each other. Often I will be playing a song and notice the chat box whizzing by as my viewers from all over the globe talk and joke among themselves.

Since my first stream, I have gained more than 1,200 followers and performed shows that made it to the site’s front page, resulting in over a thousand viewers per stream. It feels a little strange to know that my largest shows to date – by far – were performed live from my bedroom, but it brings me enormous pride too.

I haven’t yet reckoned with the fact that Twitch, a company I believe in, is owned by Amazon: a company that has a long history of complaints and allegations about the treatment of its workers. But the platform did offer an innovative solution to the problems I was presented with at the start of the year: I built a brand new global audience which feels more connected and engaged than ever before; I created a genuine community centred around my personality and my music (a community which many of us needed desperately in this isolated year); and, finally, I built a new income stream for myself – one that could keep me motivated to create in a time when I needed the distraction more than ever.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: I lost money, gigs and community in lockdown. Streaming on Twitch brought it back | Music

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