Hello, I hope y’all are doing well. A lot of news happened last week in regards to Spotify, but I’m going to hold off on chatting about that for the main newsletter. I’ll touch on it in the links section, but I want to digest what is happening with the company a bit more before I go too deep. As always if you have any comments, criticism, or questions send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. So let’s get into this week’s newsletter about Twitch.
Let’s talk Soulja Boy. Before we talk about Twitch, Amazon’s primarily video game oriented livestreaming service, I wanna talk about the Atlanta rapper who changed 21st century rap. A couple weeks back when talking about SoundCloud song scams, I mentioned how Soulja Boy would intentionally mistag songs so people would get his eventual hit “Crank That” instead of a Dem Franchize Boyz song. The admittedly pretty clever move was and one of many first early innovations done by the rapper. Much of his genius in this early day was via self-promotion and personal branded, but one space where he was oddly underrated was in video blogging. Sure he made music, dances, and proto-memes; but Soulja Boy at his core was a vlogger. He’s take videos of himself hanging out at home, videos performing at schools, and just ones goofing around with his friends in Bathing Ape clothing. These old videos sit on his YouTube channel and not only offer a peak into early mid-2000s digital life, but show much fans connected not only with his music, but with his person. His brand was truly strong.
A decade later that form of constantly recording, then presenting one’s life is default mode of rappers in 2018. Straight up vlogging still is still a time consuming task to shoot and edit, but opening up Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast one’s life is at this point second nature. That clicked with me three years ago when the rapper Future’s Snapchat account would flip between footage of his daughter, then footage of extended concert recording from the actual stage. Fan concert recordings aren’t new, but I never felt so close to an artist as I did watching those videos. A few months later when Periscope was introduced in 2015, I watched Rae Sremmurd record while in the middle of a concert and again I was watching concert footage that connect me more to an act short of being directly at the front of the stage.
A decade after Soulja Boy recorded ever minor moment of his life; smartphones allowed recording to be become so effortless that it was fairly clear how this market could potentially expand.
Now let’s get to Twitch. Last year, Kelefa Sanneh wrote a great profile of Coach K, the manager of Migos and Lil Yachty, and included a small anecdote between Coach K and Lil Yachty, the self-proclaimed “King of the Teens” that stuck in my head: "Yachty is deferential around Lee, but Lee, rather touchingly, finds ways to be deferential to Yachty, too. He wanted to know Yachty’s opinion of a rapper he was thinking about signing. And he was intrigued when Yachty said that he had been earning some extra income on Twitch, the site designed to allow users to stream themselves playing video games. 'I made fifteen hundred dollars last night,' Yachty said.
Lee didn’t seem too impressed—he tried to explain a venture related to Bitcoin that could, if it succeeded, bring in some real money. At which point, it was Yachty’s turn to be unimpressed.
'Someone donated me five dollars for farting,' he said. 'And two niggas paid me five hundred dollars to follow them, and I did it. Then I did fifty-dollar listening sessions: criticizing niggas’ songs on SoundCloud. I listened to songs all night! They said, ‘Why are we giving donations to someone who’s already rich?’ I said, ‘I don’t know!’'
That bolding is my emphasis, because it’s a great question.
Twitch was originally a livestreaming platform called JustinTV, whose early days of creation was covered in a great couple episodes of the podcast Startup. Eventually the creators realized that people didn’t actually want to record or watch someone doing nothing for 24 hours a day, but that people did love watching video game videos and eventually that became the sole focus of the platform.
However when it was still JustinTV in the early 2010s, I remember spending so many nights watching livestreams of the rap producer Lex Luger—there is a chance I’m misremembering the specific site so just putting that out there for transparency. Luger was riding high on the rap hits “Hard In the Paint” by Waka Flocka Flame and “B.M.F.” by Rick Ross that established the former’s career and cemented the latter’s. On the livestreams, the producer would just be smoking weed and playing unreleased beats, which for better or worse captured the exact vibe of being in a rap studio. Now only was I hearing music that was amazing and unreleased, but it made the producer feel even closer to his fanbase. Even though this was still the early days of Instagram and Twitter being adopted, Luger’s live videos provided me with better musical content and even more direct engagement.
Sorry, it took a minute, but let’s go back to Coach K and Yatchy. This isn’t a cryptocurrency newsletter, so I’ll leave that speculation aside, but instead let’s look at the disconnect between potential revenue streams. Twitch offer the ability to subscribe to a channel for a monthly fee if they’re a Twitch partner, which if you’re a Lil Yatchy level artist shouldn’t be a problem. Fans can simply tip you via their cheering system, so if Yatchy wanted a weekly show where he rated songs that his fans paid for him to listen to that’d be a kind of interesting idea. Coach K correctly probably sees that large check for a fart to be a one-off, but if a label—say an 88rising—built that kind of content creation into an artist’s week-to-week schedule that could be an interesting way to be a musician.
Music and Twitch have already collaborated before with electronic labels like Mau5trap, Dim Mak, Monstercat, OWSLA, because there is a very strong connection between gaming and electronic music. (Last year I wrote about Monstercat a music label who already effectively exists in digital first world.) Except where those are larger label pushes and not fully integrating the music label into the platform. That’s kind of what I was trying to say in my previous newsletter about YouTube. Part of the reason music struggles on YouTube is because not only does it not fit within the algorithmic preference of the service, but cause YouTube’s top music channels are 88Rising, Cole Bennett, Proximity, and Trap Nation. Companies that built their entire brands in that space then expanded outward from there. Everyone should put their content everywhere, but focusing and really understanding a single platform can unlock its own rewards. Simply doing a one off Twitch stream or infrequently uploading music videos is fine for traditional promotion, but isn’t going to build up meaningful audience in this space. Musicians and labels need to meet these places more than halfway rather than expect their name power to carry all the weight.
Twitch is interesting for that reason, because Twitch content can be spun into YouTube or Instagram content. It doesn’t need to be super super professional it’s simply just interacting with fans or could be performing music, it’s oddly a platform where there are more open for exploration, because though scale is important, there isn’t a need to get 100,000,000 views because the monetization is so poor. A hardcore dedicated fanbase can do much more to sustain an artist. Obviously feel free for any number of managers to poke a million holes in this, but if only goal is getting on faceless playlists to reach new fans, then why not prioritize talking directly to them and direct them to you merch store, Bandcamp page, etc.
I said this in my first newsletter of the year: "[Kickstarter and Twitch] effectively give money to artists for either simply living and for potentially producing more music. There is a way where it feels like the opposite of a streaming, where the thought is constant playing of a song will eventually pay out real money. The agreement with these models is that the money comes up front and now the fan/community will hope that the end product will justify their money spent. I’ll admit it isn’t a perfect comparison, but one it’s one that feels far more inline with the fragmentation of the internet than the monolithic gatekeeper approach."
I feel I’ve been drowning in bullish projections of music industry in a post-streaming world that I don’t want to forget that it’s a business model that doesn’t really provide a sustainable income for the middle and lower class of musical artists. I know that signing up to become a Twitch streamer might not be the desired outcome for an artist who just wants to put out music and tour, but it’s an option. And I guess some day this newsletter is just attempting to explore the options, because one music industry constant is that doubling down on a single platform eventually comes to bit it right in the ass. There’s a lot of tools in the post-internet box to choose, so let’s have a little fun rather than center all consumption on 50 song playlists.
Links 2 Read
Net-Shy Johnny’s Announces Deal for Online Channel With YouTube - Japan Times
This is a bit of a week of circle on some previous thoughts. I continue to want to learn more about the Japanese music industry, because I always feel like assuming that markets will following western trends to be as colonalisitc as it is foolish. Still as I say this I do wonder how the streaming competition will playout in a market that’s waited far longer to embrace this mode of music consumption.
YouTube Reportedly Snatches Spotify's Tuma Basa, the Curator of Your Favorite Playlist - Gizmodo
Without Tuma Basa, What Role Will Spotify's Flagship Playlists Play In Its Public Future? - Billboard
I know I know I know I probably should’ve written about Spotify going public, but my little post about Tuma Basa leaving for YouTube at least covers a few of the rumors I was hearing that initial 24 hours. Meanwhile I really enjoyed Cherie Hu’s look at what Tuma Basa departure might mean for the narrative of playlists that Spotify is attempting to sell. Basa was by far the most forward facing member of Spotify’s curation team, so leaving just before going public does raise a few eyebrows, but the bigger question sort of remains in what exactly are people buying from Spotify beyond curation when they hold so little original content.
New Study Explores Impact of User-Centric Music-Streaming Payouts - Music Ally
I found this really interesting to see actual research into the idea of changing the subscription model to be closer to paying artists more directly than the current method. But, what I really liked her was the speculation around the idea of weighing streams differently and attempting to figure out what it might look like if a 15 second stream didn’t mean as much as a full song stream. That particularly is a conversation I’ve been having more and would be so interested in seeing how the streaming space would exist in those kinds of circumstances.