I wrote most of this post before realizing I hadn’t actually explained what twitch is or how it works, and for a lot of people not into gaming or being online, it may be something new. Twitch is a live streaming platform, predominantly known for people streaming video games. More recently the site has also become a popular place for art, political content and IRL streams (which involve the streamer recording from out in the world). The easiest platform to compare twitch to is YouTube, which boasts around 2 billion users, Twitch though only has a modest 140 million average monthly users. Unlike YouTube, which has started to move into live streaming, twitch’s format is reversed, with live streaming being at the forefront, and recorded content being accessible but not the focus.
For people unfamiliar with Twitch it can be daunting to interact with, and maybe hard to see the appeal, it certainly took me a long to understand how I could enjoy the platform as a viewer, let alone a creator. My partner sometimes watches me streams and talks to me from the chat, she has never used twitch before but is super supportive, she’s likened the experience to having a nice low effort podcast on in the background, but one you can interact with in real time. This is really the selling point of twitch, and how people monetize the platform, with each streamer basically being in control of their own schedule and programing. ‘Chatters’ as the audience is commonly referred to on twitch have a direct line to the streamer, and a whole array of options to donate and support them. For some bigger streamers a donation or subscription becomes necessary to interact with the streamer and have your message stand out, though this meta is always evolving as attitudes change, along with the interface of the site itself.
Each streamers goal really is to create a community under themselves, to support their stream, and create an ecosystem of viewers who will create content and reinforce the stream. This is just a basic rundown of how twitch works though, I think to explain deeper we would have to get into the dynamics of para-social relationships, but that’s not really what this post is about. If you want to learn more about these relationships there is a great video by Shannon Strucci that gives a brief introduction to the concept.
At the start of the first lockdown, I decided to give becoming a twitch streamer a go. It was a chaotic time, and a lot of the conversation surrounding lockdown revolved around how best to use this time, and how you could maximize your output with a totally free schedule. I started streaming painting, I had a plan all laid out, I would paint on stream and turn the streams into time lapse videos, creating a pipeline of content I could use to help grow my online presence. It didn’t last long, I remember doing about 5 streams before my mental health rapidly started to deteriorate from the stress of lockdown.
Something was missing in my first foray into twitch and live streaming. While I had thought a lot about how I would use the content and what I would create on stream, I hadn’t thought about how this process could be enjoyable to me. Something that has become clear to me over this last few months of streaming, is that unless the process is fun for me, there isn’t any point in doing it.
My most recent dip into the twitch ecosystem has been more relaxed, and with less pressure for it to be productive. There are a lot of nice thing’s I would like to get out of streaming, but I’m worried speaking them out loud might scare them away. At the moment with each stream I’m reacting to how the last one felt for me. An example, in my first few streams, if there was no one in the chat, I got really bored, so I put music on! But then parts of my audio kept getting muted due to copyright, so then instead I put on some interesting YouTube videos, not only for me, but for everyone watching. Now I’m getting overwhelmed by media when I stream, so things are changing again. The key point is that the streams serve my enjoyment first, the audience second, and my practice third.
Here is a VOD (video on demand) from one of my latest wax streams, I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing, from memory it was pretty dull, but it gives an idea of the kind of content I’ve been streaming. It’s not obvious from a cursory glace, but the whole process of creating publicly changes how I make work. This happens in two ways, the first being from the instant feedback of people in chat, usually I will make something and post it, trying to gauge how people are feeling about what I’m making. The second is that I’m constantly consuming content on stream, this wouldn’t usually affect my work, as like most millennials I surround myself with media and screens at all times, but when streaming I feel the need to interact with the media so much more for the audiences sake, and this bleeds more and more into what I’m currently making.
Currently this practice of streaming what I’m working on heavily revolves around projects done for my degree, though after this semester I’ll have to figure out what’s going and what’s staying. In keeping with the ethos I’ve laid out above, it will really come down to what is enjoyable for me to create on stream, but it would by unfair to myself not to consider how the content translate through an online platform. Something I notice when I see other creatives who present work made through traditional methods on digital platforms, is that they have trouble communicating exactly what is interesting about what they are doing. I know as someone who paints the joy of applying paint to canvas, the subtle sounds, and seeing the work emerge, but translating that experience to an audience is a difficult task. In my streams I’m trying to capture wax work, which is quite hard to do without a lot of great equipment and a versatile setup. The odds of wax work being a staple of my streaming moving foreword is low, but sculpture as a medium for stream holds a lot of potential; the immediacy of clay and other malleable mediums means a lot of room for bombastic motions and spontaneous creation.
Looking back on this last month of streaming, I definitely see it as a valuable addition to my practice, not only for the work it’s produced but for the archiving and community aspects. For the moment my main goal with streaming is to be consistent, I think a lot of people drop out of these projects because they don’t see results fast enough. I truly believe the people that are most successful in any industry, besides the lucky few, are just the people who stick around.