First Year on Twitch
I'd sing into the microphone as I bid goodnight to my modest yet loyal and enthusiastic audience. I'd click "end stream" and the spell I had been under for the past 4-8 hours would suddenly be broken, and I'd awaken once more to my eerily quiet studio alone with my art. For the first time that night I could finally gaze upon what I had made with an undistracted eye, and many - many times my reaction has been "What have I done???" Then I would sigh, pick up my paint brush and get back to work.. fixing everything I'd gotten wrong. The evening chatting and making jokes with friends and fans had been so much fun... but at what cost? After a solid year and a half of consistent live-streaming I'm looking back at the results and wondering... is it all worth it?
My name is Heather R. Hitchman and I am an art streamer. About a year and a half ago I committed to broadcasting my art process live once a week on Twitch, and I was excited to hit the ground running. I wanted to base my channel's format on other art streamers I admired, those that showed their personalities and actively engaged with the chat. The creative community on Twitch seemed to be blossoming as more and more artists I knew migrated to the platform, eager to earn some "bits" and reach the coveted "Partner" status. Those were exciting times... filled with endless possibilities. I'd watch with wide eyes as Partnered art streamers raked in the bits while hundreds of people chatted away, all too eager to be immersed in the thrill of it all. I thought "I can do this! I can will myself to make this happen!"
But the truth was, I couldn't -and I had to stop trying so hard for the sake of my sanity AND my art.
As I've seen more and more art streamers go dark, I'm wondering if I'm not alone out there? I guess there are two types of creators with regard to making art in public, those that can "BE ON" and those that struggle. Well "Surprise surprise", this very camera comfortable extravert tries her damndest still I struggle - HARD - to be productive and engaged with my audience at the same time. If you're like me, and have difficulty balancing your focus between being social and making art, then this list of challenges and tips to overcome them is for you. If you're the other sort of artist then congratulations! You have an amazing super power, now go forth and make them "bitties" you marvel of nature you!
For the rest of us who are experiencing an uphill battle with Twitch, here are some things to consider when asking yourself "Is Twitch worth it"?
Is it too distracting?
It's true, I've created some of my best works while being live on Twitch. But what those viewers DIDN'T see was me "fixing" the paintings for hours off air after each stream is over. While many artists declare "I'm making the art anyway, might as well stream it" for me, I just can't help but get distracted. My brain is doing all sorts of problem solving while I'm making art, and apparently conversing while doing so just throws a wrench in the gears of my mind. The worst part of this problem is that the work suffers for it. Despite being a very socially inclined person, I find that art making is the one time I DO crave peace and intimacy with my work. So what's a streamer to do?
POSSIBLE WORK AROUNDS
Work on projects that are in the "auto-pilot" phase. I found that this helped me A LOT with being able to speak and work at the same time. BUT it meant prepping work ahead of time and the stars don't always align in time for my broadcasts.
Don't chat, just art. I considered this solution, but refuse to do it. I've tried watching livestreams like these and I get bored really easily, and I refuse to sell something I wouldn't buy. If you on the other hand enjoy this sort of broadcast then give it a try! There are at least a few art channels out there that are very successful using this format.
Can you invest in your channel?
There is a lot of money AND time that goes into creating a thriving channel. I spent months making beautiful overlay graphics for the stream, hired a pixel artist to make custom animated badges for the pop up events, I even bought a new camera and microphone. But the investment doesn't end there. New add-ons and features are constantly being created to make channels more interactive, more flashy, more dopamine rousing than the last new thing. For a long time I felt compelled to stay in the know and implement the newest-hottest trend or risk becoming "out of date" and losing my viewers interest. It was all very exhausting.
POSSIBLE WORK AROUNDS
Start small and work your way up. Which is basically what I did. And yet, despite my best efforts I don't think my audience growth has trended up significantly with the upgrades I've made. Basically a lot of investment, marginal reward.
Consider how to maximize your investment. I've been using my fancy new video equipment to create and stockpile months worth of art making footage off stream. This is going to be some sweet YouTube and Patreon content... when I can find the time to edit the footage that is!
Are you willing to be competitive?
After about a year of streaming I realized my channel's audience had stagnated (between 10-20 viewers regularly). I began researching and watching live Twitch Q&As to find what I was missing. They all said the same thing - consistently stream multiple times a week, ideally every day.
I tried.... I really did, but I couldn't even manage one week. I was totally drained and the art I had made that week was all terrible. I know THISis what's holding my channel back, but it's not a price I'm personally willing to pay. I've been doing this long enough to know it's not something "I'll get used to", and I've accepted that I'm just not wired for what this platform demands to be competitive.
THERE IS NO WORKAROUND
You really do have to put in the time to reap the best benefits here, just like anything else. I recommend feeling out the platform for a few months to see how naturally it comes to you before committing to jump all in. Since I can't put in that much time, I've decided to treat Twitch much more casually, and I've stopped caring if it's a huge hit or not.
Does it pay?
Yes, but not enough for my purposes. I knew because of my limited stamina for Twitch I was never going to make Partner, but as an Affiliate I could still get paid in bits and unlock some fun incentives Twitch offers to loyal viewers and subscribers. But the payouts are pretty unreliable, arriving only every couple of months. Also the amounts were not very high, the biggest paycheck I've gotten from Twitch was around $120... which doesn't seem like a lot when you've invested 32-64 hours of time into something.
Another thing I dislike about the Twitch payout system is that creators only get HALF of the subscriber's fees. So if somebody subscribes to your channel at the $20 level you're only going to see $10 of that money. Meanwhile, on a platform like Patreon, you get to keep between 90-95% of each pledge.
I will say that streaming the art live has probably helped me sell a few of those pieces, but even those sales were to people who are already Patrons on Patreon, so it's hard to say how much influence Twitch really had in those transactions.
POSSIBLE WORK AROUNDS
Offer incentives for subs.I've seen streamers offer little gifts and additional rewards to those that subscribe consistently and it seems to work well! Just keep the value of what you are offering versus what you are getting in return as payment in mind. Is that custom commission really worth one $10 sub? I think the model of doing a raffle once a certain sub threshold is reached (ie I'll give away this print once we get 50 subs) is much more worthwhile.
Sell the art you are making on stream. I know several streamers who do this really well. I also see artists getting commission work directly through their streams. But the success totally depends on the loyalty, size, and demographic of your audience. I've found that a lot of viewers in the creative streams are younger creatives themselves looking to learn from somebody experienced, not to buy. Since I am no longer looking to take on more commission work, this also doesn't help me.
Urge the audience to migrate elsewhere.Since I can't commit to spending all my days on Twitch this has been my tactic. I always remind my viewers that they can check out my work on Patreon, but very few will make the migration. I have found Twitch viewers reluctant to leave the platform in general, though there are acceptations. I think I had more Patreon Patrons come to watch me stream, then Twitch viewers become Patrons!
Is your time better spent somewhere else?
As creators, we are all looking for ways to monetize and engage with our audience. Twitch is one of many tools available that allows you to do just that. But it's not suited for everybody. I found that when I was investing more time in my Twitch it took away from the energy I had to invest in my "home platform" on Patreon. I feared that going 100% with Twitch would divert too much of my attention away from a platform that I was already thriving on. For me, it didn't make sense to spend less time on a platform I really feel at home in for another I was struggling on.
Do you already have a home platform that's working well for you? Or are you still looking for somewhere to monetize your audience? Consider where your time and stamina is best spent for your unique brand.
While being a full time streamer certainly isn't in the cards for me, I still find a lot of value in the platform as a creator and a viewer. I've made some great new friends along the way and some beautiful art with them by my side. I also discovered a more introverted side of myself through the realization that I was missing my quiet undistracted "creative" time. As a viewer, I can check in on my artists friends that may live too far away to see face to face, and have some really good discussions when I'm feeling like I've been under my art rock for too long. Even though Twitch didn't end up being my gold mine, I see others toiling away diligently and uncovering some really sparkly and exciting things! The potential for success on Twitch IS there - but just like every other platform, you have to have the right mix of charisma, stamina, and natural ability to make it work, and not everybody's going to strike it rich. I plan to keep things casual with Twitch, but if you'd like to see my channel head over to Twitch.tv/HeatherHitchman and maybe I'll see you there sometime!
I hope these thoughts help direct you to finding your answer to the Twitch question. At the end of the day, only you can decide if it's worth it, and how deeply you want to invest in the platform. Good luck!
Heather R. Hitchman is an independent artist working in Kissimmee, Florida; but she was born in the United Kingdom. Her current focus is the world of Terratoff, a fairy tale place where magic is the essence of life, but where "The Rott" threatens to tear the world apart.
You can see her work at www.patreon.com/terratoff or follow her on instagram @heatherhitchman