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‘This is my full-time job’: How Twitch became the go-to platform for creators to make money

'This is my full-time job': How Twitch became the go-to platform for creators to make money

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‘This is my full-time job’: How Twitch became the go-to platform for creators to make money

Megan Lenius recalled a simple question by her dental hygienist that made her pause briefly.“She asked me what I did for a living,” Lenius said. “I told her that I sing on Twitch, make some money and I love it!”As Twitch celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, the streaming site has evolved from a platform primarily for gamers to one where creators, including musicians, can try to make a living and find success. Twitch said the median viewership for creators making at least $50,000 annually is 183 viewers per stream. A musician playing a four-hour stream could have an audience of about a few hundred, according to Twitch.That means a lot to gamers and musicians, including Lenius, who chose to make Twitch their sole source of income. With more than 44,000 followers, Lenius streams for at least two hours up to five days a week, including weekends averaging about 200 viewers per stream. From her parents’ basement in Anoka, Minnesota, Lenius sings, acts silly and sometimes plays video games onscreen with her parents. Multi-platinum, Grammy-winning artist and producer Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame, whom she met via Twitch this year, messaged Lenius and asked to produce one of her songs, which he did on his channel, Lenius said. “I was able to release the song and music video, ‘Not Your Game,’ on Twitch, and it was 21,000 people there, which is insane, and the single did amazing,” Lenius said happily. The song got 80,000 streams on Spotify.Lenius said she does her best to take care of her voice, despite a rigorous schedule playing online.”There was a period when I was seeing my vocal coach, and I remember her saying, ‘I can tell that your voice is different and there’s some damage, and you could use some rest,’” Lenius said. “She said, ‘You are singing as much as a performer on Broadway.’ Hearing that was very surreal, and it hits you every once in a while, but it’s not without hard work.” Creators take note: Facebook taunts Apple: Social network won’t take a cut on creators’ revenue until 2023Hey, gamers! Now accepting reader submissions: Creating a gaming community at USA TODAYMarcus “djWHEAT” Graham, Twitch’s head of community productions who’s been with the platform since its start in June 2011, gets nostalgic that the platform helped carve new jobs and careers for millions of creators worldwide.“When I first began streaming back in 1999, it was strictly a hobby, and I dreamed of being able to build a business out of our passion for gaming and esports,” Wheat said. “Today that dream is a reality, and there are so many creators who now truly have a ‘job that they love’ that allows them to share their passions with their communities.”Gamers typically go six to eight hours per stream. It’s not uncommon for musicians to perform for three to four hours, like Johnny and Heidi, a country music songwriting duo out of Nashville who joined Twitch a year ago. Johnny Bulford and Heidi Raye, who have worked with hitmakers Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean and Chris Young, perform at least three times a week, sometimes up to 2 or 3 a.m. They began streaming during the pandemic’s early stages, playing a mix of original songs and requests.“Our community is there for us, and we often hear them say, ‘You do not know what you do for me,’ as some have lost loved ones,” Raye said. “They’ve leaned on us, and we feel the same way. We’re so grateful for them.”The couple admit they didn’t know what they were doing on Twitch. Bluford said, “Our friends thought we were crazy.” But the thought of playing for followers across the world and not having to travel from city to city became more appealing.The duo, who have more than 16,000 followers, plan to keep performing on Twitch even as the world goes back to “normal” – even if that means doing Twitch shows in between live gigs. They have a live show scheduled for Saturday in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.“Streaming is new, exciting and unchartered territory, and it’s treated us well. We’ve even polled our community and asked, ‘Are you going to be here, too?’” Bulford said. “We’ll try to be smart about it as the (live) gigs are there if we need it, but the way we are, Twitch is king, and we want to keep it going as long as we can.”Others play music and video games for long stretches such as BigCheeseKIT, who began streaming when Twitch was on  the platform Justin.tv. L.A. Geronimo, a photographer by trade, loves to stream on Twitch on his channel, TheHungerService, where he cooks easy-to-make dishes. Any tips or money go to charities.One key to success on Twitch: “Stay true to you,” said BigCheeseKIT, who not only is a Twitch ambassador but also helps run content and streams for “Nappy Boy Gaming,” hip-hop star T-Pain’s official Twitch page. Like many gamers, despite his popularity, BigCheeseKIT declines to give his real name for safety reasons, but he appreciates the positive love he gets.“A lot of people focus on what’s trending and popular, but I got successful by doing what I do: playing games and being entertaining,” said BigCheeseKIT, who’s grateful to his more than 53,000 followers for supporting him after suffering a stroke last July. “If you’re building a community, it’s from what you’re doing and not always what people demand of you. Pretty much, being true to yourself.”L.A. Geronimo, who’s been on Twitch since 2017 and helped start the platform’s Food and Drink category, “feeds off the interaction” and said streaming TheHungerService, which has nearly 27,000 followers, during the pandemic has helped make ends meet. He hopes to stream soon at restaurants as COVID-19 restrictions ease. “Everyone asks me if I’m a full-time streamer or is this a side gig. Shooting photos and streaming are both equally important to me,” Geronimo said. “I’m not going anywhere.”Twitch ambassador MsAshRocks, who endured homelessness with her mother, began streaming in 2016 with a rebuilt PC. Her profile grew. Despite her competitive nature in games such as Valorant, “a lot of folks say that I’m the ‘Comfort Streamer,’ it must be some kind of aura that I have. I’m your supportive friend,” MsAshRocks said. She created Team RockSquad, a diverse collection of content creators centered on entertaining and offering safe spaces on- and off-stream for their peers. With nearly 29,000 followers, MsAshRocks helped raise more than $100,000 through gaming in charity for organizations including St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the 1000DreamsFund. Her charity work led her to become a community manager for Tiltify, a full-service fundraising platform. “It makes me feel so alive that I can help make our society better, and that all came through gaming,” MsAshRocks said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”Twitch creator Steve “BlindGamerSteve” Saylor feels the exact same way. What’s with his gametag? Saylor is actually blind. He was born with a condition called nystagmus that causes involuntary eye movement and makes his vision blurry and hard to focus.That doesn’t stop him from playing the games he loves, sitting about a foot away from a 50-inch screen. In addition to his Twitch presence, Saylor, who has 2,000 Twitch followers, has a popular website and YouTube channel, which includes a video, “What I See When I’m Playing Video Games.”Saylor said he was invited to a conference by Ubisoft in 2017, and on a panel, he came to the realization that “it wasn’t that I sucked at games, it was that games sucked for me.” He’s a consultant helping developers make games more accessible for those with disabilities. “Making games accessible during the design process at the beginning is what will make them successful,” Saylor said. “This is my full-time job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Saylor said. “Platforms like Twitch have made some strides, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’m looking forward to seeing what Twitch builds going forward.”Lenius appreciates that her fans on Twitch helped her evolve from “playing on a crappy webcam” by investing in her, so she has much better equipment for her streams. Some fellow streamers even helped with her taxes, reminding her that she’s a businesswoman.  “Essentially, my viewers are my record label, and they are funding my profession,” Lenius said. “I tell them the reason I don’t have to seek a label is that you’re able to provide that income to me. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to being signed. But it would have to be the right thing, for me and for my fans.”


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