As we all cope with sheltering and being flexible to find new business solutions in the virtual world, singer/songwriters and artists are trying to sort out how they deal with no touring, no festivals and a deep loss in income. Typically, the music industry has not been a fast adaptor of anything technological. Monetized live streaming performances are making a slow crawl to being put at the top of the list for adoption right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many artists have been performing regularly on Facebook and Instagram, but neither of those platforms offer a clear business model for monetizing (though Facebook recently announced plans to introduce paid livestreams) . Some artists are asking for donations that are posted on their Facebook/Instagram page, but it’s awkward and not efficient. Personally, as a music lover, it’s been awesome to have access to all of these amazing performances, but it’s not helping teach the public that music has value and is a service they should be paying to see, just like they do in the physical world. What the fans pay is something we can debate. There should be sliding scales of pricing based on the stature of the artist, the size of the audience, the prominence of the event, is it downloadable, can you access the performance from multiple platforms and other factors, but pay, they MUST.
“There should be sliding scales of pricing based on the stature of the artist, the size of the audience, the prominence of the event, is it downloadable, can you access the performance from multiple platforms and other factors, but pay, they MUST.”
Thousands of singer/songwriters and artists truly live on touring money, and some platforms are set up for performance licensing so that songwriters are also compensated when those performances happen. Ensuring that your live streaming platform has valid performance licenses (also known as PRO licenses) with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR is something you must check first. In fact, they need to have PRO licenses with performing rights organizations all around the world (e.g. PRS in the UK, SACEM in France, GEMA in Germany, etc.), but having full coverage in the United States and Canada with executed licenses from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR and SOCAN is a good start. If they do not have PRO licenses, you should pass on using them or ensure that they have started negotiating with the U.S. and Canadian PROs so that they will be secured shortly. Without the PRO licenses, the songwriters that wrote the songs you sing while live streaming your performance (including, if you are the songwriter) will not get paid.
Here’s a list of the services I have found to be the most promising for monetized live streamed and on-demand performances:
Most people know Twitch as a subscription-based gaming platform that is owned by Amazon. People on Twitch play and watch others playing video games and create community through these two activities. Now, Twitch is moving into live streaming performances for music, but the key to Twitch is creating a robust fan community that watches you regularly, not just one-off performances. Interestingly, Karen Allen, who lectures a lot about using Twitch for live streaming performances in music, recently spoke on a podcast for WHO KNEW Presents. She noted that Twitch’s entrance into the music space came about from the users of Twitch starting their own music channels organically. Once Twitch saw this as a viable category, they ramped up their music department with great industry people like Annie Lin and Cindy Charles, and began a deep dive into transforming Twitch into a space that could accommodate the needs of live streamers of music. In order to start monetizing on Twitch, artists need to reach what is called ‘affiliate status’. Normally, in order to qualify for affiliate status, a Twitch user must have at least 50 followers along with at least 500 total broadcast minutes (8.33 hours), 7 unique broadcast days, and an average of three concurrent viewers or more in the period of a month.
“The key to Twitch is creating a robust fan community that watches you regularly, not just one-off performances.”
Luckily, Twitch realized that they should be helping artists reach the affiliate status quicker due to so many artists sheltering at home and being unable to physically tour. They created a partnership with BandsinTown and SoundCloud for Pro, Premier and Repost by SoundCloud members. These partnerships allow you to qualify for immediate affiliate status on Twitch from your first broadcast if you have a BandsinTown membership with at least 2,000 trackers, or one of these SoundCloud memberships (Pro, Premier or Repost by SoundCloud).
With Affiliate status, fans can subscribe to your Twitch channel for ad-free viewing, extra perks, and the ability to cheer you on with Bits. Twitch Subscriptions (also called Subs) allow a viewer to pay a minimum of $4.99 per month to support your channel, either on a recurring or one-time basis. Subs get access to your emotes and other benefits you can define.
There are multiple tiers available to subscribers that want to provide additional levels of support by raising the rate to $9.99 or $24.99 a month. Bits are digital content (i.e., animated emoticons) that can only be purchased from Twitch. Twitch initially introduced Bits as a way for viewers to celebrate moments and express appreciation for others and events. Using a Bit is like cheering an artist on at a live show.
You can also run ads on your channel, link to music and merchandise stores, and allow fans to donate directly. Not all viewers can afford to support their favorite Twitch Affiliate or Partner with Bits or Subs. By watching ads when a creator runs them, viewers can contribute to a creator without having to spend their own money.
For subscription revenue, the money is split 50/50 between the artist and Twitch, but before that happens, Twitch deducts taxes, payment processing fees, bank fees, currency conversion fees, etc.
When your viewers perform and confirm an action that requires Bits within the Extension on your channel page, you’ll earn 80% of 1 U.S. cent per Bit used, and the remaining 20% is shared with the Extension developer. In certain extensions, such as the Twitch Sings extension, eligible streamers receive a greater revenue share on Bits than the standard one. FYI, Twitch Sings is a livestreaming vocal performance platform that brings singers and audiences together. It allows you to do karaoke or other group type singing events. It has multiplayer modes and features that let chat direct the show. Twitch Sings lets you and your community make one-of-a-kind performances together.
“I’m hoping that Twitch becomes so popular, it starts to infringe on YouTube’s dominance in the video performance world so that we have some competition, and YouTube’s royalty structure will increase.”
Learning the basics of Twitch for music might feel overwhelming at first, but their structure has a lot of depth to it when it comes to artists and songwriters getting paid for live streaming performances. I’m hoping that Twitch becomes so popular, it starts to infringe on YouTube’s dominance in the video performance world so that we have some competition, and YouTube’s royalty structure will increase. That is something everyone in the content ownership business has been looking for, due to the fact that YouTube is so widely used, but has an extremely low royalty structure.
With regard to advertising, Twitch affiliates earn a share of the revenue generated from any video ads played on their channel. Affiliates can determine the length and frequency of mid-roll ad breaks through their dashboard. Demand from advertisers fluctuates over time. This fluctuation may result in a variation in your ad revenue earnings as a result, on a month to month basis. Ad revenue you earn from ads typically shows up in your Channel Analytics page after 2-3 days.
There are also enhanced broadcasting tools and other perks for affiliate members of Twitch. These increase when a channel owner moves to the next level, called Twitch Partner. To qualify as a Twitch Partner, you need to stream performances for 26 hours, on 12 different days, and have over 75 average viewers in the period of a month.
For more details on these benefits, head here.
A slightly more off the beaten track monetized platform that utilizes on-demand performances is Cameo. Cameo allows you to purchase personalized messages from celebrities for a fee. It’s a shout out from someone your loved one admires. The price varies and is set by the celebrity/talent. For example, Jeff Ross charges $300, Sean Astin charges $295, but Lisa Loeb only charges $100. Other celebrities that intrigued me were Flavor Flav at $250, Big Freedia at $300, Mark McGrath at $99, and Eric Krasno at $50. There are also lots of up and coming talent that charge in the range of $16 to $20 per Cameo. As you can see, there is a wide degree of notoriety and name recognition, as well as pricing. Categories of talent include (but are not limited to) athletes, comedians, musicians, drag queens, commentators, models, gamers and reality TV stars (yes, they have some well-known Housewives).
The rates can change at any time. For example, if the celebrity decides they have some free time on their hands, they might lower the price because they will have time to do some volume Cameo videos. Some of the celebrities donate their money to a worthy charity (like Jann Arden and Gretchen Carlson) and some use it to enhance their income. Cameo splits the income with the talent 75/25% in favor of the talent. They have been in business for four years and have over 500,000 customers. Named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Genius Companies of 2018, it is the brainchild of founder Steven Galanis, who discussed how the company is doing during COVID-19 in a recent interview.
“Cameo splits the income with the talent 75/25% in favor of the talent. They have been in business for four years and have over 500,000 customers.”
I spoke with Mat Devine, Head of Music Partnerships at Cameo to get an insider look. You might recognize his name as the lead singer of the band, Kill Hannah. Mat has been working with Cameo for two years and has seen its tremendous rise in popularity. He told me they recently held a virtual event called Cameo Cares which took place from April 16-18, 2020 and helped raise $725,000 for COVID-19 research.
Mat said the vast majority of Cameo videos are gifts for others in the form of birthday messages. The use cases of the videos keep growing; it’s not just “happy birthday” anymore. For example, Mark McGrath will break up for you. Recently, a couple did five cameo videos to gauge what would be the best name for their puppy. For many teens, Cameo has been used to receive a pep talk or solicit advice. Tom Higgenson of the Plain White T’s will write a parody song for your girlfriend based on his hit song, “Hey There Delilah”. Jeff Ross will roast your friends in a Cameo video. I know Jeff from the Friars Club and no one does a roast better than him!
Once a Cameo is booked, the talent has seven days to fulfill the request. Some fulfill it quicker than others. You can earn credits referring friends. In addition, the talent can produce promo videos that can be used on your company website or your official social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter. Cameo uses a watermark so that they can track their videos. Once a video is done, it cannot be returned. Customers can register to get more in-depth service or they can just buy a Cameo without registering. Mat warned that the price per video is not an indication of the popularity of any particular talent, but merely a sign of market viability.
“Cameo is a great way for artists and songwriters to earn money and be creative. It requires very little effort and the financial rewards can be impressive.”
Their top 20 earners in music are Snoop Dogg, Ice T, Lance Bass, Flavor Flav, RiFF RAFF, James Kennedy, Tommy Lee, Ne-Yo, Debbie Gibson, Nick Hexum, Drake Bell, Corey Feldman, Mandy Moore, Aaron Watson, Redman, Simon Rex, Chris Daughtry, Mark McGrath, Joey Fatone and Jonah Marais. As you can see, it is really a wide range of talent, some of whom are not even in the charts now. It’s not about that per se, and that’s why I think Cameo is a great way for artists and songwriters to earn money and be creative. It requires very little effort and the financial rewards can be impressive.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on monetized platforms!