Finding the sweet spot between what fans are willing to pay and what artists need to charge to make it profitable continues to be tricky. The veteran rapper Murs has been livestreaming for years, mostly via the gaming platform Twitch, but admitted that, despite the post-lockdown uptick, it’s been “a grind.” He’s on Twitch for two hours a day, six days a week, mostly freestyling. He’s also been doing periodic concerts from home for subscribers to his account on Patreon, a platform for fans to directly pay content creators. Still, his livestreaming income hasn’t approached what he’d make on the road.
“If I had to depend on Twitch and Patreon, I’d be lost right now,” he said. Watching his fellow rappers livestream for free though is frustrating. “Most rappers aren’t looking for ways to connect to fans or monetize, they’re just starved for attention, so something like IG Live works for them. I love Verzuz, but why aren’t you all on Twitch trying to monetize this? You’re giving Instagram everything for free.”
Stageit’s Lowenstein, a singer-songwriter himself, has been evangelical about musicians not giving away content: “I’m concerned about what that does to artists that really need the money.”
The tension is difficult to resolve. The artists livestreaming for free or shaking a tip jar for charity are often the ones who can afford to, and who feel, justifiably, that charging fans money during these grave times feels bad and looks worse. At the same time, all these livestreams are competing for viewers’ limited time, so a high-profile artist offering free content deflates the market for anyone else hoping — and needing — to make money.
In mid-March, Rhett Miller, the 49-year-old frontman for the alt-country outfit the Old 97s, began regularly livestreaming shows via Stageit from his home office in New Paltz, N.Y. Fans pay what they want — the suggested price is $9.70 per show — and he gives some proceeds to charity but can’t afford to give it all.
“When I was looking at a year-plus of no income, it was terrifying,” he said. “I thought this thing I’ve been doing for 35 years was over. I was convinced I was going to have to figure out a new job.” The most lucrative of his livestreams earns him what he’d normally make for a solo acoustic show. “I get that it feels weird to be pushing people for money, and it’s not without a little guilt that I’m able to replace my lost income via these shows, but it’s [expletive] magical that this has shaken out.”