Is Streaming the New Busking? Lucy May Walker Explains
Nothing can replace live music, but streaming performances is as close as it gets for many artists these days. LUCY MAY WALKER tells us how she has managed to stay afloat during the pandemic as a full-time musician.
Back in the blissful days of 2019, I was making a comfortable living from my music, mostly from performing live. When the pandemic hit, it was a massive shock. I felt – like so many musicians – as though I’d basically lost my job in a matter of days.
I was really grateful to be awarded a couple of grants through Britain’s Musicians Union and PRS rights group, which helped keep me going for the first couple of months. But as that money dwindled, I knew I had to adapt fast.
My initial response was to start livestreaming performances on Facebook. The first few sessions involved figuring out how this could work, so I just had a laugh with them and didn’t take them too seriously. I advertised the streams as free to watch, but also added a PayPal link for people to donate if they wanted. My fanbase were unbelievably generous and I started to wonder why I’d never streamed before.
A few years ago, I moved to London to start my career and began busking on the streets to earn some money, playing to anyone who would listen. I loved it, but even before the pandemic hit, things were becoming different – fewer people were carrying cash, busking restrictions in London meant more competition for pitches – and, in any case, battling with the English weather can be tough. I almost started to feel as though I was falling out of love with it.
Building a Fanbase
Moving from “real life” busking to online busking isn’t easy, and I must point out it doesn’t work for everyone. If you don’t already have an online presence and active audience then it’s a lot more difficult to ensure you have enough people in your audience to perform to and to think about making any money.
So when I started streaming performances to people who already knew and who already liked me, it felt like I’d already won half the battle by not having to win over commuters to give me a quid. People tuned in specifically to watch me play.
As the weeks turned into months, my manager and I began thinking of new ways that I could stay active online, but also how we could keep it fresh. We decided to host a private Zoom gig where I put on a special show live from my home, and people were invited to pay as much as they wanted for a ticket. I could not believe the overwhelming generosity from my fanbase.
I’ve always been conscious of keeping ticket prices low, as I want my shows to be as accessible as they can be, but this concept revealed something almost impossible to find out elsewhere. It meant I was able to see how much people thought my show would be worth! Plus, with the minimal cost of putting on an online show, I was able to make more money from the two Zoom gigs than I ever had from a show in “real life” before.
Still amidst the global pandemic and far from seeing other people, I spent the New Year getting more acquainted with Twitch. I’d used it briefly to host my Songwriter Series where each week I’d be joined by a different musical guest as we exchanged ideas, original songs and general music chat.
When I hosted these, I used a platform called Streamyard, which gave me the option to stream to more than one platform at the same time and so I chose to stream the series to Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. I hadn’t done much research on Twitch at this point, but I saw a few comments saying how it’s a great platform and viewers were happy to see me on there. When the series ended, I thought that would be the last of Twitch for me. That was until my good friend and fellow musician, John Clapper, began streaming there.
Finding New Fans
The problem I found with using regular channels like Facebook and Instagram was that they were great for reaching your existing viewers, but it’s practically impossible to reach new ones. Twitch seems to pride itself on discovering new artists and streamers. As well as their Discovery page, where you can click through and see who’s currently live, they have an amazing feature called Raids.
A Raid happens toward the end of a stream, just as you’re finishing up, and it allows you to raid another streamer’s channel. For example, if I have 20 viewers watching my stream, I can take those 20 viewers to another live stream, so that channel now has 20 new people watching them. For me, this is the unique beauty of Twitch. I managed to grow my channel from nothing to over one thousand unique followers in just over a month – and 90 percent of them hadn’t heard my music before! It took me years to get to that number of subscribers on YouTube.
Twitch is owned by Amazon, and although they do take a large cut of your earnings through Twitch currency (around 50 percent), it can still be a great source of income from the ease and comfort of your own home.
The feature of having your setlist online for viewers to choose from has also pushed me out of my comfort zone to learn new songs and expand my setlist for future real-life gigs. It is definitely something you have to put a lot of effort into and keep on top of, but if you put the work in and play the game, you can really reap the benefits. Streaming on Twitch is something I know I will continue doing post-pandemic, especially on rainy days when I can’t go busking!
If I were to describe my time as a musician during Covid in one word, it would be adapting. It’s all been a lot of trial and error, hard work and persistence. Some artists seem to have gone into hibernation during the pandemic, and that’s absolutely understandable. But I know without music and connecting to people in one way or another, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my sanity over such a difficult year. I would like to thank all the wonderful people who’ve continued to support me – none of it would have been possible without their generosity.
Follow Lucy on Instagram: @LUCYMAYWALKER