Should you make livestreaming your career?
In the movie Ratatouille, the famous chef Gusteau’s motto is “anyone can cook.”
Not everyone agrees, of course. Critic Anton Ego believes that good food comes from talented people: people with some inherent ability that, when combined with training and hard work, produces greatness.
But, of course, it’s a Pixar movie, so, in the end, Ego is a changed man, having come to the same conclusion as that highlighted by Gusteau’s famous phrase:
Not everyone can be a great chef, but you can never predict from where the next great chef will come.
The same is true about any artistic endeavor, and live streaming at its core, is art. Part comedy, part documentary, part slice-of-life, livestreaming takes a level of personality, work ethic, perseverance, and technological savvy. Not everyone has those skills.
And, the truth is that not everyone who aspires to it will be able to make a career out of streaming.
And yet, some will, and they’ll emerge from the world of smaller, growing channels, breaking out through hard work, talent, and even a little luck.
When we at GameWisp talk about how everyone deserves to make a living from their channel, what we mean is that anyone should have that chance to turn their passion into a career. Not everyone will achieve that goal, but we want to provide a pathway to make that happen for as many current and future broadcasters as possible.
But, some are rightly concerned that others might commit themselves to a career in content creation when it isn’t appropriate, sacrificing other careers and their financial well-being to pursue a dream that isn’t as easy or definite as they think. Because we work with streamers, both part-time and full-time, in the trenches, trying to achieve their own stream dreams, whatever they may be, I thought we’d address some of the big questions at the core of the discussion, and provide some clarity.
When should I start thinking about a career as a broadcaster?
A fundamental misunderstandings often at the center of the current debate is the idea that making money and building a career are the same thing. In reality, making money is only one aspect of building a career, especially as an entertainer.
Some have said that making money shouldn’t matter to anyone until they are ready to “go full time.” Content creation is about fun and expression, they say, and if your goal from the very beginning is to make it into a living, not only is your heart in the wrong place, but you’re sure to fail. The line of reasoning follows that you shouldn’t commit to a career in the space until some non-monetary measure, be it followers, views, concurrents, whatever, indicates that you’ve earned it.
If that conclusion sounds a little odd, it should. There are nuggets of truth to the ideas about creative priorities, but also some important misunderstandings. This makes it difficult to directly answer the question above, because it’s built on misapprehensions about the space. Instead, we have to dig deeper.
Having a Career vs. Going Full Time
No one is really saying that smaller streamers shouldn’t make money. The assertion is that too many broadcasters “go full time” before their community can support them. Rolling out monetization too early, they say, is an indication that channels aren’t focused on the right things for where they are in their journey.
But there is a difference between “going full time” and thinking about streaming as a viable career. One involves the step of actually taking streaming from hobby or part time gig to full time job. The other involves not just that step itself, but all of the planning and preparation that took place before and during, everything that one must do to put themselves in the best possible position once the time comes.
If we assume that actually “going full time” is something that should only happen when a broadcaster is ready, then broadcasters who want to eventually enjoy streaming careers should be taking steps to get ready for that career throughout their journey.
So, when should a broadcaster start thinking about having a career?
We think the answer is, if that’s your goal, you should be thinking about it from day one. It’s not your focus until you’ve put in the work, but being ready to take advantage of opportunities is important, because you never know when your time will come. You just have to be ready for it.
What does it mean to think about a career as a broadcaster?
There are a lot of facets to being a great broadcaster, a lot of things to work on. Money is only one, and you will need all of them to turn your passion into a job.
What is your on-stream personality? How does your brand reflect that personality? Not just the logo and the art, but the feel of the stream, and the things you do to engage fans off stream?
How is community growing? How are you engaging current fans, making sure they are enjoying themselves and want to help you build your community? What is the quality of your stream itself? How do you improve it?
As you begin to answer these questions, you put yourself in a position to see your community grow and thrive. It’s been said a few times in this debate, but it’s true.
Your community is the most important thing you will do to put yourself in the position to stream full time.
Fostering your community, making sure it is healthy, supportive of the stream and each other, and a place where others want to come and stay. That should be a streamers primary goal no matter what stage of their career they are in. A great monetization strategy still won’t build a career for you. It must already be strong.
What makes a strong community?
It’s easy to equate strength of community with size. The more concurrents, the more views, the more followers, the stronger the community.
In my experience, working with streamers of all sizes, I’ve learned something: it’s not the size of a community that dictates its health. It is the level of engagement with its community.
This is where Twitch and livestreaming generally diverges wildly from YouTube. The strength of a YouTube channel is in its subscriber numbers and view count. If those are increasing, the channel is healthy. Wwatching YouTube is an individual experience. The more individuals interact with the channel, the better it is.
But Twitch is communal. The question of whether a channel is healthy and will last isn’t a question of how many individuals show up, but how they interact with each other and the broadcaster. I’ve seen channels that would be deemed tiny by some with vibrant, supportive communities, able to generate significant sustainable income, and I’ve seen channels with large followings barely able to keep up.
A community’s strength, it’s ability to support a channel, it’s willingness to get involved with time and resources is about who your fans are.
So what about money? When is the right time to start thinking about earning income to support the stream?
This is a question I hear quite a bit, and the answer is that money is something you should really think about when you are well on your way to building a strong community. You don’t need a large one, but you do need engaged, supportive people around you when you decide to really start thinking about monetization.
That said, there are some guidelines.
Monetization Step 1: Tips
Tips are quickly becoming ubiquitous. Nearly every channel has a tipping panel leading to a service where fans can pay one time amounts as a way of appreciating the broadcaster, the channel, and gaining some recognition in the process.
Now, just because everyone has a tips panel doesn’t mean you should. Fans are used to seeing it, however. It doesn’t bother even small communities that the panel exists, and, more importantly, it’s highly unlikely that you are going to stunt your growth as a broadcaster as long as you don’t make your channel all about getting tips.
So when should you start thinking about taking tips? Wait until fans begin to ask. Most broadcasters reach a point when fans begin to ask for ways to support them. It can be very early in the life of a channel, it can be later on. But if you need a definite time to begin, the day you begin to hear those questions from your regular viewers most likely means that your community is ready to take the next step.
Monetization Step 2: Subscriptions
Subscriptions are a different from tips because they require a level of commitment from the community to be successful.
A great subscription campaign requires an engaged community because each subscription isn’t just a one time payment, its a commitment to be a part of the stream on an ongoing basis. If you are considering subscriptions, you need to think about your community. Are some portion of them so engaged that you are ready to take the next step together?
Another reason that you need to think seriously about where your community is before you take the plunge with subscriptions is that they require a level of commitment not just from fans to the channel, but from you to the fans.
Subscriptions are something that has been typically reserved for partners. There is a level of professionalism that fans expect out of a channel that has subscribers. Regular streaming schedules, good communication with the fanbase, and the ability to fulfill the subscription benefits you offer regularly is essential to being ready to have subscribers.
So when should you start thinking about adding subscriptions? When you are ready to take the next step with your community. When you are ready to be a professional streamer, not in the sense of being full time, but in the sense of being disciplined and thoughtful about how your stream is functioning. Most importantly, when you have a core community has is engaged, active, and ready to invest in making the channel something really special.
So now that I’ve rambled for a while, here’s the point:
Having a career as a streamer isn’t about finding the point when you are ready to “go full time.” Having a career as a streamer is about drive and mindset. Not everyone can do it. But if you are passionate, disciplined, and conscientious about how you are building a community, you can turn your passion into a living.
It’s true that not everyone can be a great artist, but everyone who has passion deserves a shot at it. If you are one of those people, it’s really never too early to begin thinking about and planning for a future career as a broadcaster.