Twitch Channel Questions
I first learned about Twitch in February 2014 when the Twitch Plays Pokémon phenomenon went viral and hit mainstream press. In case you’re not familiar with what happened, a programmer connected Twitch chat to a Pokémon game so that viewers could control it using chat commands. Soon tens of thousands of viewers were simultaneously trying to control the game and after about 16 days of play they eventually beat it. But what I found most intriguing was how the idea inspired so much creativity beyond the game itself. Fans of the channel created a vast mythology surrounding what was happening in the game, as well as fan fiction, artwork, and numerous memes.
I filed this away in my brain and then promptly forgot about Twitch for almost two years until January 27th, 2016 when PianoImproman went viral on Reddit. I was one of the 100,000+ people who watched him that day and was charmed by his infectious enthusiasm as he improvised piano to songs chat requested. It was thanks to PianoImproman that I discovered that Twitch now featured a music category.
A couple other experiences played a role in the idea as well… Many years ago, I spent about 6 months busking in the subways of Boston, which prepared me for some aspects of streaming. I’d also done a fair amount of live looping, primarily as a compositional tool, occasionally as a way to audition people for bands I was starting, and in a few cases in live performance. I’d also produced several jazz education shows where I let the kids directly influence the music being created by choosing which instrument I used on the song, the speed of the song, etc.
Somehow all of this came together in late March ‘16 and formed into the idea for this channel. I was most excited about the collaborative nature of the show, how you would play an active role in shaping the music that would be created. The show also seemed like a singular opportunity to bring together many of the disparate things I’ve done in my life including music, programming, video production, and business management.
I tend to be overly optimistic so I thought it would only take 3 months to do all the coding and prep for the show, but it ended up being more than 5 months before I was ready to start. I did some test shows in September of 2016, and then started a regular schedule in October. The show will always be a work in progress.
It took a leap of faith to start the show since I hadn’t done any music for 5 years and I had no idea if anyone would appreciate what I was trying to do. So I feel incredibly grateful to all of you who have joined our team on Twitch and made the channel what it is. I’ve told you what inspired me to start the channel; you’re what inspires me to keep it going!
TLDR: In late March of 2016, the following things percolating in my brain came together to form the idea for this channel: past experience with improvised live looping, creating music interactively with an audience, busking in Boston subways, and the discovery of Twitch via Twitch Plays Pokémon (Feb 2014) and PianoImproman (Jan 2016).
Anything beyond that is extraordinary and your generous support will help us to continue improving the channel and ensure it will be around for a long time.
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I’m a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of The Etcetera Kid must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. You can make tax-deductible donations by credit card on my Fractured Atlas page.
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That list already has 100s of items on it and the order in which I complete them is generally determined by these criteria: Which items fit in with current long-term strategic priorities for the channel? Which items will have the most impact on the most viewers? What do I have time to work on? And often, what am I most excited to work on right now? In other words, a roundabout way of saying I have no idea if or when.
Becoming a moderator is invitation-only on an as-needed basis. When we have a need for additional moderators, we will primarily be looking for people in chat who are already essentially acting as moderators: they have been regularly logged into the channel over an extended period, are active participants in chat, bring a consistently positive energy, demonstrate level-headedness, and go out of their way to welcome new people and answer questions.
Our moderator team is also involved in aspects of the show outside of chat and some of our moderators may be chosen in recognition of their long-standing support and other non-chat related skills they share with the channel.
The show relies on a lot of custom programming, and although I’ve never worked professionally as a software developer or studied computer science formally, I’ve been able to draw on skills I developed from doing many different software projects over the years.
I took about 7 years of lessons on the trombone/baritone, a couple years on voice and flute, as well as a few lessons here and there on a few of the other instruments I’ve used. Virtually all of my formal study has been in classical music.
I considered going to conservatory to study trombone after high school, but ultimately decided I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of being graded on what I love. Even if I were to get straight A’s the idea of assigning a grade to creativity seemed at odds with how I viewed the creative experience. I also felt that I’d have more to say in my music if I had a more diverse life experience. So I went to a traditional liberal arts college for awhile where I studied visual arts and English.
I don’t remember ever studying music theory or composition in a formal setting, although I read some books on music theory back in high school on my own. The most useful theoretical understanding I have was acquired primarily by using my ears and listening to music and improvising along to it.
I did a ton of performing when I was younger, over 1000 performances with different pop, rock, jazz, folk and classical groups, although almost all of those were before I was 24. After that, I mostly worked on solo projects in the studio. It’s great to be performing again regularly!
So that’s a quick runthrough of my background. I’d like to add though that one of the things I believe strongly is that there is no “right way” to approach music or art. We have tremendous diversity in music and the arts precisely because people pursue it in so many different ways. Some of the musicians I love had extensive formal training, some had zero training, some spent decades practicing their instruments, some never really practiced at all. All that matters is that they each had something to say and they found a way to say it.
I’ve been recording every show offline at much higher quality than what is broadcast live to Twitch and eventually I’m hoping to have everything here on my website so you can listen to all the shows in their entirety, or create customized playlists of songs (such as every song on which you made a request).
I may post some or all of the shows and songs on Youtube or Soundcloud as well as possibly start a second Twitch channel “radio station” that plays only music from the show 24/7 with none of the talking. We’ve already generated well over 100 hours of music!
I have no set schedule for when any of this will happen, but hopefully sometime in 2017. It’ll be a massive project considering there are already 100+ shows, 700+ songs and counting, so I’m hesitant to make guarantees.
Gear and Software Questions
That said, there are many ways to do live looping. This is just the way I have chosen.
In addition, I did a lot of custom programming in Max and Max for Live including the drum pattern generator, the onscreen credit displays that are timed to what’s happening in the music, the light shows, the camera controller, and a ton of custom looping controls.
I’m also working on a new project using Jitter that I hope to launch someday.
The switcher software is linked with Ableton, the program I use to record the loops, so at any given moment it knows if I’m recording a keyboard loop, if I’m recording or playing one of the instruments, or if I’m doing none of those things, and it follows rules I set up for which cameras to use more frequently during those different scenarios with some randomness thrown in so it’s not too predictable. The timing of the changes are also linked to the beat and speed of the improvisation (the faster the speed, the more frequently the cameras switch).
Camera 3, the camera that tracks my movement, uses a Swivl C1 Robot I adapted to work with a mirrorless DSLR-style camera. I wear an infrared marker on my shoulder that the C1 tries to track… and “tries” is the key word here… it often seems to have a mind of its own. I do not endorse the C1 or any other product. There are other similar options out there that may be better suited to your needs.