At the start of 2020, Courtney Visser was performing live across the UK as one of Encore’s top singing guitarists.
When COVID hit, sadly most of her live bookings were cancelled. But rather than dwell on her losses, Courtney embraced the challenge of making online music-making work, first on Facebook and then using the streaming platform Twitch. And she’s had phenomenal success!
Just 6 months after joining Twitch, her live-streamed song request sessions have amassed over 3000 followers from across the globe. In recognition of her status as a rising star, she was even selected by Twitch to be featured on the front page of the website (which has over 15 Million daily active users 🤯)! Plus Twitch is now her main source of income – essential at a time when live gigs aren’t possible.
We decided to catch up with her to learn how she managed to go from 0 to 700,000 views using Twitch.
Hi Courtney, thanks so much for joining us for the interview!
Firstly, could you introduce yourself. How did you first get into playing guitar & what were you doing before COVID hit?
Hello! I’ve been playing professionally since I was 18 – I sang in choirs as a kid, and started learning guitar when I was 16 so that I could sing on my own with accompaniment. I was playing the odd market and pub, but my first real job started when I landed the position of solo guitar/vocalist with the largest cruise line in the world, shortly after high school.
I did that for 3 years and moved to Leeds in 2016 to study at Leeds College of Music (now Leeds Conservatoire). I was playing corporate events, weddings, restaurant and pub gigs as well as busking a lot when covid hit. I’d also just released an EP of original music and was going to be touring it over the summer.
How did COVID affect your musical career?
Like most musicians, I very quickly went from a pretty busy calendar to no work at all for the rest of the year. I had various weddings booked that were moved – I can only imagine how anxious clients must have been to postpone their special day with no real idea of what the future will hold for live events.
When did you first begin using Twitch and why?
Before COVID I was streaming to Facebook once a month to connect with my community, who are pretty spread-out geographically. I started streaming more often, and in May finally began streaming to Twitch, as I had heard and seen that it was used by musicians and could be a good opportunity to reach new ears.
Getting set up for professional live-streaming can take quite a bit of effort. How do you justify the time you put into live streaming?
Well, it’s worth saying that the stream as you see it now was very different when I started. There’s no point breaking the bank on something that you’re not even sure will work out. The stream setup is the result of months of refining and research and investing time and money into gear and understanding different bits of technology.
The community I’ve built has also been so unbelievably generous and helped me afford some of the gear, so it’s really been a group effort. It was clear from early on that the future of live music wasn’t guaranteed, so it made sense to be applying myself to this new avenue. Also, having the opportunity to perform and interact with people is so exciting – the more that streaming picked up, the more thrilled I was to be doing it and learning how to make it better.
And now the question all musicians will want to know the answer to… how much have you made from live streaming?
Streaming is as unpredictable as busking. Some days I don’t make anything. Sometimes there are incredibly generous people who donate upwards of £100 in a single stream. I’m finally at a point where I’m able to afford my bills, and now that all the big equipment upgrades have been made I’m able to save, so that a ‘bad day’ of streaming isn’t ‘make or break’.
You now have over 3,000 followers on your stream which is very impressive. How did you manage to grow your fan base – particularly on a live streaming platform which is more famous for gaming than music?
Twitch Gaming is enormous, but there is quite a significant music community. Larger music streams may ‘only’ have an average of 400 concurrent viewers compared to tens of thousands on some gaming streams, but you really don’t need a million followers to be successful. I average around 60-70 viewers for most of my streams.
Twitch’s discoverability isn’t great, but there are ways to get around that. One of the most exciting is ‘raids’ – it’s a great community tool. When someone ends a stream, they can choose another online streamer to take their current audience to. You may only gain a couple of new followers per raid, but it adds up over time.
It’s also fun to be the person raiding because everyone gets very excited to take their energy somewhere new. I will also say that I was fortunate enough to be offered a 2-hour slot on Twitch’s front page in October. It’s not something many streamers are offered – especially smaller channels – so it was a fantastic opportunity. We peaked at 19,750 concurrent viewers and had more total views than Glastonbury twice over! It was also great because plenty of viewers were unaware that Twitch had a music community at all.
I noticed some of your streams are 4 hours long. How do you personally manage to stay energised throughout and how do you keep others engaged? How do you choose what to perform?
Twitch is a lot more about the interaction with viewers than the music itself. I may only play 8 songs in an hour, because I spend a lot of time engaging with people in chat. I usually don’t plan sets, either – I have an online song list, and people request songs through that. Conversation varies a lot and sometimes we’re quite silly, while other times the stream can be quite vulnerable and intimate. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t been part of it. The connection on streams is very special and very energising. Of course I’m tired afterwards, but it’s not that bad. Another nice thing is that if you want to have a calmer stream, people are usually very supportive.
Can you explain your tech setup for each show? (would be great to have a few images for this)
I have my normal setup routed through an interface and then into my computer. I use Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) which allows me to pull in my audio signal, camera signal, and overlay graphics and other sources. This then gets sent out to Twitch or whichever streaming service (Facebook, Youtube) I am using. I have my Macbook set up in front of me so that I can easily read comments and run the stream – right now it’s balancing on my keyboard, which isn’t ideal (yes, there is a pizza box involved) but with limited space, I do what I need to.
I also have a light just right of the camera, and another one on the left for when I’m at the keys. The curtain behind me is very thin, so it took a while to figure out how to get a good image for daytime streams, but it’s easier with a good camera and lighting.
It’s quite a cosy space – I actually need to climb over my bed to get in and out, and squeeze around the keyboard. On the right is my light with diffuser, camera on tripod, wifi router with ethernet connection, and laptop.
POV – stream preview on the laptop, camera, light, iPad with chord charts, and the pizza box that means I’m perpetually craving pizza.
I noticed on your screen you have multiple bits of text overlaid. What do they refer to?
Oooh, these can really be anything you want them to. I have my name, an indicator of whether or not the song queue is open, an event list which shows who the last follower or subscriber was, a donation goal graphic which updates when people donate to the stream, and a song queue which is linked to my online queue and updates to show the current and following 3 songs. I currently have some fun interactive graphics, too – my Christmas graphics change to reflect community support.
What is the favourite stream you’ve done?
This is such a difficult question. Being on the Front Page was a thrill, although it was most fun afterwards, because we had less people in chat so I could properly engage with people individually again. Most streams are great, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how much I earn or how many raids or followers I get. The community are so lovely, so it’s just fun to get to play for them, laugh with them, and share special moments together. Unlike many live gigs, there isn’t any pressure to fit a mould – I’m able to just be myself.
To celebrate 3000 followers I had asked people for suggestions on what we should do, and many people requested a set of original music. We spent 2 hours talking about and playing only original music, and the response was incredible!
Finally, do you have any advice for a musician thinking of getting started using Twitch for live streaming?
Just give it a try. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and be kind to yourself. It can be overwhelming.
There’s a lot to learn, a lot to juggle, and the performance medium can feel very awkward and intimidating at first. Take it bit by bit and don’t try to have the perfect stream from the get-go. The community is accustomed to new streamers and the troubles they encounter. Other musicians and viewers are also always happy to help you through things you may not understand. And know that your stream can be whatever you want it to be.
There are singers, drummers, harpists, metal guitarists, duos, classical pianists, people who perform song after song without chatting too much, people who only play a few songs every hour, high energy streams, relaxed atmospheric streams. Don’t worry about needing to fit in. Be authentic, and your viewers will find you. And enjoy the ride!