Think of the video-streaming platform Twitch, and you’ll probably think of video games. It’s become the most popular streaming platform in the world, and is the go-to place for anyone who wants to either watch someone else playing their favorite game or try to make money from other people watching them play. It’s a near-impossible concept to explain to the majority of people over the age of 50, but for a surprising number of people younger than that, it’s become a full-time job. It will not, however, be a full-time occupation for anybody who sings on it for much longer.
A year and a half ago, Twitch launched the karaoke platform ‘Twitch Sings’ with a confusing set of labels. In some press releases, they described it as a game. In others, they described it as an ‘entertainment opportunity’ from which, should the platform become successful, people might be able to launch whole singing careers. It wasn’t too bold a claim to make; people have been picked up and signed from singing on YouTube, so there’s no reason to believe that the same couldn’t have become true of Twitch Sings if the service had performed as expected. Just as people make ‘donations’ to those playing video games, viewers can give money to those whose performances they enjoy as they perform live. If a singer were able to generate regular audiences of thousands of people, they’d probably never require a record label’s services at all.
Although the idea doesn’t sound especially original, the creation of Twitch Sings marked the first attempt to create a karaoke-like experience across the internet, with a live audience. In terms of innovation, it could be compared to the creation of online slots websites. The concept of slot games and casino attractions clearly didn’t start with the appearance of online slots websites on the internet after 2001, but those early sites took the existing format of casino games and presented them in a new way, capturing a new audience in the process. These days, you’ll find officially-approved online slots featuring major recording artists at online slots websites, so there was probably no reason to believe that those same recording artists couldn’t reach a new audience by licensing their songs to Twitch Sings. It was the same principle – take something that already exists, remove the physical aspects, and run it through the internet. Sadly for them – and for the small but enthusiastic base of users that exists on Twitch Sings – it wasn’t to be.
If you’re a regular (or even occasional) Twitch Sings user, you don’t have much more time in which to indulge your hobby. The service will be closed down permanently as of January 1st, 2021, and existing videos will begin to be deleted off Twitch’s servers at the beginning of December 2020. Although the service has fierce proponents and a reasonable number of daily users, the unfortunate reality is that there aren’t enough people using it to justify continuing it as a standalone product. There are three million people following the ‘music’ category on Twitch, but only 161,000 of them have been persuaded to give ‘Twitch Sings’ a try. Perhaps they’re not comfortable appearing in front of a camera. Maybe they don’t have a microphone good enough to record their voices. It’s probably far more likely that there just aren’t that many people willing to sing live in front of total strangers on the internet. Karaoke bars might make a roaring trade in the real world, but the people who use them are usually large groups in the middle of a night out. When you’re on your own at home with neighbors who might overhear you, karaoke doesn’t seem as appealing an idea.
There is a tiny sliver of positive news to go with all the doom and gloom that comes with this announcement. Between now and the day that Twitch Sings starts to undergo the dismantling process on January 1st, there will be more songs available on the platform than ever before. The service went live with a collection of two hundred songs, but licensing deals had already been agreed on several hundred more to be added over the months and years to come. Now that those months and years will never happen, the remaining four hundred songs that have never been released will be made available immediately. Twitch Sings enthusiasts might only have a little under three months left to enjoy the service, but they’ve got the opportunity to go out with a bang by singing things they’ve never sung before.
It’s also possible that this isn’t the end for the idea of a Twitch-backed singing platform. In the same statement in which they gave the bad news, the Amazon-owned company said that it would soon bring in ‘broader tools’ to grow Twitch’s music community. The wording of the statement is vague – perhaps intentionally so – but it might be that the functionality of Twitch Sings becomes integrated into the general Twitch app as opposed to continuing as a standalone product. Leaving the service as a standalone always felt like a strange move when it came to building an audience, as the app was only ever available for PCs. Smartphone users and console users never had access to Twitch Sings, and may never have known that it existed at all. It feels harsh to blame the platform for never finding an audience when it was never, in reality, given any chance to find one beyond the confines of the PC – which isn’t the most popular medium for engaging with Twitch in the first place.
The deletion of videos and material from Twitch Sings will include every video uploaded by its users, and it will be impossible to retrieve any footage after it’s been deleted. If you’ve uploaded videos to Twitch Sings in the past, and you’d like to preserve them for the future, you should log on before the beginning of December to download them or back them up. While a little over 150,000 users wasn’t enough to sustain Twitch Sings, it would be more than enough to keep a smaller platform happy. If anyone wants to come up with a similar product and attempt to capture the soon-to-be-homeless network of Twitch Sings users, they have a few short weeks to make their pitch.
Farewell, Twitch Sings. We barely knew you!