"We've been trying to figure out what the evolution of a music service is going to be, and a way to drive stronger artist-to-fan connections was an important part of that," Redington tells Billboard. "Livestreaming was an obvious next step for us. If you couple that with on-demand streaming, the fact that a fan can go directly from engaging with an artist via livestream and move into on-demand consumption is really powerful."
The opportunity is open to all artists on Amazon Music who have (or create) a Twitch channel -- all the artist needs to do is link their Twitch and Amazon Music accounts through the recently-launched Amazon Music for Artists app. Redington says that more than 1,000 artists have already connected their accounts for future streaming, including Donald Glover, Black Pumas, Imagine Dragons, Bastille and mxmtoon, and just as on Twitch, artists are welcome to stream not just performances on Amazon Music but tutorials, Q&As and other programs.
To boost event discovery, the Amazon Music homepage will now feature a carousel promoting artist livestreams; a new "Live" tab will list all the performances happening in real-time; and Amazon Music users will receive push notifications when any artist they follow goes live. Additionally, Amazon Music is launching its own branded channel with scheduled content including a Q&A with The Killers' Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci Jr. answering questions about their latest album Imploding the Mirage (Sept. 4) and a variety series from soul singer Nicole Atkins, with special guests like Elle King and Whitney (every Wednesday).
"This partnership brings the connection that's been happening on Twitch between artists and fans to a much wider audience, and creates opportunity for everyone to discover how awesome is it is when you can actually interact with your favorite musician," says Twitch vp and head of music Tracy Chan. "We think this is a step change in how the music industry should be working."
While Twitch's livestream chat box and any in-video content (such as a link to the artist's merch store) will transfer over to Amazon Music streams, there is one important caveat: Twitch's monetization options for livestreamers, which include paid subscriptions and donations through the purchase of "bits," will not. That could change: "This partnership is ongoing, so there's more to come," says Chan. "We're really excited to extend the audiences, and then further develop from there."
Twitch continues to collaborate -- and sometimes clash -- with music
Amazon Music has already worked with Twitch, which Amazon purchased for $970 million in 2014, on the recent charity-focused virtual concerts Twitch StreamAid and Willie Nelson's Luck Reunion. Along the way, the pandemic has spurred a mass migration of music artists to Twitch: For example, Disclosure regularly host music production tutorials on the platform; artists like Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park are inviting fans to contribute to music-making; Logic signed an exclusive, first-of-its kind streaming deal with Twitch; and Rolling Loud and Outside Lands have partnered with Twitch to host virtual festival editions.
But even as the music industry takes advantage of Twitch as a leading livestream platform (with 17.5 million average daily visitors) and its monetization power (with some prominent DJs earning upwards of five figures per month on the platform), music creators and their representatives have clashed with the platform over music licensing. Twitch has licensing deals with performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, but it does not with major labels or publishers including Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group or Sony Music Group (even though it frequently works with major labels on activations like virtual album release parties and channel launches for their acts).
For any unauthorized music uses by streamers on the platform, Twitch must comply with copyright takedown requests under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) "safe harbor" provision. And while that keeps the company technically compliant with the law, critics like the artist-run nonprofit Artist Rights Alliance, the RIAA and the National Music Publishers' Association have argued that Twitch should be proactive about adding more robust music licenses -- and that given its connection to Amazon, it has the know-how and resources to do so. Because creators who stream on Amazon Music broadcast directly from Twitch, Chan says that those performances will fall under the DMCA as well.
"Twitch is a creator-first company at its core," he says when asked to respond to the company's critics. "We value the work of songwriters and musicians and producers primarily, and we give guidance to our music creators to respect that intellectual property. We have our DMCA program. We also have taken the additional steps of working with the performing rights organizations on behalf of our creators, just because it’s an extra easy step that our creators don't have to worry about, and it enables songwriters and publishers to get paid."
The partnership signals a DSP race to incorporate livestreaming
Through the partnership, Amazon Music is leading the way for other digital service providers (DSPs) to add livestreaming functionality -- an increasingly likely next step. It has always been in DSPs' best interest to roll multiple offerings into one and platforms like Spotify have done so by adding lyrics, live event listings, music videos and more. As MIDiA Research's Mark Mulligan explains in a recent blog post, the livestreaming explosion allows DSPs to potentially integrate the one area of the music industry that has been mostly off-limits until now: Live experiences.
With Twitch in tow, Amazon Music already has a tremendous advantage. That's not to mention Amazon's enormous customer base through Prime, which already includes a free subscription to Twitch's premium offering, Prime Gaming (formerly known as Twitch Prime). Redington says the partnership will also build on Amazon's "multimodal" strategy of offering both active, visual music listening through the Amazon Music app and passive, non-visual listening through its Alexa smart speaker: "This is just one more way for our fans to connect and engage with artists," he says.
Competition may come soon enough. Spotify appears to be working on a "virtual events" listing, although this may or may not include broadcasting those events. In India, streaming service JioSaavn has partnered with short-form video app Triller to regularly integrate its videos from top artists and songs on the JioSaavn platform. And late last month, London-based virtual reality concerts company MelodyVR bought '90s file-sharing software-turned-streaming service Napster in a surprise $70 million acquisition, with plans to create the "first-ever music entertainment platform which combines immersive visual content and music streaming."
"I think it’s setting a new customer expectation of what a music service is," says Redington of Tuesday's announcement, "and it’s great for us to lead the way."