Twitch is giving users a new way to avoid copyright takedowns when using music in their livestreams — and it doesn’t involve licensing deals with major record labels.
The Amazon-owned livestreaming platform is popular among gamers (and recently, musicians) as a place to build community and monetize their live video streams. But as the platform continues to grow amid the pandemic, with 17.5 million average daily visitors, users are getting dinged by rights-holders for playing music in their streams without the proper licenses, and music industry trade bodies like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) are pressuring Twitch — which does not have music licensing agreements with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group or Sony Music Entertainment — to come to the negotiating table.
Twitch has responded to those escalating tensions today (Sept. 30) with the beta launch of Soundtrack by Twitch, an in-platform music streaming service packed with more than 1 million rights-cleared songs by independent artists for Twitch streamers to use as background music in their livestreams, legally and free of charge. The product, which is more than a year in the making, begins rolling out to select creators today with a wide release for all users planned down the line. In the meantime, creators can join the waitlist here.
In lieu of standard music licensing deals, the service is made possible through partnerships with around 30 independent music companies, labels, publishers and aggregators, which are exchanging access to portions of their catalogs for exposure to Twitch’s enormous user base, according to a source familiar with the matter. “We knew through feedback from our industry partners that Twitch has this massive audience that loves music, and if we could find a way for artists to discover new audiences and vice versa, we think that would be a great flywheel,” Twitch vp and head of music Tracy Chan tells Billboard. He declined to disclose further specifics of those deals.
The companies partnering up with Soundtrack include SoundCloud, Monstercat, DistroKid, CD Baby, EMPIRE, Westwood Recordings, UnitedMasters, Alpha Pup, POPGANG Records, Text Me Records, Steve Aoki‘s Dim Mak, Create Music Group, Above & Beyond‘s Anjunabeats, Soundstripe, Future Classic, Songtradr, Nuclear Blast and Chillhop Music, along with the artist mxmtoon.
SoundCloud vp and head of repost Jeff Ponchick called Twitch a “companion platform” in a press release, saying that “we are both passionate about helping creators make a living through their audiences online, on their own terms.” Indie artist mxmtoon, an avid gamer herself, said that she participated because “I know how much my own audience loves to listen to music alongside me, and the thought of allowing other creators the opportunity to have access to my music was extremely exciting.”
To help deliver on its promise of exposure, Twitch is adding a new, clickable button to streams that incorporate Soundtrack which will display the song being played and allow users to open the song in a separate streaming service. Soundtrack — which has an interface similar to Spotify’s — will also feature marquee editorial playlists curated by Twitch music staff, label partners and Twitch users like Logic, plus a handful of “endless” stations which repopulate songs continuously, catered to marathon streamers who don’t want to have to fiddle with a track list mid-stream.
The deals cover uses of full songs in livestreams worldwide, but not in clips or other archived versions (which would require a different set of licenses). That’s why whenever a user incorporates Soundtrack by Twitch in a livestream and then archives that livestream, Twitch will now automatically drop the audio signal from the archived version.
What if a Twitch user still wants to play, say, Drake? For any music users play during their streams that does not fall under the Soundtrack catalog, Twitch — like Instagram, Facebook and other platforms which host user-uploaded content — must comply with copyright takedown requests from rightsholders under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor” provision. While Twitch is technically compliant with the law so long as it responds promptly to takedown requests, critics like the NMPA and RIAA have argued that Twitch should be more proactive about negotiating robust music licenses, rather than relying on the “safe harbor” provision — especially since, they argue, music plays such a large role in Twitch streams.
Twitch does have licensing deals with performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and frequently works with the music industry on activations like virtual album release parties, artist channel launches and virtual festivals. But the debut of Soundtrack — and its touting of partnerships with the independent music community — indicates that Twitch remains hesitant to come to the negotiating table with major labels over broad music licenses for the platform.
Soundtrack follows Twitch’s Sept. 1 announcement that musician users who are listed on Amazon Music can now integrate their livestreams directly within the music streaming platform, and because that functionality flows directly through the DMCA-compliant Twitch, no new licensing deals are legally required to make it happen.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, Facebook entered a series of new music licensing deals with labels and publishers for its Facebook Gaming platform, a Twitch competitor which has 200 million monthly viewers, including multi-year pacts with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment and their respective publishing companies.