Friday, January 21, 2022

Know What Not to Know About Streaming


 

Throughout this resource, I’ve often spoken about the importance of staying fresh and creative. I truly believe that trying things is more important than knowing things. In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I talked about the idea of stacking knowledge between real experiences, rather than simply stockpiling lessons learned from reading, watching or listening. And since we’ve been talking a lot about movies recently, let’s jump once more into cinematic art. This time we’ll look at one of the best case studies for my ‘knowledge is not required’ philosophy. Specifically, how did a first-time movie director somehow spearhead what is generally considered to be the greatest film of all time?


Even if you’ve never seen it, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Citizen Kane. It’s become a synonym in colloquial English for the idea of a ‘great movie.’ If you say “This movie is no Citizen Kane,” everyone knows what you mean. But when conceptualizing that project in 1940, Orson Welles, the film’s director, had never made a movie before. And not only that, he specifically nurtured his ignorance of the filmmaking practices. By using this cultivated ignorance to his advantage, he pushed his team past their creative limits into totally new territory. He simply didn’t know what couldn’t be done, which allowed him to achieve the impossible. And I think that a Twitch streamer of any skill level could learn a lot of lessons from this mindset. 



➢ KNOWING YOUR WEAKNESSES


The film Mank is an excellent look into
the messy process behind Kane's writing.

Citizen Kane may have been made by a first-time movie director, but it’s no accident how it got to be so great. Welles knew where he needed help, and he attracted a dream team of some of the best technicians and artists in the business to work on his film. First, the screenplay was penned by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had helped to shape the previous decade of cinematic language. You can glimpse his brilliance, along with many of his other complexities, in the recent David Fincher biopic Mank. Next, Welles had cinematographer
Greg Toland, nominated for six Academy Awards throughout his life, and described by Welles as “just then, the number-one cameraman in the world.”


Editor on Citizen Kane was Robert Wise, who would go on to become a legendary director himself, winning multiple Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Creating the soundtrack for Kane was Bernard Hermann, who with later credits like Psycho, North by Northwest and Taxi Driver has gone on to be widely recognized as one of the greatest film composers of all time. And on post-production effects duty was Linwood G. Dunn. You may not realize it, but a large part of Citizen Kane’s brilliance lies in its heavy use of special effects. If you get a chance to visit the Academy Awards Museum in Los Angeles, you can see breakdowns and cels from the film’s various visual tricks- it’s said that over 50% of the film features visual effects in one way or another. Dunn was willing to try every trick in the book (and invent quite a few of his own) to bring Welles’ vision to life. 


So Welles clearly had an incredible, all-star collection of talent behind the camera at every stage of production. But we’ve all seen films with great teams that still turn out to be duds. How was Orson Welles, a cinematic amateur, able to wrangle all these departments and emerge with such a monumental achievement? Mostly, it was because he was a cinematic amateur. 



GOING SEMI-PRO


Welles' radio play made some people
really believe that aliens were invading.

Despite being new to Hollywood, Orson Welles was far from being new to the arts. By the time of Citizen Kane’s production, he had already become a successful figure in theater, and most of us have heard of his infamous War of the Worlds radio hoax. He used his past experiences to his advantage though, taking in sensibilities from radio and stage production to enhance his filmmaking. This understanding of drama from his previous background, combined with a general ignorance of what movies were ‘supposed to’ be like, allowed him to be extremely inventive within this new medium. Placements of the camera, creative editing and cutting-edge special effects permeated the entire film. At every step, Welles challenged his team to think outside the box, and reach new creative heights. And these creators behind the scenes, tired of a Hollywood run by a drab clockwork system, were glad to be outside their comfort zone. On his first first visit to Hollywood, he called movie studios, “the greatest electric train set a boy ever had.” And he seemed to keep that mindset at the forefront throughout production. Welles acted as a constant creative spark, which helped to ignite the creativity of every department on his film. 


We all have this kind of overflowing creative energy within us. The problem is, we eventually grow up. Think back to when you were a small child. What did you want to be when you were older? When we’re children, our dreams are totally uninhibited. A child has no conception of how difficult it is to become an astronaut, or a firefighter, or an Olympic athlete. But that doesn’t stop them from believing that it will come true. There are a select few of those children who are able to follow those dreams throughout their lives and make them into reality. Welles, as a young adult, was able to tap into this childlike superpower to create a legendary work of art. And you can use that same ability to build an incredible Twitch stream. 



ONE-PERSON CREW


The nice thing about streaming is that you aren’t creating a single finished product, like a movie. There’s no point where the whole thing is ‘done,’ it’s a constant work in progress. And as you keep going live and honing the stream, you hone your abilities as well. You don’t need the equivalent of Linwood G. Dunn to design your graphics, or Greg Toland to operate your Logitech webcam. As you improve your streaming skills, you will become those people. By gaining more experience and applying yourself to various disciplines, you will continually gain the wisdom and know-how for streaming that those legends knew about their departments when making movies. 


But most importantly, never let go of the Orson Welles inside your heart. Don’t come back down to earth. Challenge the jaded and realistic side of yourself to act on your biggest ideas, your weirdest visual concepts, the things you’ve always wanted to do on your channel but have never seen anyone else doing. As Charles Foster Kane says in the film when questioned about his journalism practices, “I don't know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher; I just try everything I can think of.” That perfectly summarizes his character, as well as Orson Welles’ mindset when creating the film itself. In my own projects, I try to tap into that magic whenever I can. Give it a shot yourself- try thinking so far outside the box that you’re in a class of your own. That’s what Orson Welles did for cinema. And when you know what not to know about streaming, you can do the same on Twitch. 


Friday, January 14, 2022

Limit Your Streams Like a Movie Director


 

In the previous entry we talked about looking to great movie directors for inspiration in our streams. There, we explored how an unbridled love for the craft, and combining other interests with our work, can help to establish a distinct creative style. There’s another point I’ve always found fascinating about the cinematic greats though. They use limitations to heighten their own creative senses. In this entry, we’re going back to the movies, to see how directors use limits either imposed on them, or that they set up themselves, in order to keep the creative juices flowing. During this entry, consider how your Twitch streams may benefit from a few strategically placed limits in this same way. 



➢ CINEMATIC LIMITS


Many directors keep strong opinions about their craft, and actually create their own limitations. Tarantino and Christopher Nolan for example, shoot all their movies on film, the volatile and expensive camera format of classic cinema, rather than the high definition digital techniques most modern directors use. Wes Anderson regularly uses custom miniature models in his films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch rather than CGI, which would be faster and cheaper. And in his newest film Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright chose to do many of his most impressive effects totally within the camera, creating a psychedelic mirror dimension through simple choreography and staging instead of computer-generation. 


Fun Fact: Dune II (1992) was the progenitor
of the real-time strategy genre.

The self-imposed limits don’t stop there either- some even apply to great movie directors watching films. Fourteen years ago, David Lynch famously went on his tirade about the inferiority of watching
movies on a phone, but these values still hold strong today. Last year, Denis Villeneuve contended that his movie Dune was meant to be seen on the big screen. Even watching the film on a TV, he said, was akin to driving “a speedboat in your bathtub.” And of course, directors like the aforementioned Wright and Tarantino uphold strict rituals about the way they watch movies, keeping lists and giving out their own awards as I mentioned in the previous entry. There’s some common thread among screen legends which leads them to set limitations and rules for themselves and then follow them rigidly. It may not seem to make sense at first glance, but it’s hard to argue with the results. 



➢ LIMITS ON STREAM


I’m a big believer in setting limitations when streaming. I think it helps a creator to more succinctly find their voice and really become unique. What are some values you truly believe in? Let those guide you toward a more authentic stream. Maybe you want to do your shows with only certain types of games, or you don’t like swearing, or you want people in chat to avoid certain subjects. If something is really important to you, it’s worth taking a stand and making that a part of your channel. The only time you should be careful with self-imposed limits is when they begin to affect your ability to go live. Many people set harmful limits for themselves, like not wanting to stream if they haven’t yet purchased the highest quality gear, or waiting until they feel 100% ready before going on the air. These are not creatively stimulating limits, they’re excuses. And you should push past those blockades to create your content anyway. But if there’s a limit that helps to uphold your personal values and might help you to reach new heights creatively, give it a shot! 


For example, I decided a long time ago that I wanted to design all my own graphics. And over the years that’s allowed me to arrive at some pretty fun visual ideas for my streams. I didn’t wait until I had created a ‘full’ graphics package before starting my channel, but instead began with a modest one or two screens, expanding as I went. This allowed me to experiment and see what worked best before making more, and the fact that I began before everything was ‘ready’ meant that my limitation didn’t prevent me from going live. I’ve had a lot of fun making my own stream graphics over the years, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the visual arts. You can find more on my philosophy about this in the entry Create Your Own Stream Graphics.  



WHEN LIMITS AREN’T A CHOICE


The Warriors for PS2 did a lot within
the limitations of its hardware.

Limitations aren’t always self-imposed. Kevin Smith made his first movie, Clerks, for the near-non-existent budget of $27,000, paid for on his personal credit cards. (For reference, its sequel twelve years later cost $5 million.) He didn't make his first movie this way because he wanted to see how cheaply he could make a film, it was because he actually just had no money. And this monetary limitation brought limits of other sorts as well- inferior equipment, a single location, and the ability to only shoot in the convenience store where he was employed during his off-hours. But this all worked toward the film’s advantage. Clerks is an indie comedy masterpiece, which shines because of a strong screenplay, clear artistic voice and great characters. None of those things require money or equipment to achieve. And it’s the same on your Twitch streams. You don’t need anything fancy to make something great. Even if your limitations are from financial necessity or circumstance, there’s no reason your shows can’t be amazing when you set your mind to it. 


Of course, I recently focused on the limitations of another great film director in a Twitch Playbook entry as well. Alfred Hitchcock had to contend with the limitations of technology and the very strict film review board of his era. But as you might be able to tell from the entry’s title, Learn From Your Stream’s Limitations, I think those constrictions actually helped him in the end, to think more creatively. So whatever limits you face in your streaming career, don’t let them get you down. Use them to your advantage. Or, if you feel your streams are too bland right now, create a few new limitations and let them guide your channel into a more interesting creative style. Nothing can stop you when you limit your streams like a movie director. 


Friday, January 7, 2022

Learn to Stream from the Silver Screen


 

Quentin Tarantino, legendary director of films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and most recently, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, says this about his trade: “You don't have to know how to make a movie. If you truly love cinema with all your heart and with enough passion, you can't help but make a good movie.” If you change a few words from that sentiment, this could easily be used as one of the best quotes about streaming imaginable. All it takes is love and passion. 


At his most voracious, Tarantino on average watched 200 movies a year- and that was at a time before Netflix. He also kept a list of everything old and new he saw, and created his own little personal awards for ones he loved. In the recent Twitch Playbook entry How to Use Your Influences for Streaming, I described a similar devotion to routine in the video game creator Hideo Kojima, who never lets bad reading choices influence his excitement about reading books as a whole. You may recognize a pattern here. Truly talented creators aren’t born with what they have. They absorb. And they don’t do that because they have to, but because they want to. They allow their interests and their quirks to guide them to their creations. In this entry we’ll gather Twitch streaming inspiration through the silver screen, and explore how the best movie directors have been able to use the things they love to create masterpieces. 



➢ WHAT MOVES YOU? 


Guillermo del Toro is a huge fan of Bioshock, 
and it's easy to see why.

The winner for Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards was about a woman who falls in love with a giant fish-man. Not exactly the traditional Oscar-bait material, but then again, nothing ever is with director Guillermo del Toro. And that’s what makes him so great. This is a man who thrives on the weird. He lives, literally, in a
house of horrors. His family home is full of classic Universal movie props, life-sized figures of Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff, and other monster memorabilia. Everything he’s ever directed has a strange air about it, something off-kilter that Hollywood typically wouldn’t touch. Each of his films is totally unique, but always distinctly his. Guillermo del Toro has never been afraid to put his passions in the forefront, no matter the stigma that might attach to his works. He never tried to bend his creations toward what might be more acceptable to a common audience- every one of his films is filled with genuine love and obscure sensibilities. And eventually, staying true to himself led to being awarded Hollywood’s highest honor. 


Edgar Wright, who directed Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver, seems to keep a strict and devoted regimen even in his leisure time. This man has been incredibly busy recently. He released not one but two films in 2021- the time-hopping thriller Last Night in Soho and the incredible music documentary The Sparks Brothers. Despite that schedule however, he found the time to watch 330 films in his free time- nearly one a day! You can find his full viewing list published online, with careful notation to indicate first-time watches and films seen in the cinema. This is someone who clearly loves what he does, enough that he not only creates, but keeps himself disciplined in his regimen of consumption. And if you’ve ever seen an Edgar Wright film, like with Tarantino or del Toro, his overwhelming love for the art form shines through in every scene he’s directed. When producing your Twitch streams, are you allowing all your passions to shine through? Or are you making concessions to ‘the norm’? If the content you want to make doesn’t ‘fit in’ but you’re passionate about the things you love, rest assured that you’re in good company. 



PRIVATE SCREENING


Find streaming inspiration in the movies!

There’s a lot that can be learned from movies when you stream on Twitch. Not only by studying camera techniques and lighting, but also by looking behind the camera. Countless behind-the-scenes resources exist, from DVD special features and books, to following your favorite directors on Twitter. And by paying attention to how the greats treat their craft, it’s easy to become inspired about your own project. Paying attention to the exploits of Tarantino, del Toro and Wright in various forms throughout the years has greatly inspired me personally. And whoever you look up to in the film business, whether it’s a director, screenwriter, editor, costume designer, or anything else, see if you can’t glean some inspiration of your own from the way they approach their craft. There are plenty of rewards to be gained when you learn to stream from the silver screen. 


Thursday, December 30, 2021

Growth Check-In: The Best Day to Start Streaming


 

To all those listening to this entry when it comes out, Happy New Year! As we ring in 2022, many of us will follow the time-honored tradition of setting a New Year’s Resolution to begin streaming. And within that group of streaming hopefuls, a large percentage will follow the other time-honored New Year’s tradition, of never following through with their goal. As I mentioned in the entry How to Stick to Your Streaming Plans, 92% of Americans fail to keep their resolutions for a full year, and 80% will give up within the first month. Now I know it sounds like I'm being a total downer here, but trust me, it's for a good cause. Because if the start of a new year doesn’t work for kickstarting a new project, this begs the question: when is the best day to start streaming? 


The answer is, there’s nothing wrong with having your venture coincide with a new year. (The first episode of this podcast, for example, happened to be released in the first week of January three years back!) The problem instead lies in the way most people build up their expectations for New Year’s Resolutions: all talk and no action. Most of us revel in telling others about our objectives for the upcoming twelve months, and as I’ve explored in Twitch Playbook entries before, I think it’s the gratification we get from sharing our incomplete plans that causes them to end up fizzling out. So whether you’re here on the cusp of a new year or in the middle of June, rest assured: today is the best day to start streaming. Don’t make a big deal about it to others. Don’t overthink it. Just start. 


If you’ve been following The Twitch Playbook to this point, you know this topic is really important to me. I’ve covered it from several angles in various entries like Start Your Twitch Channel with No Money, How to Find the Time to Stream on Twitch and Don’t Wait to Start Your Streaming Dream. And the concept of ‘starting’ doesn’t only apply to absolute beginners either. Many experienced streamers want to make changes, but feel nervous about rocking the boat. Streaming is a constantly shifting journey, in which we often find new priorities, come up with different ideas, and explore new pathways. So whether your channel has yet to be created, or you’ve been broadcasting for years, in this Growth Check-In entry we’ll explore some of my favorite methods to get yourself out of your head and onto the air. 



PUT IN THE TIME


Plenty of games get improved after release,
but we appreciate getting to play them early.  

Perfection is one of the biggest reasons why people never begin their projects. They want to wait until they have everything exactly where they want it, and figure that until that time there’s no need to make a move. Of course, things never work out exactly the way we want them to, and that causes most people to wait so long that they never start at all. In the entry
When in Doubt, Stream, I spoke about how you should avoid this mindset when streaming on Twitch. Do not let such a misguided pursuit as 'perfection' stop you from putting in actual hours live on the air. Improving your ability to stream is more important than improving the means by which you stream. And if you think about it that way, it doesn’t matter whether you own a capture card or you stream from a smartphone pointed at the TV screen. Both work just as well to log hours of experience.


In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I told a story about how The Beatles were writing songs and performing live before they even learned all the chords on their guitars. And on top of that, once they became worldwide sensations, they still never learned to read or write musical notation. There are countless stories like this, of successful figures who began their projects in this same way. They didn’t wait until they had gathered all the tools and knowledge of their field, but followed their passions and allowed themselves to learn as they went. The only important thing when following your dream is that you care deeply about it. And streaming, of course, is no different. You don’t need to listen to every episode of this podcast, or buy all the equipment you consider to be the ‘bare minimum.’ Just go live with whatever you already own, embrace your ignorance, and accumulate real-world broadcasting experience. There’s nothing you can learn on a page, in a podcast or by watching a video that will teach you more than you can glean by simply going live for days and weeks on end.



➢ MAKE GOOD DECISIONS


Choices are also ironically a big problem for many of us. It may seem to be convenient to have so much independence and so many options, but this same freedom often causes us to seize up and do nothing. In the entry How to Avoid Streamer’s Block, I talked about limiting your choices. If you can become more decisive, you’ll put out more streams. And if you do more streams, you’ll improve more quickly. Of course, I know what you’re thinking:  how do you be more decisive while still making the right choices? The answer is, any choice is better than no choice. If your two options are to either make a less-than-perfect stream today, or not do a show until tomorrow, embrace imperfection and go live now! Sometimes it’s best to take away your ability to choose, in order to grow. 


So if you’ve been streaming for a while and can’t decide on the best way to approach your newest channel feature, just go for it. Let it be imperfect now, and improve it over time. If you’ve been wanting to start streaming and can’t find the right time to pull the trigger, there’s no time like the present. Today is the best day to start streaming. No matter what day it is while you’re listening to this episode. Don’t think. Just stream. You’ll thank yourself for it later. 


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Stream Like a Hobbit



When you’re streaming, it’s tempting to reach for as much as you can possibly grab. This may include fame when you constantly go for more followers, production value when seeking out new equipment to buy, or money if you continuously sign yourself up for more and more branded deals. We often pursue some kind of reward, a light at the end of the tunnel where we’re able to comfortably create our streams without worries. In the recent entry When Is Your Stream Enough? I went into this topic in-depth, and suggested that it might be okay to stream comfortably now, rather than putting off that satisfaction until after you’ve hit some arbitrary milestone. This time, we’re going to go further into that idea by exploring one of my favorite stories. In other words, sometimes it’s best to stream like a hobbit. 



➢ THE RETURN JOURNEY


First, a quick heads up: this entry will explore the ending of JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. So if you haven’t read the book or seen the films, move forward at your own risk. (And honestly, you can’t go wrong with the book, the 1968 radio drama, the 1970’s Rankin Bass TV movie, or the 2012-14 Peter Jackson trilogy. So go read or watch whichever you prefer- you’ll be doing yourself a favor!) 


Now onto the story. Once Smaug has been defeated and the smoke has cleared after The Battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo makes his way back home with Gandalf the wizard. But there’s a detail of his return journey that I always found to be one of the most interesting parts of the whole quest: Despite being entitled to one fourteenth of the treasure horde under The Lonely Mountain, the hobbit chooses to take with him only two small chests of gold and silver. In explanation he says, “Very kind of you[...] But really it is a relief to me. How on earth should I have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.” When thinking in Twitch terms, this very neatly summarizes two different pitfalls of ambition. 


Geralt gets attacked everywhere he goes.
He's used to it by now.

First, Bilbo anticipates being accosted while trying to transport a larger sum of treasure all the way back to Hobbiton. In a creative endeavor, our greatest treasure is our ambitions. And like medieval (or Middle-earth) travelers, we’re always at risk of being attacked while holding those dreams in our possession. As I’ve spoken about in many other entries, our self-consciousness, the pressure of time, peer pressure, and a thousand other small factors constantly attack us like highwaymen, trying to take these precious things away. Every day, another person in the world will give up on their life goals because one of these metaphorical robbers finally got to them. Make sure you’re only taking risks on your channel that you’d be willing to fight for. 


Second, Bilbo wonders what he’d even do with more than two chests of treasure when he got home. ‘Getting home’ in this case would mean reaching your goals on Twitch. He realizes that more isn’t always better, and even if he were able to reach his destination without any difficulty, the result may not even be desirable. With more treasure comes more headache, as any interaction with the Sackville-Bagginses could tell you. The two chests were enough for him, so Bilbo was content. Similarly on Twitch, not everyone on Twitch has to aspire to the same ambitions. Streaming is not a linear path, along which all channels can be plotted. There is a set starting point, but after that, everyone goes their own way. 



NOT AT HOME


I’ve spoken in past entries about how we sometimes reach for goals for the wrong reasons. And when we begin from that point, our projects begin growing in the wrong directions. For example, this happens if we begin our channels with the hopes to impress others, rather than fully enjoy them ourselves. When we want to be able to tell our family and friends how much our endeavors are growing, we focus more on making the viewer and subscriber graphs climb. And when we focus more on that, we aim toward more styles of content which bring more attention. And we continually push aside the things we really like doing, in favor of whatever will enable that goal. A similar twisting of ambitions occurs when we start streaming solely to make money. As I often say, the means on Twitch are more important than the ends. Because the means are where we spend most of our time. 


They may not make good standing armies, 
but they make great video games. 

In his hugely influential treatise The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli discusses the best and worst strategic ideas in warfare. He suggests that mercenaries, a pillar on which much of the Italian states’ military might were based at the time, are a terrible idea: “The fact is, that they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe...” Essentially, money and reward is not enough to make a soldier willing to give up everything he has. He needs a real cause to believe in, like the defense of home and family. This is how 300 spartans made such a legendary dent in the invading 10,000 Persian soldiers, and how the paltry American army defeated a global superpower to gain independence. And even with his self-proclaimed lack of warfare knowledge, Bilbo Baggins innately understood the same concept. Only take risks when you’d be willing to fight for the results. On Twitch, we should treat our channels the same way. You’re giving up a significant portion of your time and energy when you create your content. And if you truly want to stick with it, aiming for money and fame isn’t enough. Create a stream you wholeheartedly believe in, so that no matter what kind of content you’re creating, it'll be a worthwhile adventure. Get out there and stream like a hobbit!


Friday, December 17, 2021

How to Use Your Influences for Streaming



If you’ve been following The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you’ll know that I draw inspiration from many different artists of various disciplines. There have been entries focusing on the music of Bob Dylan, the writings of Mark Twain, and the films of Hitchcock. Though each of these artists focuses on a different craft, they all have something in common: an unbridled love of the arts. Whether pulling from the works of others in their discipline, like a movie director drawing from other movies, or jumping across to others, like musicians being inspired by television, truly great creators keep their minds active by not only enjoying the media they watch, read or listen to, but by putting it to use. 


Many Twitch streamers believe that in order to improve a Twitch channel, they must consume other content related to Twitch. They watch other Twitch streams, look up tutorials with ‘Twitch’ specifically in the name, and get into Twitch-related discussions. And while all these things can help you in your quest, it leaves out a huge wealth of potential knowledge and inspiration. I think that a balanced diet of different media, consumed regularly and with care, can lead to a much healthier Twitch channel overall. In this entry, we’ll talk about how a love of books, movies, TV and music can help to keep your Twitch channel fresh. 



➢ FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME


Anyone who knows this podcast knows that I love the works of Hideo Kojima. He’s responsible for the Metal Gear Solid series of video games, as well as the more recent masterpiece Death Stranding. Kojima is a hugely inspirational figure to me, who wears his influences on his sleeve. He’s a major believer in pulling from other artistic genres for his work, saying so himself on all his social media profiles, with his quote, “70% of my body is made of movies.” And while cinema is certainly a huge presence in what he creates, there is so much more going on under the surface. Throughout the years, I’ve discovered countless movies, books, bands and other pieces of art because of his games and real-world recommendations. I find his voracious consumption of media hugely inspiring, not because he’s able to watch, read and listen to so much, but because he has the uncanny ability to take what he’s consumed and redirect that inspiration into his own creations. 


Death Stranding puts many of Kojima's musical
passions in the spotlight.

Kojima opens his newly published book
The Creative Gene by describing the zen-like connection he has cultivated with other works of art: “I place tremendous significance on the media I encounter within the limits of my lifetime. Such encounters are acts of happenstance; they can seem like a product of fate. I have no idea what will connect with me, or where, or what kind of connection will form. And so, rather than wait in a passive haze, I desire to act with purpose and to cherish the encounters that result from my choices.” Kojima goes to the bookstore every single day. He reads and reads and reads, making no attempt to research which books will be good or bad beforehand. He briefly roams the shelves, and picks whatever stands out to him that day. If it’s good, that’s great. If it’s bad, oh well. On to the next one. As he puts it, “If the book I choose is a miss, there is no reason to become discouraged. That is also part of the learning process that will guide me toward another winner. Time spent reading such a book is not wasted, but rather leads me to my next encounter.”


I think this is an amazing way to look at the process of consuming. Too many of us are focused on only experiencing things we already know we’ll like. It’s the reason that Hollywood churns out so many identical blockbusters and other safe bets. We actually get upset when something we watch isn’t perfect, we wish we hadn’t spent the time, and we blame whoever recommended it. But what if we accepted that all the media we take in is a net gain? What if everything we watch, read, or listen to, whether we enjoy it or not, is a worthwhile experience? Just like how a person doesn’t have to be perfect to influence your life, a movie or book doesn’t have to be good to teach you something worth learning. It’s all about how you approach the material. When streaming, the same is true. Even if you had a bad stream today, and there were glitches or embarrassing moments, you’re always gaining something valuable from the experience. 



WHAT ARE YOU LEARNING? 


While Kojima takes his influences from all genres and turns them into video games, there are other artists who successfully work within one medium while being influenced primarily by that same medium. Movie directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese for example, are famous for essentially transposing existing cinematic styles and making them their own. And it’s important to remember that you don’t need to consume a lot of content to make something great either- it’s about how well you can channel the creative energy you receive. In Peter Jackson’s incredible 7-hour documentary about The Beatles’ final album Let It Be, there’s a scene in which George Harrison describes a TV show he happened to be watching the previous night. And from having taken in that one piece of audiovisual inspiration, he wrote the entire song I Me Mine in those few moonlit hours before coming in the next day. The show he was watching didn’t sound like the song he wrote at all (at least as far as I could detect), but the inspiration struck, and he understood how to channel it. 


Not pictured: The Beatle I was actually talking about.

So clearly there’s some kind of mysterious value in consuming media, even if you want to apply the inspiration to a totally different discipline, like, in our cases, Twitch streaming. But the question is, how do you harness that skill and transmute the lessons learned from one thing into something totally different? For me personally, it’s about being able to definitively quantify my feelings about what I consume. Many of us settle for ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ but that doesn’t suffice, because it doesn't really mean anything. As I mentioned during the section about Hideo Kojima and the books he reads, it’s not about whether we liked it, it’s about learning from it. In the entry Chronicle Your Twitch Progress, I spoke about how I write down short summaries after every conversation I’ve had in Japanese. This allows me to break down what worked, and what needed improvement. When it comes to movies and books, I do the same thing. After watching any movie or reading any book, I write down my thoughts. Not in terms of whether I liked it, but in terms of what I thought worked and what I thought didn’t. And most importantly: why. No hiding behind vagueries, but really confronting my opinions, being honest with myself, and committing those thoughts to a permanent record. There are several websites where you can do this yourself with movies, books and music, should you so choose. In my own life, I think forcing myself to think meaningfully about what I consume heightens my creative senses, and allows me to arrive at good ideas more quickly. No matter what we’re doing, it’s always possible to learn from it. Make sure you’re not wasting time, even while you’re wasting time. There’s no telling what you can create when you learn to use your influences for streaming. 


Friday, December 10, 2021

When Is Your Stream Enough?



As we build our Twitch channels, we’re always looking upward. What’s next? What new thing can we add? How can we make this better? It’s always fun to build things, and it’s great for your personal creativity, but I think there’s another important question you should ask yourself when expanding on Twitch: When is your stream enough? This applies to the channel as a whole, as well as to individual features within your channel. At some point, it must be okay to say, “This works, and I’m satisfied with it.” In this entry, we’ll try to identify when it’s okay to slow expansion and instead focus on refining what you have. 



➢ BUILDING FOR ITS OWN SAKE


First of all, why should we think about slowing down? Isn’t the objective to always be growing our brands? In a way, yes, but it’s about balance. If you truly love everything about what you do while you’re in maximum effort mode, then by all means keep doing it. Maybe check in every once in a while to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying the grind. For many of us however, it’s not a complete win-win. It’s more of a trade-off. We sacrifice some aspects of what we enjoy, in order to facilitate faster growth. And if you fall into this camp, you may want to look inwards sooner rather than later. But in the end, whether you enjoy what you’re doing or you don’t, always ensure you’re working toward the scale you actually want to achieve. 


Again, Scrooge McDuck may have a different
stance on this subject. 

Because the traditional mindset about building a brand is to keep constant upward momentum, this idea of aiming for a specific scale may sound ridiculous. “The sky's the limit,” you might say. “Why aim low?” And to communicate this idea, I’ll use another example that people usually chase after without any limit in mind:
money. Tim Ferriss, in his excellent book The 4-Hour Workweek, sums up the psychology of money this way: “People don’t want to be millionaires — they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy.” In other words, we want to be free to spend our days doing what we love, rather than what we must. We want to take vacations. We want to be able to buy gifts for loved ones and treat them to nice things. We want to stop having to worry about paying rent. Unless you’re Scrooge McDuck, it’s unlikely that you’re interested in the actual bills (or coins) of legal tender, and more interested in the kind of lifestyle that money represents



STREAMING LIKE YOU’RE RETIRED


Similarly, on Twitch we chase followers in much the same way that we chase money. We try as hard as we can to collect them, and continue trying to make the number go up, no matter how high it gets. When chasing money, we keep working and saving, hoping to someday enjoy the benefits of our labor. And with Twitch, those followers accrue and grow our brands, in the hopes that someday we can do what we actually love on our channels, rather than what we have to do in order to get more followers. In the above mentioned book, Ferriss shows readers how he’s able to live on less money overall, but simultaneously cut expenses and time spent working in such a way that his net gain is higher than it was before. In short, because he takes on less work and spends wisely, he has more time to do the things he truly wants to do. And more than simply having a lot of money, that’s what it means to be rich. Because the overly ambitious investment banker who puts in 100 hour weeks is just as much a thrall to his paycheck as the rest of us working 9 to 5, because he never has the free time or peace of mind to truly enjoy his wealth. The same thing is very useful to consider on Twitch. Fast follower growth isn’t worth much if you’re spending all your time and energy trying to attain it. Because then, when do you truly taste the fruits of your labor? When you’re so burnt out that you can’t enjoy them? 


Your creativity flourishes when you have
more time to be creative.

Similar to the 80/20 Rule, which I described in the entry Stream Smarter, Not Harder, it’s about finding the highest gain that also takes the least of your time and energy to achieve. Be honest: if you had a hundred thousand followers, would you be doing the same thing on your channel that you do right now? Or would you no longer be worrying about how many followers you have? In that scenario, free of the concern for how you’ll ‘make it’ on Twitch, you may find you’d no longer be weighing all your game choices and show formats against which will perform better, and would instead be choosing based on whatever you actually want to do. The 4-Hour Workweek describes how to live your entire life as carefree as if you’re in retirement, rather than saving all your money for one big retirement at the end of your career. And I contend that the same can be done for streaming, when you’re able to de-prioritize growth enough to focus on what you truly love doing. 



CREATING BOUNDARIES


Growing your channel is good. Don’t mistake this entry for a suggestion that you give up on your expansion efforts entirely. But in the end, your stream exists to serve you. It’s your passion project, and it would be a shame if that passion project didn’t allow you to actually engage in your passions. So of course reach for the things that challenge you, try new ideas, experiment, fail, and try again. But don’t let your efforts for growth get in the way of your potential for enjoyment. Ask yourself, when is your stream enough? When do you get to enjoy the content you’ve created for a change? If you organize your priorities well enough, you’ll see that the time has already come. You just have to put it into action.