Friday, June 21, 2019

Learn to Love the Grind of Twitch Streaming






Many people get into Twitch streaming and feel like they're immediately at a disadvantage. They look at other streamers' setups and grow dejected. "It seems like everybody else is already ahead of me," they say. "If all the other streamers have better equipment, graphics, hosting techniques, or video game skills than I do, then why should I even try?" This dark rabbit hole has been the reason that many potential streamers never even started their channels, and it's been the downfall of established streamers of all sizes. Twitch is hard, and it will never stop presenting you with challenges, no matter how large you grow. Instead of looking at what others have and measuring yourself against them, you need to enjoy the process of growing your own channel. You may not last long otherwise.


➢ CHANGING YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS


Here's something about my channel: it looks and sounds worse than many other similarly sized channels. I have fewer followers than others who started at the same time. I have fewer subscribers and donations than some others at my level. And I'm aware that this will ALWAYS be the case- someone out there will always be better than me in some specific field.

It's about the Journey. Heh. Get it?
I don't sign onto my Twitch streams every day hating what I do, just because I know I'll never truly measure up against all other Twitch channels. I've learned to love the JOURNEY, not the DESTINATION. Every second of building my channel is the exciting part. The problem solving, the sleepless nights, the thousands of combined hours logged on-camera, those are what I find fun. Overcoming those challenges isn't just a means to an end. The menial, repetitive, and frustrating tasks ARE the end unto themselves.


➢ IGNORANCE IS BLISS


Twitch streamers are constantly under a heavy amount of peer pressure, whether they recognize it or not. Many think that if they don't have the microphone, camera, capture solution, chatbot features, social media options, or games that their contemporaries have, that their streams must be inferior. They become insecure on their shows, complaining about their equipment, apologizing for something they don't do on stream, or growing frustrated with the size of their community. This thought process is obviously illogical. How one person stacks up to other streamers in some arbitrary category has nothing to do with that person's worth as a streamer, but peer pressure on Twitch is very real all the same. How do you combat this? The answer is clear, but I bet you never thought to do it:

Don't watch a lot of other Twitch streams. 

Focus on your own work.
I've never seen anyone recommend this before, but it's actually been one of the most crucial things in learning to love the grind of streaming for me. Think about it. You're watching another streamer whose shows look and sound way more professional than yours. Reaching their level would be like scaling a twenty story wall. You just can't do it. Now you get home, and you have to do your own stream, with its own walls to scale. Even though these walls are only one story high, they are still very difficult for you to climb on your own. "At this rate, I'll never be able to scale a twenty story wall like the other streamer," you say to yourself. You can't see your stream ever getting as good as theirs, and you become demotivated. Then you slowly start missing more and more of your scheduled stream days until you're no longer streaming at all. It sounds ridiculous, but this is a VERY real phenomenon. It's happened to me before I started my Twitch channel. And it can happen to anyone, at any time.

The problem in the above example isn't the fact that this person is growing too slowly, or that they can't scale their own wall. The problem is that they're being distracted by someone else's wall, completely unrelated to theirs. They have no concept of how much work this other person put in behind the scenes, and they shouldn't care either way. The reason they became demotivated was because they weren't focusing on their own work. They weren't interested in the grind itself, they were interested in the reward that comes at the end: in this case, an amazing looking stream.

Of course it's important to sometimes watch other channels- I've advised you do it in several entries before. The difference is, you shouldn't binge on their content, or you'll subconsciously start measuring your stream's worth against theirs. You should get to know other streamers, get inspired by small ideas they use on their channels, and meet their communities, but don't fall into the trap of consuming so much content that you forget how much work is required to create your own.


➢ UPGRADE YOUR CRAFT, NOT YOUR CRAFTING TABLE


Let's return to the metaphor of the twenty story wall I described earlier. What if there was a trampoline you could buy, which could bounce you SO high into the air that it would immediately get you to the top of that twenty story wall? Would you buy it? Based on the behavior I've seen on Twitch, most streamers would say, "Yes."

Here's the problem: What happens when you have to scale the NEXT wall, which is thirty stories high? As we established in the metaphor earlier, your own skillset can barely get you ONE story off the ground. Guess you'll have to get a better trampoline.

Buying things is a slippery slope.
This is the most basic way I'm able to explain why you shouldn't buy things to improve your stream. There will always be bigger problems to overcome, and more pieces of equipment to buy. You won't feel better by artificially boosting the quality of your stream, because once you buy one $200 microphone, it will feel out of place without a $200 camera, or a $200 stream deck. And then once you've gotten all of those things, there will be $500 versions with even more features that you could buy to get even bigger improvements! All the while, your personality on camera still lacks confidence, your Fortnite win/loss ratio hasn't improved, and your channel hasn't grown any faster since making all these purchases. Essentially, your tech has gotten better but YOU haven't.

I've mentioned this opinion about not buying things in almost every single entry, but I suspect it's still not enough to sway some listeners. Gear lust is one of the most pervasive and hard to shake things in the Twitch community, after all. Be honest: since following The Twitch Playbook, have you bought any equipment, software, subscriptions, or other items for the specific purpose of improving your stream? If you did, don't worry. I'm not saying you've failed or that you didn't really need it, but consider having that be the last purchase you make for your channel until you've done significantly more streams- let's say 100-200 more combined hours on-camera.


➢ THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION


Just because something is difficult doesn't mean it isn't fun. Some levels in Super Mario will be a real challenge to get through, but that only makes it more rewarding to overcome those challenges. When you're at the store, you don't think of getting a Super Mario game because you want to beat it, you think of getting that game because you want to play it. The part that happens BEFORE the ending is the fun part, not the action of filing the completed game away on your shelf. You should think of Twitch the same way- each follower, viewer or subscriber milestone you reach is like beating a game, but everything you do leading up to those milestones should be the actual fun part. There's no gratification in the number itself. If you want to truly last in the long haul, fall in love with the mundane grind, not the far-off rewards.

Friday, June 14, 2019

To Improve Your Twitch, Get Inspired By Everything




I've spoken before about being proactive in improving your Twitch channel, and fixing even the aspects that are 99% perfect. Making the smallest additions or refinements, if done consistently over time, will compound into huge improvements sooner than you think. For more about these techniques, see the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day'. But even when you're deciding what to fix, you may be looking in the wrong places. I'm willing to bet that you aren't taking advantage of every potential piece of inspiration for your channel.

Yes, you can even learn during your morning
commute.
Do you watch other Twitch streams? How about Netflix? YouTube? Go to the movies? Do you read books, whether fiction or nonfiction? Do you go to work or school? Do you see advertisements on your morning commute, listen to the radio, or use apps on your phone that make your life easier? You are literally surrounded by content, information and potential inspiration that could help your stream to improve. Whether something is entertaining, informative, effective, communicative, or useful, it contains lessons that you could be learning. To improve your streams, you should get inspired by EVERYTHING.

The specifics here are going to be different for everyone, because your interests aren't the same as mine or anyone else's. But I'm willing to bet that there are things out there packed full of potential lessons that you've just been leaving on the table. The following are three major categories that have inspired me greatly over the years, and since joining Twitch have all made large impressions on my own channel:


1. OTHER KINDS OF STREAMERS


You should be getting inspired by other Twitch channels. Anybody could tell you this, and you probably already figured it out yourself anyway. As I continued streaming on Twitch however, I made an interesting discovery: the channels from which I'd draw my greatest inspiration were actually the ones that made content I had no interest in making. 

Do you like city-building games, but you'd never
stream them? Watch those streams for
inspiration!
I've noticed that a lot of Twitch streamers, especially smaller ones, will gravitate toward other channels that are as close to their own existing style of content as possible. Competitive Apex Legends streamers regularly watching other competitive Apex players, for example. This is understandable- you naturally want to watch, endorse, and chat with other people who are making content you're interested in. But if this is the only thing you do, you will soon become creatively deprived. There won't be much in the well to draw from, after all. Since you only watch Apex streams, your shows will likely resemble thousands of other Apex streams, each largely indistinguishable from the last.

But what else in the world of Twitch interests you? Forget whether it's something you'd be interested in streaming yourself. In my time on Twitch I've gotten to know oil painters, real-time strategy players, travel blog streamers, people who roleplay in The Sims, competitive first-person shooter players, and speedrunners, to name a few. All of these are types of streams that I don't focus on myself, some of which I have no interest in EVER doing on my own channel. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching them, and it certainly doesn't mean there's nothing about their shows to draw inspiration from. Quite the opposite, in fact: chat commands, graphic layouts, scene transitions, alerts, sound effects, on-camera personas, community interactions- anything can spark ideas in your head. It's the very fact that these streams are a world apart from mine that allows the creative juices to flow. If I were only watching channels that do the exact same thing as me, I'd rarely be coming up with concepts that felt unique to my field.


2. THE WISDOM OF OTHER PROFESSIONS


A customs agent can utilize their eye for
detail in many ways on Twitch.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that only Twitch-related wisdom can help you on Twitch. You're surrounded by thousands of years' worth of knowledge in countless fields and disciplines that could apply to your channel, if you only start to truly pay attention. One big example? If you've been following The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you've already been learning from the combined wisdom of all the various fields I've studied. I regularly pull quotes, terms and workflows from the worlds of video production, sound engineering, marketing, social media management, founding startup companies, narrative fiction, ancient philosophy, and more, to get my points across. This isn't because I Google insightful things to sprinkle on top of each Entry to make them seem fancier, it's because I either work in or study all of these fields. I've kept my mind open when learning all of this, in order to let it filter back into my work on Twitch.

What do you do for a living? Just because it doesn't involve streaming video games all day doesn't mean you can't apply its teachings to your Twitch channel. Does your job ever involve taking inventory in the back of a store? Adapt that process of meticulously verifying items into a concise pre-stream checklist that'll help you remember to send out your 'going live' Tweet, set up your camera, and change your stream title before each show. A teacher who has to regularly deal with angry parents can apply some of their conflict-defusing techniques in Twitch chat. If you're learning about economics in your studies, utilize that knowledge to craft interesting minigames and loyalty rewards in your channel's Chatbot software. It doesn't matter how seemingly unrelated to Twitch the field might be as a whole, your channel should be a sponge that soaks up ALL the knowledge and skills you have available to you, not just the things you learn on or around Twitch.


3. THE WISDOM OF LEISURE


When I say you should implement ALL the knowledge you have into your Twitch channel, I really mean it. What do you do when you're not working or learning? It's likely that you're spending a lot of your free time on your phone, your TV, your computer, or outside. These may not be part of your professional or academic life, but you're mistaken if you think there are no lessons to learn from these activities.

Sitting around and watching TV can still
inspire you, as long as you don't
shut off your brain completely.
Maybe you boot up a new app on your phone, and its concise tutorial sparks an idea about how to introduce your channel more effectively when talking about it on camera. A reality TV show might help you find a more interesting cadence for your streams, so you always leave another interesting moment coming up "after the break." A news anchor's manner of speaking might help you to talk without as many junk words such as "um" or "like." Maybe the way you organize files and folders on your computer could help you restructure your OBS layouts. Was there something you admired about how the emcee hosted trivia night at the bar when you were out with coworkers last week? Maybe that insight could help your Twitch channel's community game nights to run more smoothly.


➢ LEARN BY LIVING


Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. It very concisely explains how innovation is reached, and the idea that sometimes the last place you should be looking is in your own field. The lessons you learn from other Twitch channels like your own, or even from Twitch in general, won't help you achieve true greatness by themselves- you'll need to take inspiration from areas where no one else even thought to look.

As long as you allow knowledge to find you, you'll be very surprised how much in life can turn into a learning experience. My suggestion: keep your phone's notepad app handy, and write down every idea that sparks in your mind as soon as it happens, even if it seems stupid at the time. Then you can sift through those notes later. There won't be as many bad ideas in there as you think. You'll soon realize that life is constantly handing you free lessons that are applicable to Twitch. All you have to decide is whether you're going to open your mind to allow those lessons to flow in.

    Friday, June 7, 2019

    The Best Microphone Setup for Streaming




    If you've been reading The Twitch Playbook up to this point, you should know two things about me: First, I think good audio is the most important technical aspect of a Twitch stream. Second, I'm vehemently against buying new equipment in order to upgrade your shows.

    In the earlier entry 'Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic,' we discussed how to make your stream sound GOOD. In this entry, arguably even more importantly, I'm going to help you prevent it from sounding BAD. A microphone set up in the wrong location, using the wrong settings, or creating harsh audio glitches gives off the impression that the streamer isn't even trying. What's more, it's just plain unpleasant to listen to- I've left streams before, only because the person's microphone was constantly peaking with shrill audio, a problem that can be solved easily with a few minutes of adjusting.

    Here we will combat a multitude of common problems with your streaming microphone. This will not only make your streams sound better, but hopefully instill a more solution-oriented attitude when approaching your shows. You're not going to come out of this entry as a professional audio engineer, but you don't need as much knowledge about the science of sound as you might think. You just need to know where to look. Or more specifically, where to listen.


    LISTEN TO YOUR OWN AUDIO


    It should go without saying, but you need to be prepared to listen to yourself. Regularly doing this will allow you to solve most audio issues, because you'll be able to identify what you don't like. Using a little common sense, you can typically trace the problem back to its source.

    If you've got one of those hangups about hearing the sound of your own voice, you're going to need to get over that real quick. You're being broadcast on the internet- you're asking everyone else to listen to your voice, so you may as well have the decency to listen to it yourself. Download a free piece of audio software called Audacity. Use this to listen to your mic's audio, separated from the rest of your stream's audio. It'll go a long way toward optimizing your microphone's potential.


    REMOVE AUTOMATED FEATURES


    Contrary to what they might tell you, the robots
    do not know what's best.
    There's an unfortunate feature on Windows called 'AGC', or 'Automatic Gain Control.' What this does is constantly and very aggressively 'equalize' your voice to make the loud moments quieter and the quiet moments louder. Sounds good right? There's a slight problem: It never works, and it almost always makes your microphone sound like crap.

    In your Windows sound settings, find the Recordings tab and go into the properties menu for the mic you use on stream. If your mic supports it, AGC will likely be enabled by default, so you're going to want to disable that immediately. But while you're in those properties, make sure to uncheck all the other automated features as well. We want a 'clean' version of your microphone's audio, without any extra processing layered on top. This means turning off everything related to boosting, enhancing, or otherwise artificially improving your sound. AGC is often the sole culprit in a case of bad audio though, so definitely don't overlook that one.

    In production audio, AGC is the devil.



    PEAKING: THE ENEMY OF GOOD AUDIO


    When your audio is peaking, the waveform will be
    cut off on the top and bottom. This means the audio
    file will be damaged, and so will your ears.
    Screenshot credit: Larry Jordan
    For anyone who's never worked in audio before, 'peaking' in the simplest terms, is when your mic sounds strangely loud even when your speaker volume is turned down. For anyone a little more audio-enlightened, peaking is what causes most audio distortion. Remember when I told you to download Audacity? Well, open it up and start a recording. Talk once at your normal speaking volume, then get as close to your microphone as possible and YELL AN ENTIRE SENTENCE AS LOUD AS YOU CAN. You'll notice that the audio's 'waveform', the squiggly line that visually represents your sound, looks like a solid block at the point where you started yelling.

    Listen to what that sounds like (but make sure to turn your speakers down first) - it's definitely not pleasant. Without getting into the technical concepts of why this phenomenon occurs, it's best to say that you want to prevent it from happening on your show. Now place your mic wherever it's normally located during a livestream. Say one sentence at your typical hosting volume, and then yell one, as if it's an intense moment, like a firefight in Apex Legends or a tough boss battle in Sekiro. Does your audio peak, or get close to peaking? There are two major factors to consider in solving this: your mic settings and your mic placement.


    ADJUST YOUR MIC SETTINGS


    Turn this bar down and it'll go a long way
    toward improving your mic. 
    Your microphone's levels are a major factor in causing the audio to peak. Navigate back to your mic's recording properties and try turning down the Microphone slider bar in the 'Levels' tab to 50%. Do not do this in your stream software, but in the sound settings of Windows. If there is an 'input volume' dial on the microphone itself, you should adjust this even before changing the Windows settings. This will ensure that you are making adjustments as close to the source as possible.

    Now, open Audacity and record the same two sentences from earlier once again. You may have to turn your speaker volume up to hear it, but has the peaking issue been removed? If so, all you have to do is find the proper middle ground in the Microphone 'Levels' tab to use for setting your audio. A little peaking in the most absolutely crazy moments is OK, but you want to make sure it's not a regular occurrence. Once your mic is no longer peaking, you can raise the mic input levels in your streaming software to make up for the lowered Windows input settings.

    Don't let Windows sell you on their own automated choices for
    your microphone.

    OPTIMIZE YOUR MICROPHONE PLACEMENT


    Give some thought to where your microphone is physically located. If your mic is close to your mouth, make sure you're not breathing directly onto it. This can produce an ugly windy sound, much more intense than your breathing sounds in real life. If it's too far from your face, this can cause an echo effect. Does your mic sit on your desk? Make sure your use of the keyboard isn't creating loud taps or thumping noises. These are all things you can't detect in real life without listening to your recorded audio, so make sure you're not skipping that step. Aside from basic technical preparations, the placement of a microphone is the single most important aspect in capturing good audio.


    MANAGE BACKGROUND NOISE


    Everyone has experienced bad background noise in audio. We've had bad phone calls with someone speaking near a busy street, with construction going on in their building, or with their little cousins shrieking in the background. Of course, there are a few basic steps you can take: don't put your fan right next to your microphone, shut the windows, and keep the door to your room closed if you aren't streaming from a common area.

    Background noise can be a killer.
    Oftentimes, communication with others in your home can be even more important than self-contained fixes. You need to set boundaries. When I had multiple roommates, making sure they understood that someone barging into my room while streaming, trying to have their voice pick up on my microphone, or even being in my room while streaming at all, were not okay with me. If your roommates or family members are reasonable human beings, they'll understand and hopefully support you. But it's up to you to set whichever limits are important to you, as well as to make it clear specifically when you're streaming. Every household is different of course, but communication and transparency are key when you plan to be streaming for the long haul.


    LISTEN TO YOUR OWN AUDIO


    It should go without saying, but you need to be prepared to listen to yourself. Wait, did I say this already? Oh yeah, that's because it's REALLY IMPORTANT. I know a lot of you probably skipped this step, but I'm not kidding- you need to be able to listen to the sound of your voice, and be willing to do it A LOT. All of the above items: Removing Automated Features, Minimizing Peaking, Mic Placement, and Managing Background Noise, require it. You can't afford to be bashful about hearing yourself speak. If you skipped this step earlier, go back and do it now. There is no acceptable excuse.


    PROFESSIONALISM ISN'T ABOUT MONEY


    All these steps mentioned above will help the audio coming from your microphone sound as crisp as possible, and you'll be moving further and further into a level of professionalism that many streamers never achieve. Your mic may still not sound as good as one that costs hundreds of dollars, but that's not what matters. Making your stream feel more professional isn't about money, it's about discipline.

    If you're taking steps like these to improve your sound quality rather than throwing dollars at the issue, you'll be setting yourself up to last longer on Twitch. There will always be another piece of equipment you can buy, but having enough work ethic to direct all your focus toward solving problems is something you could never pay for. It means you're committed to your channel, and that you actually care. So don't spend any money on a new microphone- but make sure you're getting the most out of the one you already own!