Thursday, October 27, 2022

Customizing an IRL Streaming Backpack

In past entries, I’ve gone into my process and mindset for travel streaming. Being able to go to interesting places around the world has always been a dream of mine, and now that I create Twitch broadcasts, I’m able to share that dream with my audience. In the entry Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack, I went into the specific options someone can choose if they want dedicated equipment for IRL streaming while they travel, and I also detailed the specific kind of backpack I made for my own adventures. 

I built my streaming backpack about five months ago, in preparation for my trip to Greece, and even in that short amount of time I’ve gotten a huge amount of use from this new streaming accessory. As I always talk about in The Twitch Playbook, experience is the best teacher, and I try to stay open-minded about where my experiences can guide various tweaks to my equipment. Each time I’ve gone live with my streaming backpack, I’ve come up with new quality-of-life improvements. These things are the lifeblood of a healthy stream- not huge purchases, but inexpensive (or even free) alterations to what you’ve already been working with. In this entry, we’ll go through some of the broadcasts I’ve done with my streaming backpack, and what alterations I’ve made because of them. 

First off, remember that you don’t need an IRL streaming backpack to do IRL streams. If you’ve never done a show like this before, try going live using the (completely free) smartphone streaming options I talked about in the entry Streaming from Your Mobile Device. But whether or not you own a streaming backpack, or even do IRL streams at all, my various tweaks in this entry can still help your own shows, if you pay attention to the underlying logic. 


I first decided to build a streaming backpack when I was about a month out from a trip to Greece. I knew I wanted to go live from my vacation, but I didn’t want to keep paying to rent my equipment. And after I decided to build, I took the preparations very seriously. There wouldn’t be any phone support with the rental company this time, or any kind of guarantee. It was up to me, and only me, to make sure everything worked.

Greece was kind of like this, but with 
fewer clouds.

I tried to think of the practical uses of my backpack out in the field. What would cause the most friction? Where could I streamline the process? One immediate thing that stuck out to me was the issue of cables. In order to use a GoPro with my stream setup, I’d need to attach a USB-C cable for power, and a Mini HDMI cable for the video signal. Having two separate cables snaking around my body to plug into the backpack could easily get cumbersome. So I bought a length of sleeve that could wrap around the cables, essentially turning those two cables into one. I then measured the exact distance and position at which the two cables stood when plugged into the camera, and jury-rigged them together so I’d be basically plugging one large object into two ports. It worked perfectly, and saved me a lot of headache. 

The other major problem I foresaw was charging. There are four portable batteries in my streaming backpack, which power the various devices needed to make the stream work. Every night, I’d have to charge those batteries so they wouldn’t die while I streamed the next day. I got a cheap power adapter with four usb ports, along with four long USB charging cables. I then used a set of velcro ties to affix all the cables to each other, so they acted similarly to the wrapped camera cables. I left just enough space that I could break each of the four cables away and plug them into their respective devices. This saved a lot of time and headache in potentially having to deal with four separate charging plugs, figuring out where to plug them in, trying to untangle them, and any number of other issues. My configuration allowed them to act essentially as one cable with four heads, very compact and neat when stored, and long enough to reach even the furthest wall outlet. 


Always love getting a chance to visit 
Liberty City.

The backpack worked perfectly in Greece, and my early modifications caught a few of the major potential problems before they had a chance to form. There were several smaller changes I made along the way as well, like stuffing a piece of cloth behind my camera mount to change its orientation, using a black bag to cover my lens while paying with a credit card, and taking advantage of screen sharing software to control my PC at home while going live. I was very satisfied with my performance with this backpack, and had really refined my technique throughout the streams overseas. At this point, the backpack had already paid for itself. Even if I never used it again, it had already cost less than the two-week price of an equivalent backpack at a rental company. So, I mostly expected to leave the backpack in a closet until my next big trip.

But then I had a realization: I’m always traveling for work, so why not bring my backpack along? I don’t typically have a lot of time in each location, but it couldn’t hurt to have just in case. So, after my Greece vacation I started bringing the streaming backpack as a carry-on for all of my flights around the US for business. And despite not often having a lot of downtime on business trips, I found that (with a little creative scheduling) I could make time for IRL shows every once in a while. The backpack uses prepaid SIM cards to go live. It’s easy to buy the dates for data coverage in advance when going on vacation, but not necessarily when you want to do an impromptu stream while away on business. For that reason, I would sometimes do my American episodes totally pre-recorded and non-live. But those ones were a lot of fun as well! Since starting to bring my streaming backpack with me on trips in the past few months, I’ve done episodes from Seattle, New York City, The Mall of America in Minnesota and more. One time I even caught a ghost on camera! (That one’s a long story- extreme sleep deprivation may or may not have been involved.) You never know what use you’ll get out of a tool like this, but simply having it around creates new opportunities for content creation. 


The optimization lessons I learned in Greece, plus the impromptu style of my American IRL backpack shows, really came together for my most recent trip. Last week, I returned from another trip to Tokyo, Japan. For anyone who doesn’t know, the entire country of Japan has been entirely closed to foreign travel for the past three years. So as soon as there was a rumor that they’d announce a reopening, I gambled on a flight and hotel room, in the hopes that the country would be open by the time I arrived. As it turned out, I got to Japan on the literal day that it reopened to foreigners. And I had my streaming backpack, with all the wisdom and customizations I’d learned on my previous trips, along with me. 

Footage of me in Tokyo.

This time in Japan, much of my IRL streaming experience felt like a well-oiled machine. I knew when to tilt the camera down while talking face-to-face with a shop employee or entering a bar. I was able to cover the lens efficiently when paying a bill with my credit card. Having more or less conversational Japanese skills at this point, I was also able to politely ask permission to broadcast from businesses, and was often granted access. My various IRL streaming experiences, along with the language abilities (another skill I learned thanks to Twitch streaming) really allowed me to be not just a better IRL streamer, but a better overall traveler. 

In Japan, I utilized my American pre-recorded episode ideas to optimize my shows even further. I streamed everywhere there was internet, but I also recorded each stream locally on the camera. Every morning, I uploaded the previous day’s local recordings to YouTube. This ensured that any part of my stream where the internet cut out would be restored for posterity. 

I also started doing a lot more first-person eating on my streams. In Tokyo, the average size of a noodle shop, or even a restaurant, is incredibly small by American standards. Often it’s no more than a set of stools at a bar, and a wall roughly twelve inches behind your back. Taking off my streaming backpack to set up a tripod for my camera while I ate, like in America or Greece, would be incredibly cumbersome in many of these Japanese locations (not to mention annoying to fellow customers). So instead, I’d simply keep my streaming backpack on my back, and point the shoulder-mounted camera down to look at my food while I ate. I could still talk into my mic and read chat, the only difference being that viewers didn’t see my face while I was eating. Ultimately, I think this gave an even more authentic feel to the broadcasts, because it showed viewers what it’s really like to eat in Japan. 

During this trip to Tokyo, just like my trip to Greece, along with every other day in the last four years, I didn’t miss a single one of my three daily livestreams. And every time I went live from my streaming backpack, it got a little easier. Not because of the equipment itself, but because of the critical thinking I employed while using that equipment. On my IRL streams, just like on my normal Twitch streams, I always try to stay inquisitive. I don’t just assume something is as good as it can be, I always look for a way to make it a little better, or a little easier to use. That philosophy has greatly helped me to customize my IRL streaming experience, and it’s helped me to become a better streamer in general. Even if you don’t do IRL streams on your own channel, I think this same inquisitive mindset can greatly help to boost your shows, either in front of or behind the camera. Small changes can make a big difference on a Twitch stream.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

How Long Does It Take to Master Streaming?

As Twitch streamers, many of us aspire to reach a point where our streams no longer need to be changed or worried over- where there are no more problems occurring, and there are no more additions to make. Maybe we’re making enough money from going live to pay our bills and quit our jobs, or we’ve leveraged our streams to start a larger personal brand. The dream looks different for everyone, but the general idea is the same. It would be a point where we’ve found the ultimate final product for our content- a point where we’ve finally mastered streaming. 

In my opinion however, this is an unattainable goal. Yes, we can reach the objectives we set out for ourselves, but doing those things won’t really make us masters. There will always be something more to do, something else to fix or change, and new ways to interpret our content. Streaming is a lifelong craft. Like with any long-term pursuit, whether it’s in health, education, romance, craftsmanship, or anything else, you may start with a goal in mind, but by the time you’ve reached it, you’re at risk of losing what you built if you don’t keep going.


In George Leonard’s book Mastery, he quotes a martial arts student studying aikido. “How long will it take me to master Aikido?” a prospective student asks.“How long do you expect to live?” is, as Leonard puts it, the only respectable response. This book, which I’d recommend to anyone trying to pursue excellence in what they do, goes on to explore how true greatness requires one to remove their focus from arbitrary goals and instead simply keep exploring their craft. As he says, those with aspirations to reach a certain point typically burn themselves out before reaching them, whereas those who take pleasure in the everyday act of pursuing the craft itself surpass all expectations. 

Masters learn to make the act itself into
a habit.

I’ve noticed a similar concept while learning Japanese. Most of the time, those who try to learn the language do so with a specific objective in mind. They want to be able to watch their favorite anime shows without the subtitles turned on, or they want to be like one of those YouTubers who surprises natives by speaking perfectly. But in my experience, I’ve found that such objectives don’t take people very far. They’re such far-off goals that they aren’t even practical to consider when starting out. Typically, once these students pass the beginner stage and reach the point where they’re skilled enough to recognize how long the journey will really be, they lose interest. Personally, I’ve been lucky to avoid the demotivation of long-term goals in my language learning, though it wasn’t from careful calculation- I just sort of stumbled onto a style that worked for me. I set out merely wanting to have conversations, and as soon as I could string three words together I began talking to Japanese speakers. Whether in person or online, I forced myself out of my comfort zone and constantly made a fool of myself. Every time I could say something a little bit better, it became another motivating factor to keep going. These small victories really defined my experience in learning so far. George Leonard quotes a zen saying in the book I mentioned above: “When you’ve reached the top of the mountain, keep on climbing.” In my experience, little victories are the key. If you love what you do, then every time you engage in that activity you’ll be accomplishing your goal in some small way.


Twitch streaming is much the same for me. I started out on my personal channel being more traditionally ambitious, planning out and projecting everything with certain growth goals in mind. But after a while, I realized that if I want to do this for the long term and be happy doing it, I had to remove myself from the rat race. In the Twitch Playbook entry One Must Imagine the Streamer Happy, I compared the act of streaming to the Greek character Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a cliff. He’s doomed to never finish his task, only keep pushing. But in that entry, I spoke about how the endless pursuit is something we need to come to terms with if we’re going to truly love streaming. Even if you’ve reached a plateau where nothing on your shows is changing anymore, there’s nothing wrong with simply continuing without improvement. You never know where your journey might take you. There’s no end point, short of giving up, so why not learn to find enjoyment in the act itself? 

Those who love the climb can also 
benefit from removing focus from 
end goals.

If you’re someone who does genuinely find joy in the climb, there’s nothing wrong with that either. I’m certainly not saying you have to conduct your streams in a particular way to be happy. Be careful not to mistake the moments when I say “I didn’t like streaming this way” for me saying “nobody should like streaming this way.” And this philosophy of learning to love the craft without focusing on goals doesn’t exclude those who love reaching for higher and higher targets. For two years before starting my current Twitch channel, I worked for a major streaming brand for a living and found genuine joy in helping to build it into an even larger network. Even during that time however, doing multiple shows each day with hundreds or thousands of live viewers per episode, I knew I’d never be finished. I had targets to hit, but I realized that none of them would ever be the finish line. I had to learn to love the pursuit itself, constantly creating and passing checkpoints, not thinking about any particular end goal. And though I later didn’t end up liking this style of creation for my own personal Twitch channel, I had a blast doing it as my 9-5 job. Essentially, all of this to say I’ve been on both sides of the fence and can sympathize with either perspective, whether you like to take it easy or push as hard as you can. 

No matter what kind of streamer you are, or what kind of content you make, your channel will always be evolving. Even if you can’t see how, there are things shifting under the surface. Allow yourself to embrace the changes and small victories, without worrying too much about where you’re going in the end. Only where you’re going right now. None of us should aspire to master our various fields in streaming, only to keep pursuing mastery. In this case, the destination lies in the journey itself. In other words: How long does it take to master streaming? How long have you got? 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Make Bad Streams to Make Good Streams

Many prospective Twitch streamers are afraid to start on their channels. And many experienced streamers are afraid to start doing something they haven’t tried before. There are any number of reasons this might occur for people, but one of the biggest ones is simple: nobody likes to be perceived as an amateur. We don’t want to put out content that doesn’t look polished, content that doesn’t command respect and admiration from those watching. And that fear of showing weakness prevents countless hopefuls from ever setting off on their journeys. 

The subject of starting is very important to me. We all have to start after all, and because I personally branch out into so many different disciplines on stream, I end up returning to the starting line quite often. For this reason, I try very hard in this resource to help others who also want to get started, whether on their thousandth broadcast but the first in a new style, or their first broadcast of all time. Every time I come up with a new way to shed light on this subject, I try to cover it again, in the hopes that this new perspective might help one more person take the plunge. After all (and be honest), have you ever ignored previous entries urging you to begin, only to keep listening to the podcast without a single stream under your belt? Whether you're a complete beginner or an expert, consider whether there’s something you want to start doing on your channel. Take this chance to promise to yourself that you’ll begin doing it today. 


The castle comes later.

There’s a quote which circulates around filmmaker websites attributed to the comedian-turned-Oscar-winning screenwriter Jordan Peele, about his writing process. I can’t find evidence of where he originally said it, but it’s a powerful lesson either way. It states, “When I’m writing the first draft I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I think this quote is so profound, because it sheds light on a part of the creative process that we all like to glaze over. Essentially, in order to create something great, it’s necessary that we first make something lousy. It’s very rare that we hear much about the making of any project where the creator was simply putting down thoughts they
knew were terrible, and wouldn’t make it to the final draft. But they wrote them down and fleshed them out anyway, because as a professional, they knew this ‘ugly stage’ was an important part of the process. 

Steven Pressfield, in his excellent book The War of Art, discusses this idea right in the opening chapter. He sits down every day to write for four hours. And about those four hours, he has this to say: “How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is that I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got.” Pressfield, like a true pro, knows that creating greatness requires diligence, not excellence. The implication in this passage is that, if he had thought too hard about what he wrote that day, he’d likely be mortified by how bad it was. Better to keep trudging on, and sort everything out once the whole draft is done. 

Many aspiring creatives become disheartened by the actual process of creating. They don’t want to go through this important stage, where everything they make is horrible and they ask themselves day in and day out whether they should just give up. Rather than building like a sand castle, many aspiring creatives would rather build their projects like an inkjet printer. A printed page, just like a sand castle, is built slowly from the bottom up, but the difference is that every mark made by a printer is perfectly representative of the final product. There’s no revision, no ugly stage, only the slow revealing of what is essentially already there. People want to create this way because they can’t bear the mental strain and embarrassment of producing something less-than-perfect, even in service to eventually making something excellent. The artist wants a sketchbook where every page looks perfectly composed and Instagram-worthy, the composer wants to write sheet music with no corrections, and the screenwriter wants a perfectly planned three-act story to pour out of their pen. Unfortunately, this is not how the creative process works. You will never create something great this way. Neither will I. Greatness requires getting one’s hands dirty, piling up wet, muddy sand, without concern for what that pile looks like, before we can start building the castle and making it look amazing. The sooner we’re able to accept that, the sooner we can truly begin. 


Writers face personal demons in many 
different ways. 

Streaming on Twitch has one distinct advantage over many other creative processes: every time you make a draft, it’s broadcast live on the internet. Now, this may be a scary prospect for many beginners- after all, who wants to show their imperfections to others? But consider the alternative. The novelist could be working on drafts for years, alone with only their own thoughts and doubts as company, before ever having a version finished enough to show others. As a Twitch streamer, you may have a hard time getting yourself to go live in the first place, but after a stream is over, you can at least take comfort in having produced something. Of course, it’s not going to be everything you’d hoped for- it’ll be more akin to broadcasting the first part of a writer’s first draft. But no matter how good or bad the stream was, the simple act of finishing a stream means you will have already taken a step toward greatness. 

In the beginning, you’re merely shoveling sand onto your Twitch channel. Every broadcast you do during that time will be less-than-perfect in some way. There's no way to avoid that. But you’ll be gaining valuable experience every time you go live, and you’ll be closer to eventually shaping your channel into what it’s destined to become. So if you’re afraid to begin your streaming project, don’t think about whether it’s going to be good or bad. Just commit the time, and produce. You’re only shoveling sand, anyway. The castle comes later. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Pay Your Streams Forward

So you’ve streaming for a while. You have hundreds of broadcasts under your belt, and the amount of mistakes you make on stream has dropped significantly. You’re in a pretty comfortable place with your shows. If this is the case, it might be a good time to pay back the goodwill you’ve received throughout your Twitch journey by helping others. 

Whether you create YouTube tutorials, write hardware buying guides, interview other streamers on a podcast, or just answer questions about how to stream in your Twitch chat, there are many ways you can use your experiences to help other streamers create better content. Almost four years ago, I created this podcast. It’s gone on to help more streamers than I ever could have imagined I’d reach. I’m glad to know I’ve brought so much value to so many people. What you yourself are interested in talking about, and what form your own helpful content takes may be different, but I think you’ll find a similar gratification from helping others no matter how you choose to do it. 


If you were going to teach others about streaming, what happens if your lessons don’t all resonate with people? The first thing to understand is that they won’t. Not always. There’s no way for all of your teachings to apply to everyone. But then again, why should they? We all learn a huge amount of lessons when we stream on Twitch. Many of them can only truly be internalized when we’ve experienced them for ourselves. Some lessons you’ve learned may be too advanced for beginners, but will come in handy for more seasoned streamers. And in the case of streamers who have done it even longer than you have, certain lessons might no longer be helpful at their level. In many cases, you may simply have different goals in streaming than someone else, and one of your lessons may not apply. If you’ve been listening to this podcast for example, think about how many episodes have really spoken to you. It’s likely that number isn’t close to 100%. You probably felt some entries were more useful than others. Certain ones may even seem to make no sense at all. Maybe you feel I contradict myself, or that I take a weak stance on certain issues and too strong a stance on others. And yet, you’ve hopefully found something of value in hearing my stories and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Everything I say is true to my own experience, and it’s true to my beliefs about streaming at the time I write it. But it’s not necessarily all true to your experience or beliefs. And that’s okay. We’re all different. We all go down different paths. But there will always be certain points where our paths intersect. 

Everybody has a different approach 
to their craft.

If you choose to make some helpful content of your own, I suggest embracing that idea. What you want to teach will never be 100% applicable to the next person. But just because they don’t take all your advice doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from some of it. Rather than just advising, I also try to focus on sharing my experience. I think it’s useful to be as candid as possible about what I've done on Twitch, both good and bad. I try not to focus too much on the positive or glamorous aspects, but really show the times when I’ve failed, or felt bad about what I was doing. This hopefully helps others to get a realistic impression of what it’s like, without being overly preachy. I also try to explain complex concepts, both technical (like setting up a greenscreen) and spiritual (like losing motivation when overpromising) by using examples and stories I personally find inspiring. I can’t know what others will respond to, but I can know what I would respond to if I were listening. And I try to go by that. If I start getting excited about a metaphor or anecdote in an entry, I know I’m on the right track. 

Whatever you choose to make, you don’t need to approach it from a solely altruistic point of view either. You’re choosing to sacrifice a chunk of your time making something outside of your streams, after all. Yes, it’ll help other streamers, but you will also find it helps you just as much. In the entry Chronicle Your Twitch Progress, I spoke about how you can better understand streaming by writing about streaming. What’s going well on your streams? What’s not going well? Where is there a specific issue? What might solve it? You’ll find there’s a lot of power in writing, or even just talking openly about things like this, because your own thoughts become more lucid when you clarify them. In addition, this educational side-project can help your Twitch channel if you want it to. Plenty of YouTubers and Twitch streamers have made names for themselves by helping up-and-coming creators get off the ground. If you want to make this educational project part of your brand, it can become a powerful source of growth. 


You can take whatever approach you want when helping other Twitch streamers, but I would advise against a few particular avenues. Denigrating other streamers is not a very nice thing to do. It’s certainly rude to do this to someone’s face by mocking their content in their own chat, but it shouldn’t even be done indirectly. You’ll notice for example, that I take care never to use the content or styles of other specific streamers as negative examples in this podcast. I may talk about paradigms in streaming I don’t like, or traits to avoid, but I simply don’t believe in talking badly about someone else’s work. Everyone is in this together, trying their best to create whatever content is meaningful for them, and we shouldn’t be putting each other down. After all, the whole point of this project would be to lift other streamers up. It wouldn’t make much sense if you were making someone feel bad in order to do it. 

Even if you think you're being helpful, 
don't offer advice where it isn't 
specifically asked for.

I also strongly advise against offering your advice where it isn’t asked for. Many streamers, especially new ones, feel the need to criticize other streamers in their live chats. This unhelpful kind of advice typically only serves to grate on the recipient, and make the advisor look bad. If someone asks you what you think, that’s one thing. If they didn’t ask you, it’s rude and presumptuous to try to impose your own will on them. If you find the line between solicited and unsolicited advice difficult to manage, you can’t go wrong with simply creating content instead. When you make something pre-packaged of your own, like a video or podcast that’s intended to help others, people will come to it specifically because they’re looking for guidance. Like you did when finding this podcast. I’m offering my opinions and experiences here, and telling you what I think is good or bad, but you signed up to hear those things. I’m not entering your stream’s chat and rattling off what I think needs to change about your channel. For more of my thoughts on giving unsolicited advice, see the entry How to Learn from Other Streamers (And How Not To).


If you’ve been streaming on Twitch for a while, you’ve had all sorts of experiences. You’ve faced challenges and you overcame them. You’ve started projects, abandoned others, changed your channel’s course and revised ideas. All of these things have taught you valuable lessons. Why not share those with others? Who knows who you might help by doing so? You might even help yourself. Pay your streams forward. You never know what those seeds of positivity might grow into.