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Rochester bedroom pop musicians are connecting with fans on Twitch

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Sabrina Nichols, aka Shep Treasure, performs in July as part of Disposable America's weekly Twitch livestream. - SCREENSHOT FROM DISPOSABLE AMERICA'S 'TUESDAY NIGHT LIVE'
  • SCREENSHOT FROM DISPOSABLE AMERICA'S 'TUESDAY NIGHT LIVE'
  • Sabrina Nichols, aka Shep Treasure, performs in July as part of Disposable America's weekly Twitch livestream.
Sabrina Nichols sat before a camera and a computer with headphones on and an acoustic guitar in hand in the corner of a dimly-lit bedroom in her Brooklyn apartment. Behind her, plants rested on a shelf and a curious cutout of a Boxer dog face clung to the wall.

“Can anyone hear me?” she asked. “Is anyone up? Is anyone listening?”

Nichols, a Rochester native musician who goes by Shep Treasure, waited for a response that came in a stream of text written by fans that scrolled across the screen a moment later: “Yes.” “Yep. “We hear ya.”

“All right, let’s do it,” Nichols replied and began strumming a pleasant mid-tempo song and singing softly.

Her fans responded with approval: “Woooo.” “So good.” “Hell yeah.” “Bedroom rock.”

This was a Shep Treasure performance livestreamed on the video platform Twitch on a late night in July. It was raw, intimate, and what musicians and their fans have come to expect from the medium.
“Live streams are cool because you can put on a show for somebody who’s watching that comes from an area where hardly any bands visit,” Nichols says. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • “Live streams are cool because you can put on a show for somebody who’s watching that comes from an area where hardly any bands visit,” Nichols says.
If you follow music, chances are you’ve stumbled on a Twitch stream. While the platform has its roots in gaming, musicians are gravitating to it as a way to showcase their talents, bolster their visibility, monetize their music, and interact with their fans.



Viewers are thrown into a streamer’s chat room where they can send Twitch emotes (small emoji-like icons) expressing their approval or displeasure, bark out song requests, and receive real-time answers to comments. Sometimes the Twitch channel’s host posts a link to where the audience can buy the artist’s music.

“Live streams are cool because you can put on a show for somebody who’s watching that comes from an area where hardly any bands visit,” Nichols says. “It's a more intimate environment, too, because you can read in the chat what your audience is saying and you can reply to them instantly. I think it's also just a way for anybody to explore possibilities.”
James Keegan of Kitchen and Nichols bring their bedroom pop songs directly to fans on the livestreaming platform Twitch. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • James Keegan of Kitchen and Nichols bring their bedroom pop songs directly to fans on the livestreaming platform Twitch.
Nichols is among a new generation of lo-fi “bedroom pop” or “DIY pop” musicians who are embracing Twitch and its limitations that they and their audiences say are part of its charm. It is not unusual, for instance, for musicians to experience technical difficulties or for their video and audio to lag. At the same time, those drawbacks lend an air of authenticity to the performers and their acts.

Rochester artist James Keegan, who goes by Kitchen and whose latest album, “Halloween in August,” was name-dropped in Rolling Stone last year, frequently plays on Twitch.

While he says he enjoys the experience, he says his performances are in some ways more intimidating and overwhelming than playing live on stage because the anonymity of the chat room forum lends itself to audiences shedding inhibitions.

“Half the time when I’m playing a set and looking at the chat, I try not to laugh when people are messing and joking around,” Keegan says. “Obviously if you were performing at a venue, you wouldn’t hear a lot of the stuff that’s typed in the chat.”
“Half the time when I’m playing a set and looking at the chat, I try not to laugh when people are messing and joking around,” Keegan says of livestreamed performances. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • “Half the time when I’m playing a set and looking at the chat, I try not to laugh when people are messing and joking around,” Keegan says of livestreamed performances.
Nichols, who first played in the local indie rock trio Slumbers and works as a visual artist for the indie record label Beggars Group, agreed that the medium could be distracting.

“It’s like if somebody was talking or yelling over your set at a venue,” she says, “but in a nicer and funnier way, so then you want to interact.”

The interaction is worth it from both public relations and financial standpoints.

Fans can interact directly with musicians on Twitch by subscribing to their channels and making monetary donations known as “bits” — the digital equivalent of tossing money into a busker’s guitar case. This kind of direct patronage can pay off for artists, but it can be labor intensive for the artist and requires a horde of fans to dig into their pockets.

A typical Twitch streamer makes 15 cents per hour per fan, according to the report “Twitch’s Rockonomics,” an independent analysis of the platform by the former chief economist of Spotify. Artists with Twitch channels with an established following can earn more than 25 cents per hour per fan.

If those numbers sound miserly, consider that the analysis found artists stand to earn an average of one-third of a cent per fan per hour on other streaming platforms.

‘OBSCURE ART FORM’

James Keegan. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • James Keegan.
DIY archivist and videographer Steven Coleman, aka Modern-Ringtones, began documenting Rochester lo-fi and bedroom pop after heading down the rabbit hole of its lively underground scene with artists such as Kitchen and the band Attic Abasement. In particular, Coleman was drawn to Kitchen’s simple yet catchy guitar chords and the warmth of a Casio PT-30 keyboard, as well as the nostalgic, lo-fi hiss of the recordings themselves.

“Bedroom pop is an obscure art form, so most bedroom pop artists don’t go on tours and it’s more like a hobby for a lot of people,” he says.

Prior to the pandemic, Coleman hosted a series of shows called “Casiodome” in his apartment, before shifting the concerts to Twitch. He says the switch helped artists gain exposure, while enabling them to exchange ideas with other musicians and fans through chat rooms.

“With a platform like Twitch, artists are shown this welcoming internet community where audiences are really supportive and always want to hear more and especially during the pandemic, which was a breath of fresh air,” Coleman says.

Some independent record labels have caught on to bedroom pop artists shifting to Twitch and begun showcasing them there. One label driving that scene is Boston-based Disposable America, which started streaming small shows at the beginning of the pandemic.

Now the label puts on shows on a nearly weekly basis. Indeed, it hosted Shep Treasure’s performance in July as part of its series “Tuesday Night Live.”

Dustin Watson, Disposable America’s founder, says he believes it's important to create online music communities by digitally connecting artists from around the world. With the long pause on live music, Watson’s digitally streamed concerts became an ideal substitute, especially for bedroom pop artists.

“Other online platforms can be super-limited, while a platform like Twitch has the best of all worlds,” Watson says.

Watson adds that he believes Twitch is how small artists are going to gain recognition, and sees its livestreams as an invitation into the artist’s world.

“You’ll hear these artists’ perfectly produced records then watch them fumble with their pedals in their living room, which can be a bit stressful, but at the same time beautiful,” he says. “You get this totally different and raw experience, and it’s sorta like a portrait of how the songs they’re performing came to life.”

Joe Massaro is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.