Top 5 Platforms for Streaming Live Music
Last updated: January 28, 2018
When you search for “online music streaming” these days, two kinds of results usually pop up — audio-only services like Spotify and Pandora, and sites that broadcast Grateful Dead concerts for folks who can’t make it to the in-person shows.
But there’s a new kind of music streaming that has yet to make it to the tops of Google, and you definitely don’t have to be Radiohead to do it. In fact, there are unsigned musicians making a living right now playing music for global audiences from their bedrooms. You can build a highly engaged fan base from scratch and interact with viewers in real time, no tedious editing of YouTube videos (or 500 takes of the same song) required. Best of all, perfection isn’t the key to a successful broadcast. It’s more about breaking down the barriers between performers and audiences and making genuine connections with people.
Here are the biggest platforms we’re familiar with, but there are sure to be more in the coming years. You can find a list of other options at the end of this post, which I’ll be updating whenever I can.
Welcome to the wild west of playing live music on the internet. (Be sure to check out our gear guide for music streaming, and our guide to streaming with a DAW for more help figuring out how to get your own music stream started.)
A video game-oriented platform with huge potential to grow in the music and creative realms
Twitch is a primarily video game-oriented livestreaming platform that is now expanding to offer additional content, including music, art, cosplay, comedy, dance, and more general IRL (In Real Life) streams. This is the platform we know the most about because it’s the one we use ourselves.
The good: Huge potential audience, tightly-knit community, highly customizable, directory of current live streams, built-in tipping (for affiliates and partners), partner program, stream archives (30 days for non-partners, 60 days for partners), lots of chat moderation options
The bad: More DIY means more work getting everything set up. The site is also ridden with trolls (though what popular sites aren’t?), and some viewers are unwelcoming to non-gaming content.
Monetization: Twitch affiliates and partners receive half of each $4.99 subscription they receive, to start. (It’s possible for partners to negotiate a better contract later, like 70/30 or 80/20.) Viewers can also tip using Twitch’s currency (“bits”), where 100 bits translates to $1.00 for the streamer. Partners and non-partners alike can also set up direct tipping through PayPal and StreamLabs. Currently, partners also receive a portion of ad revenue.
The bottom line: Twitch has already established itself as the premier livestreaming site for video games, with more minutes of programming watched per month than YouTube. Right now eSports gets the bulk of viewers, but there are also individual game streams with anywhere from 1,000 to 30,000 live concurrent viewers at any given time. It’s easy to imagine a future in which music streams also get this kind of viewership.
- SceneOfActionMusic produces and performs original music in a distinctive broadcast featuring eight switchable cameras.
- The_Etcetera_Kid improvises live music using sounds, tempo, key and drum loops chosen by audience members.
- ChaseEagleson and his sister SierraEagleson perform mellow acoustic covers and original songs in a cozy, candlelit setting.
- Malukah has performed video game covers on YouTube since 2011 (you may have heard her rendition of “The Dragonborn Comes” with over 18 million plays to date). In the past year, she has added a Twitch channel where she plays games and takes live song requests.
(And of course, our Twitch stream is a_couple_streams.)
This teen-oriented platform is cultivating its own group of digital stars
Like Twitch, YouNow has a very active and engaged viewer base — but unlike on Twitch, music is already king. At any given time, you can find performers sharing songs under hashtags like #singing, #musicians, #girls and #guys. The atmosphere is also super casual, erring much more on the side of a long conversation than a formal performance. Extended noodling around on guitar or piano, singing a cappella, and chatting with viewers in the middle of songs are common practice here.
The good: Large audience, directory of current live streams, built-in tipping, partner program, social media integration, accept video calls from guests, special promotion available
The bad: No stream archives (you can only save shorter clips called “moments”) or layout customization
Monetization: Viewers can subscribe for $4.99 and show their support by purchasing “bars” and spending them on things like unlimited chat privileges and faux marriage proposals, making them stand out in a sea of chatters. YouNow partners receive about 70 percent of their earnings in subscriptions and “bars.”
The bottom line: The demographics on YouNow skew super young, which could be a pro or con depending on your perspective. Streamers of all ages have found success here — from 16-year-old BruhItsZach (1.4 million fans) to pastor and advice streamer Dr. Greg. Like on Twitch, the viewer base is also very active and engaged in the site.
- After trying a number of different social platforms, Emma McGann started performing original songs and covers on YouNow and now makes a living from her music.
- Diana Jang performs her own material as well a variety of audience requests on both YouNow and Krue.
Twitch for music, minus the massive viewer base
Krue looks like a great option for anyone who wants to take a chance on a brand new platform. They clearly understand the huge potential for live music streaming, and have taken a number of cues from successful gaming streams in their design of the site. The set-up is very clean, simple and user-friendly, and the creators are working very diligently to market the site and help out new streamers.
The good: Easy set-up (no broadcaster software required), built-in tipping system, partner program, ad-free, stream archives, more free promotion since the user base is so small
The bad: Small viewer base at the moment (but growing)
Monetization: Krue partners earn money through subscriptions ($5/month) and tips through Krue Wallet. Viewers can also add funds via Stripe and then enter the exact amount they’d like to send to a broadcaster. Streamers keep about 70 percent of all earnings. The following infographic (courtesy of Krue) explains how musicians could conceivably make a living on subscriptions alone.
The bottom line: With enough promotion, Krue could become the next big livestreaming platform for music. (Or it could go the way of Vine.) At the moment, viewership is quite low, but if the site keeps growing, streamers who got in at the beginning will be reaping the benefits in a few years.
- BeyondTheGuitar streams guitar arrangements of tunes from your favorite films, shows and video games.
- Vine star Em Harriss shares science fiction-inspired original songs and choice covers in her Krue streams.
- Singer-songwriter Dylan Lloyd recently won Consequence of Sound‘s singing contest. He streams originals and the occasional cover song on both Krue and YouNow.
Twitter tackles livestreaming
Former musical duo Season & Snare experienced a little taste of the power of Periscope when Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame tweeted their stream to his 2 million-plus followers. Their audience soared from 15 to 1500+ live viewers in a matter of minutes. The fact that all of the app’s streams are through cell phones also levels the playing field and makes the content feel that much more raw and immediate. (Plus, streams are only available for 24 hours after they go live, making FOMO all the more real for potential viewers.)
Monetization: Tipping is not built-in, but it is possible to set up your own via a PayPal.me link in your profile. Select content creators can also earn a share of ad revenue.
The good: Huge potential audience, Twitter integration, super easy set-up
The bad: Mobile-only means no potential for high-fidelity sound, no built-in tipping system, hard to see who’s currently streaming
The bottom line: The main flaws with Periscope are being limited to the poor sound/video quality of your mobile phone, and that it just doesn’t have a good system for discovering new broadcasts. You can browse hashtags, but there’s no way to sort by concurrent viewers. That being said, the potential audience on Periscope is so big that you’re sure to have some people stumble across your stream if you keep it up, and viewership can quickly snowball from there.
- Songwriter Clare Means broadcasts herself busking in Los Angeles as well as playing intimate sets and taking requests from her home.
For established musicians looking to add in the occasional online concert
Concert Window seems more geared towards folk and Americana artists with preexisting fan bases who want to schedule one-off online concerts (much like celeb favorite StageIt). It’s laid-back and user-friendly, with more of a traditional concert kind of vibe.
The good: Easy set-up, built-in tipping, custom rewards for tips, can charge for entry to the stream (or not), friendly audience, front page schedule shows who will be online throughout the day
The bad: Interface is a bit clunky, not very customizable, streams are generally less interactive than on other platforms
Monetization: Musicians can set up special rewards (like song requests or downloads) for different tip amounts, and Concert Window keeps 30 percent of all tips. For $8 per month, subscribers receive unlimited access to all shows on Concert Window. Two-thirds of this revenue goes to artists based on subscriber viewership of their shows.
The bottom line: Although there is a directory on the home page of all live streams, there’s often a lot of dead time without anyone live and there don’t seem to be many people keeping an eye out for new streams. This means viewership is usually pretty low unless you promote your stream in advance or can otherwise easily bring your own viewers to the site.
Some other options:
- Facebook Live. Anything with “Facebook” attached to it is probably worth keeping an eye on. Still, our guess is that Facebook Live will prove to be most beneficial for already established artists trying to connect with their communities, and not necessarily a great way for a new artist hoping to grow their community.
- YouTube Live. So far, we have yet to see much in the way of live music here — mostly game streams and a handful of kitten cams. Probably best for YouTubers with preexisting fanbases, but it is YouTube, so I expect we’ll see the Live section change and expand over time. One thing I’d like to see soon is a more user-friendly directory of who’s currently online.
- Live.ly. A mobile livestreaming spinoff of the popular app Musical.ly. The site has a very engaged userbase (viewers are mostly young and female) with a style similar to that of YouNow.
- StageIt. Lots of well-established musicians use StageIt to schedule online concerts. Like Concert Window, it seems more ideal for musicians with fan bases rather than folks hoping to grow their followings from scratch.
Let us know if we’ve missed any platforms, and we’ll add them to this list!
To find out more about the equipment you’ll need to start your own music stream, check out our Gear Guide for Music Streaming.
Read about how to get your microphones and software set up and ready for streaming in our guide to Streaming with a DAW.