Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Twitch is so many things to so many people: like all of the other social platforms, it’s a place where people who are mostly too online get creative. And that gets doubly interesting because all of the content is streamed live. Today, I came across an incredible clip from 88bitmusic — otherwise known as the musician Trevor Gomes — which was a full music video to Toto’s 1981 megahit “Africa” triggered by a donation of $45.67. (Yes, 4-5-6-7.) Take a look.
Here it is. Arguably the best(?), most absurd, most needlessly elaborate donation alert in Twitch history, which we debuted yesterday.You’ve never seen anything like this and you probably liked it that way. I’m sorry.https://t.co/80sSXMPjgd— Trevorc Howlin’ Gnomes (@88bitTV) November 3, 2019
The alert comes with a long history: the channel has one for $12.34, and one for $23.45, and yes, another for $34.56. “Forever ago, I made this alert that was for $12.34,” Gomes says. “It was an alert where four little versions of me come out and play ‘Careless Whisper.’” There was one small version of him playing bass; one on keyboard; and another on melodica, which Gomes subbed in for the iconic sax. “I was recording the instruments at the same time I was filming,” he says.
As the years have rolled on, the alerts have gotten more elaborate. For $23.45, viewers got a bunch of Trevors singing “Never Gonna Give You Up;” for $34.56, Gomes covered “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” which requires him to actually sing the lead vocal as the video plays. $45.67, which debuted yesterday, took a full year to put together.
“I’m not an artist by any stretch,” he says, which I personally disagree with. “The fully animated, like, eight bit scenes in there, I did it all myself,” Gomes says. Ditto the animations, the live scenes, and the effects. “It’s just sort of this big, cobbled together Frankenstein.”
The idea that the 88bitmusic channel would film and produce wild, over-the-top online videos was born after Gomes decided that his channel needed a theme song. “My background is all music. I have a bachelor’s and a master’s in music composition,” says Gomes, who adds that writing for orchestras is his specialty. “So my theme song that I open the channel with every day: I actually recorded a full orchestra in Budapest,” he says. “It’s got like 15 different streamers featured in it, in this kind of Brady Bunch style tableau.” It is, he says, very “Too Many Cooks.”
“That was the thing that sort of first set the tone. Like, I’m going to just do stupid things,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Well, why would you do that for a Twitch channel? It makes no sense.’ And that’s why I want to do it,” Gomes continues. “Why shouldn’t a Twitch channel have a theme song like a TV show would have?”
Before he was a streamer, Gomes played music in SoCal for Disney — specifically as an accompanist in auditions for Disney’s attractions. He started out on Twitch after one of his coworkers told him he needed to be a musician on the site. “At the time, there were really just a few,” Gomes says. “And I just gave it a shot for kicks, using my iMac and my keyboard and it was a complete mess. It looked terrible. But within the first week, I got 1,000 followers,” he says. That was three years ago. And then, five weeks in, he was partnered — which means he got the site’s coveted purple checkmark. Today, Gomes lives in Memphis and streams full time, though he does make room for occasional gigs. (He was the guy who recorded the official piano album for the indie hit game “Celeste.”)
Gomes told me that when it isn’t hosting elaborate alerts, his channel functions like a piano bar. “People pay $5 for a request token and then I then I do that,” he says. By “that,” Gomes means he sight-reads a piece of music that a viewer requests — live, in front of however many people happen to be visiting his stream at the time. It is a truly wild display of a wilder skill.
This, of course, is Twitch’s real strength. People like Gomes who are creating astonishing stuff that doesn’t otherwise exist — or that can’t exist anywhere else with the same kind of community. (Gomes described his community as very smart musicians who love when new members join.)
Right now, Gomes has just over 31,000 followers on the platform, which puts him in the group of people who have a sizable audience but who are also not the site’s biggest stars; the heart, in other words, of Twitch’s community. It also means that his channel is filling a need that doesn’t get addressed elsewhere — channels exist because people create them, but they become popular because audiences (which become communities) love them. That’s a simple formulation, but it’s one worth thinking about as more of Twitch’s biggest creators leave the site for other streaming pastures. In a way, streamers like Jack “CourageJD” Dunlop, Cory “King Gothalion” Michael, Michael “shroud” Grzesiek, and Tyler “Ninja” Blevins — all megastar gaming streamers who have left Twitch since August — are the site’s real outliers, even though they command huge audiences. Because audience doesn’t necessarily equal community.
Gomes told me that he has big plans for future alerts, and hinted at a new “drastically more elaborate” thing he was creating that will play when someone raids him — that is, sends their viewers to his channel. “I can hint at it a little bit, because, you know, I’ve kept a lot of it kind of secret. It’s just been sorta fun doing it that way,” he says. “But a big thing on my channel recently has been viewer interactivity.” In his free time, Gomes has been creating small interactive games that let his chat control Bitboi, an 8-bit version of himself. Those, he says, are just prototypes. The real thing is coming soon.