If it weren't for Deadmau5's terrible broadband speeds, he wouldn't be on Twitch, the live video-streaming site favored by gamers. Prior to moving to the Canadian countryside just outside of Toronto and building "a goddamned death ray" in his back yard to get paltry 5 Mbps downloads, the electronic musician, whose real name is Joel Zimmerman, had relied on a gigabit connection to broadcast music-making sessions in 2K resolution using his own data service provider. "The quality was pretty comparable [to Twitch], but I didn't have a social network behind it to help it along," he said during an interview from the first-ever TwitchCon. Now his TriCaster streaming setup is as good as "a $50,000 doorstop," and he instead uses the open-source OBS streaming software to broadcast games like Rocket League, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; and studio recording sessions from his basement like the rest of us.
Unlike other musicians jumping on board Twitch, which Amazon acquired for $970 million, what Deadmau5 is doing doesn't feel bandwagon-y; it comes off as incredibly genuine. Maybe that's because he has a video game background: He made tunes for the quirky PlayStation indie game Sound Shapesand appeared as a character in the short-lived DJ Hero series prior. His track "A City in Florida" was the backdrop to Saint's Row: The Third's best boss fight and his iconic mouse head is a legendary item in Diablo 3 that makes enemies jump uncontrollably -- you know, like they would at one of his concerts. He also has a Space Invaders tattoo on his neck since he shares his birthday with that game's release in 1981. So to get a better sense of how he's merging his love of music, video games and livestreaming -- he recently struck a partnership with Twitch -- I sat down with the potty-mouthed Deadmau5 for a revealing chat.
Just the fact that it's live. I take a lot of pride in being able to work with a camera on me, especially in an industry that's so -- not even -- or should be live broadcasted, or could be in a way that it's still electronic music production. It's not something you can do off the cuff. I'm not gonna throw anyone under a bus or anything, but it's something that gets farmed out to other producers. One guy does this; another does that. It doesn't connect any dots between: "How does a guy do this at home and then go to the show and play it there?" [Live broadcasting] draws a line between that disconnect between producer/performer; how he's making these sounds and offering inside information to guys who are also aspiring to do the same thing.
I don't talk too much; it's not a tutorial session. But I try to throw out enough for people to pick up on; little hints and bits. It's not a master class of, "Here's what I fuckin' do all day!"
Is there a reason you chose Twitch over YouTube Gaming which recently launched?
Yeah, Twitch paid more. Our sponsorship deal was like, fuck, way in the millions and YouTube only wanted to give me $80 and a fuckin' milk carton. [Glances at Twitch music relations guy]. No, I'm totally joking.
I established some relationships with some folks -- folks? Folk. [Looks at Twitch music relations guy] That's what you've been demoted to.
It's just banter; they're all kids my age. We all like to bust each other's balls online and hop into the occasional game. Try doing that with jagoffs from YouTube. [laughs] YouTube's not going to be loving me after this. "Fuck this kid!" [laughs]
How has broadcasting your music sessions on Twitch affected your creative workflow?
That's really interesting because I do feel inhibited. Sometimes. You put anyone in front of an audience and if they're not -- I wouldn't say "trained" because I was never trained, but if they're not accustomed to having eyes on them and people watching them do their thing it would really inhibit your ability to perform a task because of...
There's going to be pressure because if you fuck up, someone's seeing you fuck up.
Exactly! And then you're going to waste time going [slams hands on the couch and makes a vowel-less noise with his mouth] fighting with them or defending what you're doing in terms of your work. I developed this "no fucks skill," for lack of a better word, into knowing the camera is on. I do things in a way I wouldn't normally do them if I was sitting around in my fuckin' underwear eating peanut butter and making music.
And then I found that happy medium where I can still get shit done. It takes a certain amount of practice or experience doing that for you to be proficient at what you do, versus what you do with 3 million kids watching and hanging off your words, speculating.
With 3 million people watching, that's got to be impossible to manage chat. Do you have a bot?
Well, not really. At the start, it was fuckin' anarchy. It was "shit, fuck, piss," waves of emoticons. That was with some other kind of app that we used. Then we went in and we took their chat thing and said, "Okay look, here's some basic rules: You can't send a message more than once every 30 seconds." That definitely cut it to 80 percent shit, because then people knew that if they said something, it likely wouldn't even be seen unless you're that one comment troll. That helped.
Then I said we should do a kind of mode where we can pick four people at a time at random (it'll go into the chat queue and unmute four people) and they can ask the questions. That got a little weird because I spent more time moderating the chat than doing what the fuck it is I'm supposed to do, right? Then I started using Twitch and that seemed a little more tame. While it didn't have that [unmute] thing, it did have slow mode.
Depending on the scale of the channel, it's really not a disaster. I can read it; I can follow a theme or a conversation or a topic; just eyeballing it and not getting lost in someone's link to check out their beats.
Music is getting to be bigger and bigger on Twitch and...
[Interrupts] I started that. Well, I didn't start that, but I started my Twitch stuff with no gaming. Maybe that mentality didn't translate so well right off the bat with all the users when they said Twitch was going to add music channels. So I'm curious to see where that's going to evolve, because you're going to have a good crossover of streaming content with people producing content and shows that are using music. But not everybody's a goddamned fuckin' producer so they can't acquire licenses on their own to use stuff. So I actually did that once on my own.
"I do things in a way I wouldn't normally do them if I was sitting around in my fuckin' underwear eating peanut butter and making music."
The other day I was streaming me playing Diablo 3, dicking around as one does on Twitch. I had my MP3 player on shuffle and it was dipping around on my stuff and some other people's stuff. Stuff I enjoy listening to as I play Diablo; here's me in my natural habitat. Then I look at the stream later and a lot of it is blocked out, but not my stuff. It's the stuff I know I don't have the rights to broadcast. So, fair play. I'm not complaining, but I'm very curious to see how musicians and producers are going to come on board on Twitch as musicians and producers, not the musician/producer who happens to like playing Diablo as well. It'll be interesting to see [how] Twitch gets out of the game-streaming-only environment that it's perceived to be now.
deadmau5 in DJ Hero 2
Who are your favorite streamers?
You know what? I'm not gonna lie, dude. I haven't really explored much outside of what I'm doing, my own thing. But today I met one very fascinating fuckin' dude, Mr. FuturemanGaming? I'm really excited to get back and explore the rest of Twitch. It's me going to a music festival, right? You're not going to see me up in front row and fuckin' center of Arcade Fire. I'm gonna be back in the dressing room fucking a hooker until I go on. So I'm going to go out and see some of the other bands when I get home.
You're announcing this partnership with Maestro and Twitch. Can you explain what that is and how that started?
It started as ad-hoc shit at my house, then I upgraded to a TriCaster, a better streaming provider and we've tried different things. We'd acquired a piece of a company called Upfront, which were the social media expert guys and streaming providers too. They said it'll be fun; let's make this live portal site. About a year into that I realized all I'm doing is reinventing the fucking wheel. I'm trying to build a community so niche to Deadmau5 and to what I do [that] it's not getting outside of my own bubble, in terms of my fanbase.
You're preaching to the converted at that point.
Yeah, I can bring some fans in and I have a pretty respectably sized fanbase to cover my costs and acquisitions, maintenance and upkeep. And that was okay, but how do we grow this into something that attracts people that are all a part of something bigger? There isn't a single user that I had last year on my live.deadmau5.com site that didn't know what Twitch was. By chance, I ran out of internet, moved to the country and thought, "Fuck man, I can't use my shit because it's too high-spec." I had a gigabit and now I think we have 5 Mbps. That's how big the leap was, it was crazy!
I just said, it's super easy; plug and play Twitch; do a couple of streams on that. All of a sudden the people from my live site were already there; they were all members with Turbo accounts. I did it on my own because I asked, "What's shit-hot for streaming right now?" It just so happened to be Twitch.
You were pretty prolific on YouTube. Now that Twitch will allow you to upload pre-recorded videos in the future, are you going to be uploading to Twitch as well?
Yeah. With our custom portal thing we'll be producing some exclusive content that will only live on the Twitch/Maestro/deadmau5 collaboration thing. It'll also live on their portal so you don't have to be a fuckin' live.deadmau5.com member. It's all through Twitch as well. We're planning on doing some cool things like Mau5hax; we might bring that back.
That was an experiment we did in Miami during Music Week. We rented a studio and over a week, pick some fans that were also producers and I would take every Mau5trap artist (myself, Spor, Feed Me, Moguai) and we put 'em all in a studio and the contest winners would come in and work with all these artists and we'd all produce an album in a week. Just for fun, something cool for the kids and we'd stream it. We'll be doing events similar to that in the future, probably. Producing things like that as well as pre-recorded segments on, I don't know, fuckin' Modular Mondays. Who knows?
This interview has been condensed and edited
[Image credits: Getty Images/Redferns (Lead image); Danny Mahoney (Purple background); Activision (DJ Hero 2); Getty Images (Onstage with mouse head)]