At the start of a new decade there’s no better time for a changing tide. For rock and metal music the tide just so happens to be changing rapidly, and it all starts with the growing popularity of livestreaming, namely Twitch. Over recent years, Twitch has built itself a prominent space in and around the gaming industry, whereas for the music industry, finding where it fits into the picture, longterm, has been a puzzling issue. The pandemic obviously gave way to livestream concerts, which are now part of the industry’s future, but beyond livestream concerts it’s become more of a question of how else can the music industry fit into the livestream space?
If there’s any genre that’s prioritized answering this question, it’s rock and metal. Modern rock figures like Matt Heafy of Trivium and Ronnie Radke of Falling In Reverse, are two key personalities who’ve laid out the groundwork for the scene, more over the music industry, in displaying how artists can utilize the Twitch platform beyond just livestream concerts. However, it goes further than just artists using Twitch, as rock media brands are beginning to shift toward the space as well. World renown festival and concert promoter Danny Wimmer Presents (DWP), has joined forces with Twitch in cultivating a space for the next generation of fans, bands and rock news.
This year DWP partnered with Space Zebra, a clothing and retail brand, in producing the Twitch program That Space Zebra Show — an innovative rock and metal livestream program that’s part talkshow and gameshow. Hosted by brand owner Bobby Schubenski (Blackcraft Cult, Space Zebra), veteran rock journalist Beez (Moshtalks, formerly Scuzz TV, Metal Hammer, Kerrang) and Josh Balz (Strange Kids, ex-Motionless In White), That Space Zebra Show is the hub for hungry unsigned talent, in depth artists interviews, and rowdy rock and metal fun.
Over the course of this year the channel has raked in over 4.77 million live viewers, with certain segments like ‘Riff Wars King of the Hill’ reeling in a gargantuan audience of 359,595 viewers. While the segments and personalities on That Space Zebra Show play to show’s success, the audience driven platform of Twitch is a huge proponent to what makes each of Space Zebra’s livestreams so captivating. Not only that, but the show’s original segments Riff Wars, Meet & Greet, and Battle for the Big Stage are all intended for the audience. Whether it’s viewers chiming in on an interview to ask their favorite band a question, or two audience members going head to head in a guitar duel, or fans voting in on who’s the best unsigned band, That Space Zebra Show is seemingly guided by its viewers.
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Additionally, That Space Zebra Show has made a big presence at each of the DWP festivals this year. The channel has gone as far as curating a Twitch Stage for the Welcome To Rockville festival, which features the unsigned bands from this years Battle For Big Stage segment. Twitch and brands like DWP are continuing to carve out this innovative space for music and media to flourish, and it’s only a matter of time until other media outlets catch on.
Sharing more about That Space Zebra Show and all things DWP, producer Danny Hayes and show host Beez sat down to talk with Forbes.
What has it been like seeing the response and attendance at this year’s DWP festivals?
Danny Hayes: In terms of the physical attendance, I think everybody is just really fired up. People were fired up and you know they needed it, it’s a release and it’s a return to normalcy, and for these fans there’s no better way to get that release or that return to normalcy. The response and the energy has been incredible.
What was the strategy and thinking behind choosing these different locales and markets for each of the DWP festivals this year?
DH: It was really twofold, putting aside Inkcarceration [Festival] for a minute, one was to pick three festivals that served three geographical regions, so we had Florida, Louisville, and California. These really covered the country and covered our audience base so that everyone would have a festival that they could get to. We also looked at which were our most successful and profitable festivals. Like everybody else, we have cash flow to make up for from 2020, and so we focused on what we consider our franchises — Rockville, Aftershock, and Louder Than Life are our franchise festivals. Epicenter and Sonic Temple were new festivals, and then with Inkcarceration we had become a partner in it and felt that it had great momentum, and we were able to just fall into an amazing lineup. It sold out in three weeks and we’re really glad we elected to add that one to the four.
So when did the idea for That Space Zebra show start? Beez, how’d you fall into the fold of Twitch streaming?
DH: So what happened is when the pandemic hit we started a digital series called “Off Stage,” which Gary Spivack hosted, and we got a really good response from it. Then at that same time we started launching some pay-per-views, and then for the bands that wanted to work with us we were able to go and do some really cool pay-per-views, like Puscifer’s Live at Arcosanti, the one we did in Sacramento with Dance Gavin Dance, and we saw the response to that. At the same time we had become partners with Bobby Schubenski, who is the owner of Blackcraft Cult. We had become partners with him in a brand called Space Zebra.
The original and continued plan is we’re building a clothing line called Space Zebra, but he started That Space Zebra Show on twitch to market the brand. And even though we didn’t have any product yet, he’s a brand builder, that’s what Bobby is and he does a great job with Blackcraft Cult. Separate from that, Twitch approached us and said “hey we’re doing channel deals with different promoters, we’re trying to find one promoter in every genre, do you guys want to be the rock channel.” We were seeing what Bobby was doing and it became a natural “hey, let’s do our channel, and let’s build it around That Space Zebra Show.” Bobby transferred That Space Zebra Show’s channel into the DWP channel, so that gave us a foundation from day one to build off of.
Beez: I’m someone that came to America to make rock music a force again, that’s literally why I came to these isles. I think Twitch is the first big outlet that has truly cared about rock and metal culture. Not only cared enough to understand it and present it in the right way with who the audience is in 2021, but Twitch will put us front and center. I’m not just talking about That Space Zebra Show, I’m talking about the people that laid the foundations like Matt Heafy. He’s the patron saint of Twitch man! But you look at him and I think another true innovator is Ronnie Radke.
I watched the media at large try to tear him down, and when you get to watch him interact with his fans, you don’t need to perceive who Ronnie Radke is anymore. Turn his channel on for half an hour and then you know who he is. I love that, and I love the ability to turn that on. To be on Twitch and to be creating, it’s not the same people doing the same things, it’s the artists innovating and the media innovating. In Bobby ‘Blackcraft’s’ [Schubenski] case, a guy who came from clothing and has come here and ended up innovating…it’s the ‘Wild West’ out here, and you better believe I’m buying a horse! I love being at the forefront of things and Twitch and metal is where it’s at in 2021.
Beez, as far as modern rock & metal media personalities go, you’ve always stood out amongst one of the most genuine and credited. What’s your perspective on the state of rock media and where it’s headed in 2021?
Beez: I think that the night is always darkest before the dawn. I feel like for the last decade or so, it’s been hard within the walls of rock media watching all of this innovative stuff happen. In rock music we have been guilty of doing things the way they’ve always been done. That dreaded sentence, “we’ve always done things this way” has been a bit of a crutch for rock media for a really long time. While we’ve seen innovators as well, I think Jamey Jasta has done incredible things in the podcast sphere making sure that we have a big carbon footprint there, as well as someone like Dean Delray with Let There Be Talk. There are flagship things in podcasts that I feel represent who we are, but I think rock music has had a change of ethos-presentation in who we are in that decade.
The idea of us being Beavis and Butt-Head, I don’t think that’s who we are anymore. I feel sometimes that the media look at us and they think we are, I love this band, but they think we’re all just Five Finger Death Punch. And I don’t mean that as a slight on FFDP, I think they’re a great band, but we’re more than that. We’re also Chelsea Wolfe, and we’re also Spirit Box, etc. So in terms of rock media, I feel our biggest challenge is the perception of us, and that is why we’ve been in a bit of a funk, because I’m not sure we’ve presented ourselves the way that we should have, but that is a rapidly changing tide.
It’s been amazing seeing the show’s rapid growth over recent months. You guys were garnering some incredible viewer numbers with some streams in the hundreds of thousands at these festival dates.
DH: We were shocked! Twitch constantly reminds me that if you have one hundred people watching then it’s a successful stream, or if you have 500 people watching then you’re killing it! We’re averaging in the thousands per episode, and we’re in the top .01 percent of all twitch channels. At Aftershock alone we did 750,000 live views. We would have hit a million but the stream went out on Sunday so we ended up not streaming that day, but we would’ve had a million just from the weekend and that doubled our number. We had done a million streams leading into the weekend and then literally in four days we doubled it, and that was without live music.
Beez: It’s all across the channel, because when I do New Music Saturday, I have the honor of having 14 and a half thousand people watching live as I play them what I believe truly represents rock and metal, every Saturday. When it’s put in front of that many people and Twitch backs it, it’s a pretty magical thing, and it’s far from rock being this identikit or copy & paste, ‘here’s butt-rock band after butt-rock band.’ Having fourteen and half thousand captive people go “wow this is sick” to the new Dying Wish, just shows that perception is everything. That Space Zebra Show is part of changing the face and presentation of rock music and I think that’s the credit that I can give to it. It’s anything that the accusations of rock are not, so if they accuse us of being po-faced, well there’s me, Bobby, Josh Balz, and producer Jake to say that this can be anarchic and fun. I think fun is such a big thing that we seemed to have lost.
I grew up watching shows like That Metal Show and reruns of Headbangers Ball, and That Space Zebra Show almost reminds me of a modern version of these iconic shows.
Danny Hayes: It is with a major twist, and the twist is that the fans drive the show, and that’s what’s so incredible about the Twitch platform. Imagine if you could watch That Metal Show, and engage with it as it was going. How cool would that have been to tell those guys “hey, do this,” “ask this question,” or win tickets. What has been amazing is that the fans really dictate the show. Segments that aren’t working we can tell, and the fans are letting us know. All of the bands that have won contests with us, the fans picked, not us. We don’t vote, the DWP Twitch stage [at Welcome To Rockville] is one hundred percent picked by the fans, and that’s exciting.
Beez: That Space Zebra Show is the space to find unsigned talent, and it’s like the jewel in our crown. I can definitely see the comparisons and I think That Metal Show also had a very right space for its time in presenting rock music. So while I didn’t get That Metal Show in the U.K., and I know loads of people who love it and I think Eddie Trunk is a diamond, but I also have female friends who didn’t feel like they were allowed to like That Metal Show because of its more ‘man stuff.’ Where we are in 2021, I feel like the terms ‘female fronted’ are being redundant, and it’s becoming a more welcoming place. We still have work to do, but be it podcasts like On Wednesdays We Wear Black, there are various different things showing rock where it is in 2021. So I can see it and I would be stoked for people to see us in that manner, but if there’s a difference it’s that they were right for their time. Rock music is communal, it’s heart, it’s everything, it’s ‘you are us and we are you,’ ‘you fall down in the pit and we pick you up,’ and I feel like the vibe on That Space Zebra Show is right for that, and it’s right for 2021.
It’s fascinating watching That Space Zebra Show and how you prioritize developing newer artists by giving them a unique spotlight.
DH: My biggest wish in life is that one of the bands [from That Space Zebra Show’s battle of the bands] ends up becoming a headliner. If one day Widow7 is headlining Aftershock, man, would the Twitch experiment have been a success.
Beez: That’s literally why I came here. There are two strands to what we do at DWP and they both serve a purpose. One is That Space Zebra Show and unsigned artists. There’s so much great unsigned music out there and I always say, everyone’s favorite band were all unsigned at one point. Rammstein doing ‘cirque du soleil’ up there were an unsigned band in a bar once upon a time. Every band needs that outlet, and at a time when rock media needs nothing but numbers on a certain side of things, that means that you can’t cultivate new bands as much. It’s vital that there is a space for that to live and it’s full blown our priority on That Space Zebra Show.
Everyone knows Spiritbox right now, but the place that you will first discover the next Spiritbox is on the DWP network and New Music Saturday. This is the ecosystem, we do unsigned bands but we also have a duty in wanting all of these new bands to reach the promise land, and to put them in with the biggest bands. That’s fan voted as well, fans vote whether something is world class to not good, and it gives you a gauge. When we talk about media and fans being the tide, literally on a weekly basis they let me know exactly what they think of everything that’s coming out. So we have a gauge to where the audience is at, and an opportunity to show them more than they are currently being served.