Raquel Lily left her hospital job to be a full-time musician. Twitch helped make it possible.

17 March 2023 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

Raquel Lily posing

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It’s a late summer afternoon, and Raquel Lily is getting ready to play some music for thousands of fans gathered for a performance on her Twitch channel. But first, a confession.

“You guys have never witnessed me in full Lord of the Rings nerd mode,” the Florida-based singer-songwriter admits. “I have a Lord of the Rings tattoo. This is how much I love The Lord of the Rings.”

Between a live set that includes her own original songs, Lily is casually chatting about dwarves and elves – specifically Durin’s relationship with Elrond. The Amazon Original series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiered in September 2022, and Lily hosted live watch parties with her Twitch channel. It might seem like cultural whiplash to switch between soulful, R&B solo performances and thoughtful analysis of the visual re-creation of Khazad-dûm, but Raquel does it with ease – which speaks to how the artist helped carve her music space on Twitch.

“It’s pretty unique,” Lily says of her Twitch presence, which offers double doses of Tolkien lore and dreamy, soulful music. “A lot of my new viewers are like, ‘Whoa she doesn’t just do music?’”

As it turns out, there’s a passionate audience for this overlap. Lily has nearly 70K followers on Twitch and tours the country playing music, most recently supporting her full-length debut album, Fixations.

And when she’s not streaming her concerts live on tour or recording or taking song requests on her livestream, accompanied only by a guitar, she’s supporting her art with brand collaborations on Twitch or, you know, speaking Elvish. (That tattoo, by the way, is of Evenstar, the jewel Arwen gives to Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings.)

Musician Raquel Lily performs her original song “Oh! Chelsea” during a Twitch livestream.

The journey toward Twitch and a full-time music career

Lily was born in the Philippines and raised in New York, and music has always been part of her life. She started writing songs when she was 13 and played in metal and rock bands as a youth – but she never thought of it as a full-time career. Instead, she obtained a degree in neurobiology from the University of California, Davis. After graduating, she started working full time at a hospital as a neurophysiology tech with the intention of attending medical school. That never happened though.

While working in the medical field, Lily was drawn to more creative pursuits. She’d come home from a long day at the hospital and not have the energy to write. “I just felt creatively exhausted,” she says. “I would play open mics; I would play bar gigs – whatever I could find.”

At this time, in 2017, she was also playing Overwatch on Twitch. Along with music, gaming has always been part of her life. And she naturally found a way to nourish both of those passions simultaneously on Twitch. While jumping around maps battling robots and scavengers, she’d also sing.

“That was how I built my audience,” she remembers. “People would request songs, and I would sing along while I was gaming.”

After a few months, she put down the controller and picked up her guitar to focus on music full time. She left the hospital job and performed at college campuses. But when she hit the road, she didn’t want to leave her community back at home.

“I didn’t want to leave my stream behind, so I actually took my streaming equipment with me and would stream live shows,” she says. “When I would come home, [my audience] didn’t care about me gaming, they were like, ‘We want to see you play more music.’”

Lily gave them just that. She brought her community into the creative process, showing the writing, practising, recording and production of her music during livestreams. Often, music fans only get the final product from their favourite artist – a polished new single, a masterly produced new album. But Twitch offered Lily the chance to show her audience the process from beginning to end – all the beautiful moments of writing, revising and fine-tuning a piece of music. It creates close bonds between the audience, the music and the artist. In March 2022, she released Fixations, an album almost entirely created in front of a streaming audience and funded through subs from her community.

“I started practising a lot of music on Twitch and I actually became a better musician, because you put this pressure on yourself to have to perform,” she says. “People are excited about a single you’ve been working on in front of them. And now they get to see it come to life before their eyes. It’s a really unique place to interact and be very intimate with people without having them physically be in the room. So, I think Twitch is a really important tool for me as an indie artist.”

Meanwhile, Lily has used her stream to help create a welcoming, supportive environment for her community.

“I have a lot of community members who are closeted, for instance, who don’t talk to their family or friends about who they feel they are. So I try to provide a safe space for them,” Lily says. “I had sort of a coming-out arc on Twitch myself. I wasn’t like, ‘Hey guys, I’m gay.’ It was more like, I was developing this song – it’s about a girl. Here it is. This is who I am. I think creating songs and art that people can relate to, of the queer culture, is super important.”

Brands and communities supporting artists

Around the same time she’s nerding out over the Rings of Power series, Lily is also working toward raising money to film a new music video through contributions from her community. As Lily explains, Twitch and her community have been crucial for helping her support her art.

“Previously, artists felt pressured to be signed or have a label behind them or have this big machine to fund their creative endeavours. And sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot of your artistry to fit the mould of what the label wants of you,” Lily says. “I don’t feel like I have to do that in front of a community that genuinely wants to be there and see my process the way I want to make it. It feels so organic. And it’s just really unique to the Twitch community.”

Lily also helps fund her art through brand collaborations on Twitch. Last year, she became an official member of the AT&T Class of 2022, a sponsorship program that supports streamers to help them grow their communities. She’s also worked with Gretsch Guitars, the camera retailer Adorama, meal-kit company HelloFresh, Logitech and more.

“It’s really cool to work with brands that are adjacent to what I’m doing – on the music or the tech side,” Lily says. “I think a lot of people are turned off by pandering. You can see how disingenuous it is sometimes. On Twitch you can’t fake any of that. You are literally seeing micro-expressions of these artists. So if they truly believe in your brand and they really love, say, a microphone, they’re gonna use it, and you’re gonna see it in real time.”

As Lily explains, these brand collaborations are a natural way for her to support her music and also connect with her community.

“My community is a mix between people who genuinely enjoy my music or my personality, but also there’s a big chunk who are aspiring artists themselves. They’re there because they want to learn. So they put their trust in you,” Lily says. “They may be like, ‘OK, those are the strings that Raquel vouches for; I think I’m going to get them.’ So it’s a way for people to try things or go all the way and splurging before knowing that’s exactly what they want to buy.”

With the help from her community and these brand collaborations, Lily has grown her music career into a bigger enterprise. Beyond the new album, Lily is in the process of releasing some new singles and videos. She’s getting ready to go on tour.

And she’s bringing her community with her every step of the way – including the occasional detour to Middle-earth.

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