Indie Revolution: Meet Adult’s New Commanders in ChiefMay 14, 2019
Once upon a time, or so the legend goes, adult performers could sign a magical contract that would put at their service an agent, a manager, a makeup artist, a wardrobe shopper, a lighting technician, a cinematographer or videographer, an editor, a sound person, a sound editor, a soundtrack supervisor, a producer, a caterer, a personal assistant, a publicist, a marketing expert, a web designer, a social media manager and an all-around IT person.
Alright, that’s just a legend — being talent has never been all fun and games (and tanning), even before the internet changed everything.
What is true, however, is that the current crop of adult performers have to at least possess a degree of minimal proficiency in each of those fields. In 2019, it’s not enough to look good and to enjoy getting paid to show off your body and erotic skills to the world. These days in order to thrive in this (or any other area of showbiz), you have to be a self-contained content production unit.
Welcome to the Indie Revolution.
Seizing the Means of Production
The boundary between the pampered pro and the plucky pretender has evaporated. Everyone has to be a multi-tasker, a do-it-all, a foot soldier and a general, from an established superstar like 2018 XBIZ Performer of the Year Romi Rain (with 2.6 million followers on Instagram) to that cute genderfluid barista in the Midwest ready to take their camming side-gig to the next level.
Thanks to getting-cheaper-by-the-year tech, content creators have seized the means of production. The game now is finding an audience a solid distribution platform, and turning casual fans and curious lurkers into customers by any means necessary.
“I started making 100 percent self-produced content back in 2006,” said indie production pioneer Vicky Vette. “Girls rarely did self-produced content back then, except for a few clips sites and their own ‘official’ websites. Then, free porn on tube sites put [many] production companies out of business and girls had a hard time sometimes paying their basic bills. I think we have turned a corner in the last three years. Girls now can and should make their own content. It is much more lucrative than it ever has been.”
Many mainstream performers have realized in the last few years that pivoting to a DIY ethos and mastering the production and marketing of performer-owned content, be it short clips or camming, is a fundamental survival skill.
Those who have found success in more niche markets have known this for a while. “I started in 2005,” said San Francisco-based alt-porn icon Jiz Lee. “There was almost no performer-owned content that I was aware of unless you were a major star and had a studio behind your marketing [and] site management. There were clip stores, though most performers simply did studio work. Hosting your own site was expensive and basic equipment was expensive. Now you can capture decent high quality photos and video with a smartphone.”
For Lee, a game changer in terms of visibility was the rise of social media as an inescapable reality. “It has made it easier to promote work, despite [social media platforms] being largely anti-adult.”
Emily Bloom, 2019 XBIZ Cam Model of the Year, agrees that increased visibility is also behind the growth of the camming industry and the parallel phenomenon of models pursuing indie projects and self-branding opportunities from the get-go.
“Within five years of me being in the camming industry,” Bloom said, “it grew and evolved into something big and beautiful. Back when I started [in 2013] most camgirls would stay away from social media to keep their [adult] job under wraps,” said Bloom. “Nowadays, social media is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Not that many models created and sold their own content back in the day, and even the content that was created and sold was predominantly custom, exclusive stuff. There were a lot less of us. Currently, a lot more ‘regular folk’ are aware of camming and there are a lot more customers because of that.”
According to Bloom, the evolution of technology has also resulted in more options for individuals to compete with professional or legacy production brands on a more level playing field. “Today a good camera, a powerful computer and professional lighting is pretty much a given for any cam girl that does this as a job,” said Bloom. “A lot of people today are streaming in HD using OBS [Open Broadcaster Software] and all sorts of plugins that make our lives easier. We even got bots and automated platforms to sell our content.”
The smarter models have taken full advantage of these developments to differentiate their productions from the basic “scantily-clad person-next-door sitting in front of a keyboard and looking slightly below camera” setup.
“Girls come up with more and more different games and shows,” said Bloom. “They create new niches and fetishes and cater more and more to different audiences. I can’t recall anyone doing full-blown aerial shows or building massive sets to cam from back in the day, but nowadays there are quite a few models famous for it.”
Perhaps we should add “acrobatics” and “carpentry” to the ever-expanding skill set for the glory-seeking Indie Revolutionary.
The Indie Generation
Though some people would still incorrectly assume that separate ecosystems segregate an aristocracy of “porn stars” from the fortress-storming of “indie performers,” some of the most recognizable names in adult are also content producers.
“I started camming eight years ago, before I got into the [professional] adult industry,” said 2019 XBIZ Performer of the Year (and multiple award winner) Abigail Mac. “I started creating my own clip content about five years ago.”
As for Romi Rain, she started camming in 2010 (back when it was called “webcamming”), two years before shooting her first studio production. But she started producing and owning her own content long before that.
“I would commission professional photo shoots and hire make-up artists and photographers for exclusive sets all the way back in 2006-2007,” Rain said. “I started shooting my own clips exactly when I started camming because I saw a lot of successful cam girls doing it.”
Three months after starting in adult films, Rain “got really serious” about content and launched RomiRain.com shortly after that. “To prepare, I shot about 40 scenes exclusively for it on my own time within about a three-month span,” she said.
The current reality that major talent also cams is something the XBIZ Cam Awards recognize via the Industry Crossover Star category. “I don’t know many performers who aren’t doing their own content,” said Brenna Sparks, who is a nominee this year alongside Mac and Rain. “I truly believe making your own content is the future.”
Camming, the ultimate DIY form of entering the adult business, can also diversify the pool of performers. “I began camming full-time after a major car accident I was involved in that left me to spend a few months recovering in a wheel chair,” said 2019 XBIZ Best Trans Cam Model nominee Casey Kisses. “I dabbled with it in the past, so when I fell on hard times I looked at it as my way out and I began camming twice a day to make ends meet. With my audience growing and my shows getting better with every stream, I’m left feeling so appreciative for the opportunities that have been made possible to me through camming.”
Added Sparks, “I think it was inevitable that they become the leading channels for adult workers. The indie route has opened up a lot of new opportunities that weren’t previously available and promotes a much safer environment too.”
Korra del Rio
“You’ve just got to take your phone, have fun, be sexy, recognize your market and slay,” said Korra del Rio, also a candidate for Best Trans Cam Model at the 2019 XBIZ Awards.
And while the smartphone might be a quick, no-hassle way to start, many models find that they have to step up their content game to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
“I’ve done a lot of work and research in having the best equipment and being as up to date as possible with my streams,” said Kisses. “I definitely like to have a more modern and commercial aesthetic and approach when it comes to my personal content and cam shows.”
The Indie Generation is also a gear- and gadget-crazy generation.
“I had my very first cam show maybe six years ago,” reminisced del Rio. “I remember going to Goodwill and spotting a webcam on the rack. Like a c520 for 15 dollars, and I remember making $135 on Streamate that afternoon and going to Best Buy right after and buying a c920 brand new. I was hooked.”
For Sparks, “delivering as much value as I can per dollar” is an aspiration that translates into studying cinematography, coming up with efficiency standards, learning to edit and color grade and investing in her own camera, lighting and sound equipment.
The people behind some of the most popular platforms to distribute clips and stream cam shows are very impressed with the kind of material models have delivered when wearing their producer and/or broadcaster hats.
“The creativity of content producers has increased dramatically from the early days of someone sitting in front of a camera on a bed or dancing around a pole,” said Flirt4Free CEO Gregory Clayman. “Top webcam performers create a truly unique experience in their rooms that provide customers with entertainment that goes beyond the traditional ‘show.’”
For recorded content, Clayman added, both of his platforms (Flirt4Free and ModelClips) currently provide “much higher production value than their predecessors.”
As for Chaturbate chief Shirley Lara, she said, “One of my favorite things is to see the creative growth of our community and some of their unique and inventive broadcasts. They never cease to amaze me.”
And BongaCams’ Ronni Bravo remarked, “On BongaCams, I’ve seen cam models take their audience out on a road trip to a different galaxy using OBS. The high level of today’s adult entertainment has no point of comparison in history.”
Noted Kisses, “As technology advances, so will our shows. I myself am looking into streaming with a DSLR, working on better lighting and having the newest toys to make the show more personable and interactive for the viewer,” while Rio observed, “I’ve been tunnel-vision focused on redeveloping my cam show the last few months. I’m in the midst of upgrading the setup to better incorporate captured cam show footage into Pornhub clips. As well as developing some fun visuals for broadcast through OBS for Chaturbate broadcasts.”
Choose Your Own Platform
The main factor that has allowed Indie Generation performers to distribute and monetize their self-produced content is the availability of a multiplicity of platforms to host, organize and promote those content streams.
Indie performers can make their own content and put it up “on tons of platforms straight to their fans,” said Vicky Vette. “It’s called direct marketing! Instead of making $1,000 or less for a scene and no royalties, they can easily make that and much more. Fans are much more willing to spend money on [performers] these days. It’s a great time to be a content producer. The performers are now truly in the driver’s seat with their bodies for probably the first time since I’ve been in adult.
“It’s not the biggest of the industry that survives, nor the savviest, or even the prettiest or sexiest,” added Vette, paraphrasing Charles Darwin. “It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
For Streamate’s Liz Rekevics, “the evolution of camming has been fascinating to watch. In the past two decades, the emergence of freemium vs premium sites, the improvements in streaming technology and the growth in popularity of cams has truly offered members (and models) a wide variety of platforms to choose from.”
The current cornucopia of platform choices was more like a blurry utopia only a few years ago.
“When I entered the adult industry there were a number of major [studios] that you had to work for,” said Korra del Rio. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t make any money. You could make your own content but someone would subscribe to your site, download all the content, do a chargeback and upload it all to a torrent or their favorite tube site. It was soul crushing for me to see one of my videos exclusive to my solo site show up on a tube site viewed over a million times.”
“As far as webcam goes, it’s just boomed,” said del Rio. “I’ve seen first hand the numbers growth through the years.”
Del Rio remembers that five years ago, together with Sienna Grace, they were “number one on all of Chaturbate with 6,000 viewers.” Two years ago, del Rio and Casey Kisses had 32,000 viewers. “Generally, it’s all just massive growth,” del Rio said. “I dare say the lean years are well behind us.”
“The audience is growing,” Kisses agreed. “I’ve gone from 300 viewers in a solo show to 15,000 since I began camming so it’s definitely a noticeable difference to me.”
Performer and powerhouse adult empire builder Harriet Sugarcookie sees the growth of the overall indie side of the industry (performers, platforms, viewers) as a “rising tide” situation. “There are so many platforms to choose from,” says Sugarcookie. “When I started, Clips4Sale was the only game in town. And selling videos on cam was more about getting your CamScore up and fan service than seeing yourself as an indie porn performer-producer.”
Clips4Sale founder and mastermind Neil is widely acknowledged as the visionary who saw the possibilities of the clips market before anyone else.
“The Clips4Sale platform was started in 2003 by me,” said Neil. “I was also a content producer running a membership site prior to that. The idea for Clips4Sale came from customers asking for custom clips to be uploaded to a server, and that lit up my brain and I thought of the idea for a global platform for clip downloads. Clips4Sale is also the longest running clip download site — 16 years and counting.”
“Being old school myself, I make sure that customer service to the producers, models and the customers is top notch,” he continued. “The faster we can get back to people, the happier everyone will be. I also put myself out there: as the owner of Clips4Sale, I make it a priority to give out my cell phone number to anyone who wishes to contact me. I don’t care who you are, how much money you make, or if you’re brand-new or a long time producer on the platform. I give each and every person the time to communicate directly with me any day of the week.”
Though there are many obvious advantages to being independent, navigating the various platforms and figuring out which is best for each content creator can be really difficult. “There are definitely some great platforms out there that have created enormous wealth for indie models and couples,” said Sugarcookie. “But you can do some really bad deals.”
“Tube sites have gone through the biggest changes,” said Sugargookie. “Despite the piracy we saw them as a very good thing. They gave us access to a huge instant audience and we’d upload clips to about 50 different tube sites each week. At the time they seemed to want content and didn’t really care too much about where it came from.”
Many models in fact now see the tube sites as either “loss leaders” (places to put low-selling clips for free as advertisement for their own sites) or, for some, as a source of an extra residual check because payout percentages add up when you command the size of viewership of some of the market-leader tube sites.
Several other platforms are trying new concepts to differentiate themselves and attract models. “We are introducing ‘ethical spending’ into the porn world by starting the JFF Charitable Foundation,” said JustFor.fans’ Dominic Ford. “This will allow models to systematically donate a percentage of their profits to select charities. Users will then be able to give their money to models who they feel are using it to help the community. This is a first in our industry and are we happy to be leading the way to ethical spending in porn.”
Others, however, insist that simplicity is key. “I don’t think there is much more that can be done when it comes to a simple upload and a simple download,” said Clips4Sale’s Neil. “I think faster bandwidth, resolutions beyond 4K and cheaper storage. Clips4Sale already has in place the bandwidth and storage for these things. It’s a very simple business model, and if it’s not broke you don’t need to fix it.”
Chaturbate’s Shirley Lara said, “Hopefully platforms are going to get easier and faster. We’re always working on improving our interface and core technology to make this a reality. For example, we’ve revamped our video upload process and are always looking to make that easier and better.”
For Taylor HousewifeSwag, who won 2018 XBIZ Best BBW Cam Model, platforms also need to listen to the models’ feedback. “The industry is constantly evolving,” said the 2019 XBIZ Cam Awards Community Figure nominee, “and the current creators know what will benefit both the creators and the supporters. It would be extremely beneficial to have model liaisons there to buffer the ideas of the companies and prevent miscommunications or misunderstandings.”
Bella French, ManyVids
ManyVids CEO Bella French, a former performer herself, describes the company she envisioned five years ago as “100 percent model driven and model-centric. Everything we do is to help our content creators. We want our MV Stars to have a voice and that is very innovative within the adult industry.”
By now, some of the most prominent figures in the camming world, like performer Ginger Banks, another 2019 XBIZ Cam Awards Community Figure nominee, have had long relationships with some of the platforms.
“I started camming in the summer of 2010 while attending college at Arizona State University,” said Banks. “I have been doing it ever since and this will be my ninth year camming on MyFreeCams. I chose their site because it had one of the highest payout percentages of cam sites at the time.”
Emily Bloom started on a small private-based website but soon realized that “the rules were too strict.”
“I had to cam a certain amount of hours per day,” Bloom said, “and the cut I got kept dropping. I started at 50 percent and over time got to 30 percent. So I decided to leave. In June 2014, I registered on MyFreeCams and have been camming on there ever since.”
The problem of high cut percentages can be a deal-breaker for some individual content creators, even in an atmosphere of competition, and this issue transcends indie. “Some agents, companies, apps and websites are often taking upwards of 25 to 40 percent for content that individuals are creating, editing and uploading,” said Romi Rain.
And then there is the issue of how to actually get the money you as an indie performer worked so hard for. For 2019 XBIZ Cam Awards Rising Cam Star nominee Jesse Prather, a stigma-derived problem for performers is apps like PayPal and Cash App “finding out who we really are and blocking us from even using our real names to receive money.”
Remarked Neil, “One of the main issues about clip distribution is making sure you can pay people on time around the world, and Clips4Sale is very forward thinking when it comes to this. Another issue would be the way banks discriminate against people in the adult industry. Also, having the ability to take credit cards in a legit way.”
For Neil, when adult platforms “aren’t honest with the merchant banks about what they do, they get shut down, which causes a catastrophic situation for the models, producers and the platform. Clips4Sale is very open and honest with the banks and merchants we do business with and we do not have this issue.”
A few particularly enterprising performers, like Jiz Lee, have even gone beyond indie content and have been working on indie platforms and distribution themselves. “In 2005-6, I was on the team working with Shine Louise Houston, and years later working with our web developer Kriss Lowrance, to self-host and adapt the free open-source blogging platform WordPress for use as a membership site for Pink & White’s first paysite, CrashPadSeries.com.
“Around that time, I also created my own website to chronicle my experiences working in indie/queer porn,” said Lee. “I’ve since collaborated in content shares with fellow performers/producers such as Wolf Hudson, Danni Daniels, Evie Snax and others for non-exclusive ownership and have hosted these videos on PinkLabel.TV, an online streaming platform Pink & White Productions runs to support the work of fellow indie adult filmmakers.”
The Brand is You
So, what do Indie Generation performers do once they’ve mastered the ins and outs of creating and distributing video? As it turns out, they also have to become familiar with the basics of 21st century marketing and branding.
“Models are building brands, identities and establishing themselves as major players in the market,” said Streamate’s Liz Rekevics. “This has been great for them as individuals as well as the platforms they represent.”
“Recently I’ve noticed a lot of performers taking control of their brands and leveraging their power into some really cool projects,” added performer Ginger Banks.
“I’ve a very good eye at this point for structure, perspective, and performance,” said Korra del Rio. “But really, I think it just comes down to realizing you’re selling a product and every avenue a consumer encounters that product is a new opportunity to develop that character or that connection with them. It doesn’t have to be some overly complicated story or concept. But unifying logos, themes, settings and consistent quality go a long way in establishing the flavor of a scene or given performance within one. Establishing a brand is about consistency of content.”
But unlike many major studio brands, which employ sophisticated algorithmic analysis to achieve the broadest appeal possible, indie creators are freer to find distinct niches.
“I have a niche presentation,” said Jiz Lee, “so I’ll always be different. ‘There’s riches in niches.’ I’m also resourceful when it comes to tech and problem-solving so I’m constantly thinking about how to utilize the options available, and how to lift up others from my communities as I do so. I’m interested in building networks wherever possible and involving as many people as I can so that it’s not just my voice.”
The Indie Generation also deploys old marketing tricks with abandon — many did grow up watching the Home Shopping Network, after all. You can see sexy cosplaying cam girls in 2019 creating FOMO panic in their viewers with the lingo of a midcentury traveling salesman out of Arthur Miller. A new generation is being introduced to “Limited edition!,” “For a limited time only!,” “Act now!,” “BOGO!,” “Sale ends in five minutes!” via laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Many performers who straddle the line between indie content (which they own) and studio work (which they don’t) see their appearance on well-publicized major scenes as part of their self-branding.
“It’s gotten to the point I view pornography as commercials I’m investing in rather than something I get paid to make,” said Korra del Rio. “My success on cam has allowed me to raise my [studio] shoot rates considerably since I’d need to make a considerable amount on one shoot to financially justify skipping two or three days of cam. Porn is the commercial, cam is the product.”
And the opportunity to promote indie brands and content has encouraged some to venture into SFW platforms, both rebranding themselves in non-adult terms and also driving traffic (hopefully) to their adult content.
Some performers have created entire side careers on gaming platforms. Manuel Ferrara, who as a gonzo POV videography pioneer could be said to be one of the founding figures of “self-shot” content, has become a kind of a videogame-playing “fun uncle” in France via gaming platform Twitch.
Others are looking to current-generation, short-attention span apps like TikTok in order to diversify the audience.
“TikTok has its own vibe: comedy, cosplay, fashion and fun all come together,” said performer and 2019 XBIZ Industry Crossover Star nominee Athena Rayne, who shares elaborately choreographed videos of her dancing and lip-synching via Twitter. “Most content creators are in their 20s, like me.”
Rayne sees TikTok, YouTube and the yet-to-be-launched Byte (where she’ll be “be one of the first influencers on the platform”) as outlets for her SFW shenanigans for “a new audience who just wanted to know more about my life in a less explicit way.”
“I toned it down a lot for TikTok,” she added. “I love to create and it gives me a space to do that. Not just as Athena the performer, but Athena the weirdo that hangs off doorways and dances in the street.”
Indie is Big Business
What separates the most successful Indie Generation performers from the infinite “Brady Bunch” grid of faces offering their looks and personalities on any given platform is the ability to see content production as more than a side gig.
Those you see quitting their day jobs and posting Instagram pics from faraway beaches tackle the challenge of being their own bosses for what it actually is — a real-deal business. You don’t need an MBA to know that running an entire operation, regardless of the market, takes no small amount of willpower, self-discipline and a desire for high achievement.
“We are our own managers and it is important to maintain a good work ethic to be able to continue to grow,” said Casey Kisses. “I generally shoot anywhere between three-to-ten times in a month for [professional studios] and every day that I’m not doing that I’m devoting as much time to webcamming, vlogging and clips as possible.”
Harriet Sugarcookie sees her different well-publicized adult endeavors as “my whole life. Everything we — me, my business partner and my employees — do is fiercely independent.”
Thinking like a business requires paying attention to true-and-tried business concepts like diversification and wealth-building strategies, like maximizing your passive income.
Said Romi Rain, “For the past couple of years, the combination of webcamming, modeling, feature dancing and shooting my own clips has actually shown to be more valuable for me overall because of how much that side of the industry is truly expanding.”
The distinction between cam models and clip artists, if it ever truly existed, has also vanished completely: most, if not all, cam performers know to also start clip sites seemingly as soon as they plunge fully into adult.
Repurposing and recycling are important business considerations for the Indie Generation. Either recording live shows and “chopping them up” as clips, or combining clips or pieces of live shows into compilations, the number of times the same images can be resold again and again in the digital era seems literally endless.
“I started in 2015, and recorded my cam shows almost immediately when I began,” said Anna Bell Peaks, best known as a tattooed porn star and in-demand feature dancer nationwide. “I knew that owning content was an important part of passive income streams. It made sense to record everything I did, so I could resell it to others who missed the live shows.
“My main source of income and my main focus is my subscription-based website, with camming coming in as a close second,” said Emily Bloom. “I put out four videos, and six-to-eight photo galleries monthly. I don’t use clip sites beyond MFCShare, but I have been thinking about branching out to ManyVids. The main question is whether there is enough time in a day for me to add even more content creating to my schedule.”
For others, clips can serve as a marketing tool. “The main bulk of my clip content is for free on tube sites to then hopefully drive traffic to my live stream where I feel I excel in,” said 2019 XBIZ Cam Awards Social Media Influencer nominee Ella Silver.
Jiz Lee also recommends promoting videos through affiliate marketing, where performers can earn 20-60 percent on each video or membership. “I firmly believe that performers need to use affiliate marketing and many of us are missing out on a ton of passive income,” said Lee.
Like all savvy business people, the Indie Generation knows not to leave any potential penny uncollected. “This is residual income,” said Abigail Mac. “This is how models can save and invest for their future. In my opinion it is the most important thing someone involved in the adult industry can take advantage of.”
And if all of this “business talk” sounds like a lot of take in, that’s because it is. Performers with natural curiosity and a hunger for learning are at a distinct advantage when it comes to playing the indie game.
“I try to constantly learn new things and invest in myself and my brand whenever I can,” said Taylor HousewifeSwag.
“I started out at a live 24/7 cam house with Leo West and Jbunny,” said Jesse Prather. “Leo West had a big part on teaching me the way of camming, so I mostly thank Leo West for making me a boss.”
Prather’s advice for people wanting to develop their own indie business is to “go to events and learn from other fellow cam models about what you might not know already.” Industry conferences like XBIZ Los Angeles, XBIZ Miami and XBIZ Berlin can be invaluable for new and experienced performers who can learn from others in formal and informal settings.
“This industry is not something that is generally taught in school and we just pick it up ourselves for the most part,” said Casey Kisses.
And one prevailing word of advice is not to forget that for most performers, money spent on job-related courses (video editing, sound, basic business classes, etc.), online or at an institution, is tax-deductible. Also, remembering that you are a real business and it’s probably a great idea to retain a sex worker-friendly accountant not just for tax season.
Once you’ve learned what you need to know, however, it seems advisable to make sure to touch base with the reason you first enjoyed becoming an adult entertainer and personality. Business considerations can, and should, be adapted to what you do best.
“I personally prefer to entertain live than to sell clips,” said Ella Silver, “but live shows are less in demand now, as the public is opting to spend their money on ‘tangible’ items like clips and custom created content. So I am trying to make my social media presence and my free content more visible.”
The entrepreneurial Silver, who has the profound understanding of marketing techniques and terminology of someone who has successfully run a business before, knows that the increased visibility “will drive larger amounts of traffic to my live streams, where I then have the chance to turn said viewers into revenue.”
Silver is also trying to set up subscription-based memberships “that give more of a behind the scenes look into camming.” She said, “You need to offer something that the viewer can’t get already from tube sites. I think it’s important to keep this ‘relationship’ with the consumer, as porn is readily available for free anywhere.”
The Indie Connection
Many adult fans, and fans in general, have always longed for a fantasy of connection, something that social media and camming turned into something much more complicated — and lucrative.
It’s the most ancient mystery of performance — where does the actor end and the person begin — but played in a virtually endless cyber world for an audience of potentially billions.
“Many of my fans watch me for who I am and that is not something that can be mimicked,” said Abigail Mac.
Abigail Mac and Romi Rain on YouTube
“Performers having at least a hand in creating their own content have been taken more seriously by both the stars and people behind the scenes alike,” said Romi Rain. “For a while, people spoke on it like it was impossible or like the quality was automatically going to be bad, but people quickly change their tune once fans started responding so positively and directly coming to performers themselves for what they wanted to see. It’s all about the fans, they will tell you what they like and want and will pay for what they like and want.”
“Social media is what really changed the game for so many of us,” added Rain. “We are all realizing that we are truly the product and our fans will support us and often genuinely want us to succeed because that means they will likely see more and better of us. It’s never been easier and more worthwhile to take control of our image, brands, and products and because of that we get to enjoy it more and thrive longer!”
According to Emily Bloom, camming as an industry is as successful as it is because of the ability to create personal connections.
“Talking to someone live is a lot different than buying and watching a video,” said Bloom. “And the latter becomes a lot more thrilling when you know that someone in person. The more of my personality I put into it the more success and recognition I gain — I do what I enjoy and trust that there is an audience for that. I try to be consistent and diligent and people appreciate that about me. Camming and creating those personal connections helps with growing my business as a content producer as well, because once that connection is made people seem to be a lot more likely to support your other endeavors outside of camming.”
Offered Taylor HousewifeSwag, “I focus on nurturing the friendships within my community and creating an environment that will make people feel safe and included. I’m constantly looking for inspiration in anything for new show ideas or video ideas. My goal is to give the people who support me the best experience I can offer. I want to be proud of the products I create and push myself creatively and do things I’ve never done or seen before. I also like to branch out and now do things like Twitch to share more of myself.”
For 2019 XBIZ Cam Awards double nominee for Social Media Influencer and Industry Crossover Star Natasha Nice, camming serves also as a way for her to give longtime fans of her other content the opportunity to interact with her live while developing something intimate and one-on-one. “I make a note of their names and anything that stands out (loves sniffing panties, cuck, etc.), so he knows he’s special,” Nice said. “If the viewer isn’t familiar with my work as a porn star, then my approach is to be my authentic, insatiable, sexually-excited self. I play to my strengths (tit worship, dirty French talk) as much as possible. When a viewer wants to talk and nothing else, I let my true personality show and I try to share my shameless attitude in regards to sex and porn.”
The shortening of the distance between fan and performer that is a trademark of the Indie Generation also has a positive effect on the content itself.
“Consumers are able to create new categories of adult entertainment because of the relative ease with which a producer can be reached and how reliant platforms are on consumer behavior,” said BongaCams’ Ronni Bravo. “For example, the ‘Ahegao’ [anime O-face] trend couldn’t have traveled to the western hemisphere without someone feeling comfortable enough to tie it to sexual satisfaction, a producer willing to accommodate it and a platform ready to market it.”
Teledildonics, the experimental field of remote-controlled pleasure products that has fascinated mainstream journalists for decades, also found its ideal customers among cam performers and their followers. “The reactive toys alone revolutionized the industry,” said Emily Bloom. “I can hardly imagine the camming industry without Lush and the likes today.”
Joris Guisado, Chief Operating Officer of Lovense, manufacturer of the incredibly popular, Bluetooth-controlled Lush vibrator, stated, “Before remote-controlled products, fans could only send written requests and ask their favorite models to perform different actions to give them a visual show. Our products have given webcammers a way to add more interactivity to their shows, giving greater control to their fans who can now provide actual physical sensations to the models. The fans are not just asking for things to happen but take control directly.”
As a matter of fact, forward-thinking “smart sex toy” maker Lovense developed a suite of patented software solutions specifically for the camming market. “This is one of the reasons the Lush became so popular so quickly,” Guisado explains. “It was the first product to come with free software made specifically for performers to increase their revenues. We spend a lot of time communicating with some models and cam site users to understand their needs, and we always work on new ways for the models to improve their shows and make more money.”
Whether it involves a futuristic remote-control vibrator or not, the idea of a connection between performer and fan across the performance remains central to the Indie Generation way of seeing itself.
“I rely a lot on my personality and creating a FOMO mentality for my consumers,” said Ella Silver. “Clip creating, for me, isn’t my main passion, so I try to earn from people buying into my life and story. We live in a world where you can watch anything and anyone, from anywhere in the world. Creating a following of people who are invested in what you do every day, I think, is the key to success.”
Or, as Jesse Prather put it, “Just be your normal freaky self! Be proud to be weird and to stand out.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, several performers identified “mental health” as the number one issue affecting the Indie Generation.
According to Leya Tanit, founder of the adult industry’s mental health outreach group Pineapple Support, “the biggest contributing factor” to mental health issues in the adult industry in general is isolation.
“This is a huge concern for indie performers and cam performers in particular due to long hours working alone,” said Tanit. “Quite often performers don’t have the opportunity to socialize with other people working in the industry. This lack of an internal support network and an outlet for your thoughts or concerns can amplify existing problems.”
“We have also found that a number of cam performers suffer from anxiety,” Tanit continued. “Camming is of course a fantastic career for those experiencing anxiety as it gives flexibility and control to the individual, allowing them freedom to work as and when they feel able. On the flip side, avoiding the things that make a person anxious gives anxiety power and, over time, can intensify anxious feelings.”
Pineapple Support offers a 24/7 online emotional support system, allowing performers to anonymously discuss their day-to-day issues or concerns. “Our trained volunteers genuinely want to help and care for our community,” said Tanit. “Talking about issues as they arise can help stop emotions building up and manifesting into bigger problems such as anxiety or depression.”
Tanit also pointed to a number of online communities for performers and producers, including XBIZ.net, WeCamGirls and others. “These platforms are a great way to meet others in the industry, to learn new tips and tricks and of course to discuss the problems that we face as a community,” she said.
The performers we interviewed mentioned “the drama within the community” as a related concern, especially for those who use social media to promote their content.
“I hear a lot of people talk drama on others like they wanna tear each other down,” said Jesse Prather. “I think we need to all work together to rise above.”
The online abuse sometimes comes from people calling themselves fans. “Models tell me all the time they’re so stressed out about customers or clients who get upset and shame them down,” said Prather. “You as the cam model or performer have got to learn to say goodbye to them and block them. You will lose five followers to gain 16 back by the end of the day. There’s plenty of fish in the sea — don’t let one clown fish ruin the empire that you have created!”
For some “just block them” or “get offline” might not be an easy thing to do, particularly when social media is one of your main marketing outlets. “We might not block that person because we want to keep an eye on them or what they are saying,” said Pineapple Support’s Leya Tanit. “And taking time off social media is enough to give some performers palpitations. My best advice would be ‘Do not respond.’ Do not feed the dragon. Without a reaction the bully will eventually get bored and move on.”
“The other piece of advice (one I am desperately trying to follow myself) is to ignore your phone or social media for an hour after you wake up in the morning,” Tanit said. “Start the day right with some ‘me time’. Also, take an hour break in the day to do something for you, such as the gym, a walk or whatever makes you happy. Remind yourself, the people in your phone are not your life. Your mental and physical health are.”
Like all other sex workers, another enormous cause of anxiety for the Indie Generation is the widespread social stigma against people who do or have done sex work.
“One of the biggest issues for me personally is the stigma and misconceptions this job has around it,” said Emily Bloom. “But I’m not sure that one is fixable.”
“A big issue is criticism from people outside of camming because of how we’re painted in a negative light by documentaries made by non-sex-workers,” said Taylor HousewifeSwag. “The silencing/banning of sex workers is also a problem. Websites who have largely benefited and profited off of us then turn around and ban us from their platforms because of their advertisers.”
“The constant battle [against] stigma [also affects our] ability to change the general public’s views on ‘paying for porn,’” said Ella Silver. “Unfortunately, due to censorship, we are all finding it harder and harder to find platforms to openly talk about the adult entertainment industry. Because of this, instilling a change in the mentality of the general public in favor of supporting our choices and understanding the value of what we produce, is becoming increasingly more difficult.”
“Stigma impacts not only public spheres like social media, but also tech, finances and other areas,” said Jiz Lee. “See my book ‘Coming Out Like a Porn Star,’ which addresses these issues in over 50 essays by porn professionals.
“Despite the laws I think people are coming around,” Lee added. “I anticipate a harder time promoting work on social media, so more time will be spent developing relationships with other site owners, and people from other areas who are interested in the content we make — i.e., working with academia, educators, festivals … and we see performers also working with other commercial industries. Diversifying our revenue streams is key.”
Tanit underscored, “Social stigma is slowly changing (very slowly) and is a very tough issue to tackle. Recently there has been a shift, thanks to a number of individuals who have stepped forward and proudly shouted ‘I’m a sex worker’. It doesn’t matter how strong you are as a person, if you hear the same thing enough times, it’s hard not to believe it. Ensuring you have a good support network of peers, talking about your experiences together, and reminding each other how awesome you are, is the best way to keep positive and to shield yourself from negative outside influences.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Chaturbate’s Shirley Lara relayed, “The issue of public acceptance of sex work has been coming up more and more in the media with sex workers fighting for recognition for what they do. We think it’s a small but vocal minority who are trying to keep the stigma alive while the rest of us understand the legitimate work that these broadcasters (who are really small business owners) do.”
But for activism-minded performers like Ginger Banks, the fight against stigma can be a powerful motivator. “I like to focus on my ‘why’ and that is ending the stigma surrounding sex, and sex work,” said Banks. “Then I feel like all the content I make contributes to that purpose.”
Indie Beyond Clips and Camming
For many performers, self-owned content creation more and more takes up the majority of their time.
“I work 95 percent as an indie performer and work exclusively with performers, directors and companies that I trust,” said Ginger Banks.
“I am a full-time indie filmmaker,” said Emily Bloom. “Occasionally (once a year or so) I model for a company like Playboy to gain new audiences. Other than that 100 percent of my time is dedicated to creating my own content and streaming. I have been successfully producing content and running my own website for three years now and it has been growing consistently.”
As the Indie Generation looks into the future, the possibilities seem endless.
“I would even like to see the industry make a move towards VR, because that’s a huge new niche that hasn’t really been conquered yet,” Bloom said.
“I see VR becoming popular,” said Banks. “I see content trade taking over a percentage of the industry, and I see our industry going even more mainstream. Guess I should start making some VR content and get some mainstream gigs.”
Though a lot of people largely mean “camming and clip making” when they speak about content creation, the possibilities of indie go beyond.
“I sell books and other items through my web-store and host an annual fundraiser for non-profit organizations focused on empowering sex work, kink, and queer/trans communities,” said Jiz Lee.
Adult star Elena Koshka is also developing her own books — as extremely-limited edition art photography books priced at a luxury point.
“I have been collaborating with photographer Wild Bill [Instagram: @WildBillShoots],” said Koshka, who tweeted about how crafting these unique books was one of the most satisfying experiences she had as an indie creator.
“Wild Bill has shot and created books for many people, ranging from boudoir to high fashion runway,” she said. “He has a talent I have not seen in others. He shoots me — then he and I discuss how I want my book to look, the quality, the photo layout, the description, any personalizations I request — i.e., a fan’s name, a sweet message to them, just, honestly really making it all about those few very, very close lovely fans that I have. Because each book is personalized just for them.
“After the book is created it gets shipped to me, I sign it, kiss it, add a little special something to it and send it to each one of my dear fans,” added Koshka.
According to her, just producing such a book can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000, considering the top-quality shooting, editing, design, etc. “But the finished product is a memorable treasure to have and to hold forever,” Koshka said, “and it means so much to me when a fan requests one from me.”
Another very real movement towards performer independence is happening not in the indie world, but right at the core of the adult studio system.
“The adult entertainment industry has changed dramatically since the turn of the 21st century and this has led to numerous pros and cons for performers and our business,” said performer Katy Jayne, who has recently launched @self_booktalent, a Twitter-based platform to showcase self-booking female (for now) talent in the industry.
For Jayne, many of the ideas behind the Indie Generation boom are also applicable to models who work for studios and want to become their own agents.
“One of the positives of the changing times is the platform for self-expression social media has provided for talent,” Jayne said. “We are able to interact with our fans and studios directly and promote our own content without having to pay for advertising. We have more control over our careers in this business than ever before. However, self-booking isn’t for everyone and new performers should build a name for themselves and learn about the business before deciding to self-book. Self-booking is not easy and it requires a lot of perseverance, patience and self-confidence. You have to believe in yourself and keep trying. It’s a constant hustle.”
The exhausting “constant hustle,” the usual plight of the small business owner, however, does not deter Jayne or the many other performers who collectively share information through the @self_booktalent platform she started. “I feel that I’m in control of my career and I’m starting to see myself as an entrepreneur,” Jayne said. “I’m essentially my own manager and no one has my best interests at heart as much as I do.
“I love that I am able to communicate with producers and directors directly, weeks before the shoot is even scheduled,” added Jayne. “I can express any issues I have with the script whilst there’s still time to make modifications; and I can communicate effectively what I am comfortable with doing on camera and what I won’t do. It’s very empowering to have full control over your career and image.”
Thirteen years after Romi Rain was taking the then-unusual step of hiring her own photographers to shoot content to sell her fans, she can now parlay her star power into live cam show collaborations with other top performers, like Abigail Mac, which they produce and own.
“I think we are already in the middle of the most important changes in the past decade for creators in adult entertainment,” said Romi Rain. “Our fan base reach and earning potential has been proven to be unlimited. True fans support their favorite stars now more than ever in so many ways and I think it’s only going to continue growing.
“I think it’s some of the people behind the scenes who need to adapt and evolve,” said Rain. “There’s a bit of role reversal in power and earning potential, finally in favor of entertainers and creators. I am not going backwards: we will continue to fight for our creative and financial rights in adult entertainment.”
Gustavo Turner is News Editor at XBIZ. Twitter: @GustavoXBIZ