One of my favorite experiences from the “Destiny 2” event in May was meeting Desirée Wright.
I met Wright, who goes by the name “Lady Desirée” on Twitch and YouTube, while she was walking the packed show floor with Michael Salvatori, the composer for “Destiny 2.”
Wright, based in Tallahassee, Florida, is a single mother of three children. She teaches piano during the day, and streams herself playing games and music on Twitch at night. (She also makes YouTube videos, but playing games and music live on Twitch is her passion).
Wright hit it big in 2015 when she recorded herself playing piano melodies of the epic music from the first “Destiny” game and posted it to YouTube, including simplified sheet music in case anyone was interested.
The post went viral after someone posted her video onto the popular “Destiny” subreddit. Marty O’Donnell, who composed music in “Destiny” and the original “Halo” games, tweeted links to several of her videos. She was quickly approached by other “Destiny” YouTubers and podcasters to write music to complement their content. She was even invited by Bungie, the maker of “Destiny,” to come visit their studio and meet the audio team behind the game.
That “Destiny” video for YouTube has changed Wright’s life: Nowadays, she arranges music for all sorts of charity and community events — she performed live for thousands of people the last two years at GuardianCon, an event that’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. This is in addition to her day job as a piano teacher and mom of three.
I recently got a chance to talk more with Wright, who released her first album on July 16 (you can stream or download it here), to learn more about her daily routine and how she got involved with Twitch and YouTube.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Dave Smith: So what’s your background with music? How did you get to where you are right now?
Desirée Wright: My father was a concert pianist, and on the faculty at Florida State University as a piano and music history professor, but he was extremely careful not to push the piano on me. My older sister was taking lessons and I kept trying to learn her pieces, which eventually morphed into begging my parents for my own at four years old. Even though four is a young age, they enrolled me, and I took to it instantly.
I can’t remember my parents ever having to tell me to practice. I just knew from a young age I wanted to play (and to teach) piano one day. I studied piano at Florida State University and received my Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Music.
I was very, very close to my father, and in May 2014, he passed away. After his death, it was very difficult for me to play the piano, as it was a constant reminder of him.
I was playing the game “Destiny” that following winter, and one day in January 2015, I was listening to the music and had an incredible urge to work out the melody on the piano. When I was finished coming up with arrangement, I decided to post it on YouTube — then someone posted it onto the “Destiny” subreddit and it went viral within the community.
The “Destiny” community welcomed me and my arrangements with open arms. I can’t thank them enough; I realized what a healing power piano was in my life and how much I needed it to cope with the loss of my father, rather than push it away. I began to arrange as many “Destiny” pieces as I could, many in honor of or supporting different “Destiny” community charity events (such as ExtraLife and Operation Supply Drop), and I eventually started working on arrangements of music from other video game franchises.
After a few months of gaining notice within the community via various “Destiny” YouTubers, podcasts, and charity events, Bungie named me their “Community Focus” in August 2015. Soon after, I visited Seattle and got to meet the audio team in person. I instantly got emotional when I met [Bungie’s lead composer] Mike Salvatori, and ended up telling him him the story of how his “Destiny” compositions helped me rediscover my love for the piano after my father passed away. Mike and I have remained friends since that moment and have kept up correspondence. I also went out to Bungie shortly before “Rise of Iron” [the last expansion for “Destiny 1”], and I got to hear the music before it was released to the public.
Smith: What is your life like right now? Tell me about your family and your daily routine.
Wright: I am a single mother of three, so life is extremely busy for me. I have over 50 piano students, so I teach all morning and afternoon — some days, when I don’t have my kids, I teach as late as 8:30 p.m. I start streaming on Twitch at 10 p.m. and go until 2, sometimes 3 a.m. I don’t stream every night, but usually about 4-5 nights of the week.
It can be tiring in the morning, yes, but performing live for people gives me so much energy and happiness. It is a total stress relief for me.
My parents used to joke that they knew what kind of mood I was in as a teenager when I sat down to practice piano: Whatever I played always reflected the mood I was in, and that’s still very much the same. Even though I get little sleep, I have never felt healthier and happier since I started performing live regularly on Twitch.
Smith: Have you always been into video games?
Wright: I got the original Nintendo as a child, and have been a gamer ever since. I loved all the original Nintendo and Super Nintendo classics. I dug into the first-person shooter genre with “Halo 3” — unless you count “GoldenEye 007” from years before — and got really sucked into “Halo” and “Call of Duty” for awhile.
When “Destiny” came out, I became completely entrenched in the game. I am a very social person and my favorite thing about “Destiny” has been the community and the teamwork that goes into playing the game. I have made fantastic friends within the “Destiny” community, fighting alongside them in strikes, raids, or even just kicking a ball around the Tower.
Smith: How did you first hear about “Destiny”?
Wright: A group I was playing “Call of Duty” with convinced me to try “Destiny” when it first came out. I was worried I wouldn’t have the time to put into learning an involved game but decided to give it a shot, and quickly realized that it was very accessible. Plus, there’s always been a wealth of tutorials and strategies out there on YouTube, Reddit, and Destiny-focused podcasts. The “Destiny” community rallies behind new “Guardians” to help them out. I’ve never felt more at home in a game.
Smith: When did you start filming yourself for Twitch and YouTube? Do you consider it more than just a hobby at this point?
Wright: I consider YouTube and Twitch more than just a hobby, but not yet profitable enough as a full-time job to support a family — key word being “yet.” I love teaching too much to ever give it up completely, but I would love to cut back and put more time into YouTube, Twitch, and original compositions — especially indie games, which I’ve been getting into more.
In terms of how I started, once my YouTube was doing well, I decided to start live streaming on Twitch. I started out first as a gaming streamer, but then switched to full-time music streamer earlier this year. On my Twitch channel, I don’t just play straight music; I interact with my viewers, I talk between music — about my life, their lives, life in general, music, geek culture, etc. I am 100% an extrovert, so this feeds my need to interact with people.
As my Twitch audience has grown, I have focused more energy on streaming than making arrangements for YouTube. I am still doing YouTube, and will continue, but I have an immense love for Twitch: Performing live and interacting with the viewers, talking about music, and taking requests from chat is just fun. It brings me such joy to know that others are feeling happier by listening to my arrangements.
Teaching piano is in its own way very rewarding, but since I started my YouTube and Twitch channels, I have a creative outlet that fills a void that was there for such a long time. I love to make people happy, and my YouTube and Twitch channels make me feel like I am providing a sort of “musical therapy” of sorts. I have daily comments from viewers that the music brightened their day – what could be more rewarding than that?
I also love the fact that I have an international audience on both YouTube and Twitch. Over half of my viewers on YouTube are outside the US, and though I don’t currently have a way to track the geography of my viewers on Twitch, I regularly have people visit my stream that tell me they are from other countries. Sometimes we have difficulty communicating, but at the very least, they can type the name of the piece in chat and I can play it for them, and in that instance, music breaks down those language barriers.
Smith: How are you balancing streaming and your day job? Would you change anything?
Wright: I’m currently maxed out with my teaching hours, so if I want to do anything “extra,” I am limited to evenings and late nights. There isn’t a lot I can do past bedtime with children — but YouTube and Twitch are perfect. It feels like I am having my own personal recitals on my own schedule.
There are streams where I don’t see any donations, but I also have nights where I receive an incredibly generous sum from viewer contributions. Since I’m outside of a major city, my opportunities for paid performances are limited, but YouTube and Twitch change all that. I could play at a restaurant and receive a small stipend, or, I can play on my own channel where I’m not only steering the ship but have limitless potential with viewer engagement. I could end up with hundreds or thousands of eyes, donations galore, and of course a degree of interaction with the audience that just doesn’t exist out there in that hypothetical restaurant. It’s a no-brainer for me. Thank goodness I live in a time where something like this is available. These days, I can’t imagine my life without these outlets.