Music has entered the chat: how artists are using live audio conversations spaces
Before the Covid pandemic hit, social networks mostly used video, images and text as their way to get their users to create and share content, leaving audio to a secondary role mostly used as an extra element of their direct messaging feature. However, as all the social distancing caused by the pandemic made people turn more than ever to social media, the levels of screen fatigue experienced by users have increased significantly, allowing for audio content to take an evermore central role within social networks
Actually, in the past months, audio content has become an attractive alternative to explore for social networks. Both to allow users to consume content while still being able to do other activities without looking at the screen and to engage creators in new creative ways. This is clearly visible in the current state of the podcast ecosystem: for example, podcast consumption has seen an important rise in the U.S in the past year. This surge has been notably supported by Spotify, who has been closing deals with high profile creators such as Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama and putting podcasts at the center of its market strategy for the near future.
But despite this effervescence around the podcasts, what seems even more interesting is the new paradigm shift that is happening around social audio apps where users can interact with audio in real time, spearheaded by the success the Clubhouse app had since late 2020.
The rise of Clubhouse - a paradigm shift for social audio
Clubhouse is younger than the pandemic itself. It was released in March 2020 as an invite only app available to IOS users. In this platform, users could speak to one another in virtual rooms, whether private or social ones, focused on specific topics in a way you would expect to happen in an industry convention. One of the things that made Clubhouse special is that its conversations were initially not recorded (this feature was added in September 2021) and users weren’t able to send voice messages between them. This gave talks happening in the app a unique mystique normally reserved for live events; if you weren’t in the room during the session, you missed it forever.
The “early-adopter and power-user base behind Clubhouse” helped to bring in big personalities such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Drake to participate in conversations around different topics, which helped the app explode in popularity. From having around 400,000 users in December 2020, Clubhouse reached the 10 million mark by March 2021, a time when it also opened its first versions to Android users.
Although the hype around Clubhouse seems to have slowed down, its rise to popularity tempted social networks and streaming platforms to develop their own social audio apps to add to their ecosystems. Thus, since spring 2021, we’ve seen the appearance of direct competitors such as Twitter Spaces, Spotify Greenroom, Facebook Live Audio and Anghami Live Radio.
If you get really into Clubhouse it feels like being in a never ending music industry convention... It’s also nice that the people at the talks are either ones that really know about the topic, or are very interested in learning about it, so the quality of the content is very useful for everyone taking part in the conversation
How artists are using live audio conversations spaces to their advantage
a) Gathering knowledge and networking
One of the most obvious benefits of diving into the Clubhouse way of life is earning contacts and knowledge about the music industry. As Sergio Pastrana of “Más Allá De La Música” (Beyond The Music) conversation room on Clubhouse has mentioned: “if you get really into Clubhouse it feels like being in a never ending music industry convention”. “It’s also nice that the people at the talks are either ones that really know about the topic, or are very interested in learning about it, so the quality of the content is very useful for everyone taking part in the conversation”.
This is also the case for French rapper and label owner A2H. Thanks to Clubhouse, in the past months he has been able to explore his wide background and knowledge of the hip hop industry in a way he perhaps wouldn't have been able to showcase elsewhere in the same way. Additionally, all these exchanges with artists, managers, journalists, are helping him to create new synergies and collaborations with industry peers.
b) Creating meaningful virtual interactions with fans
Social audio apps also give way to possibilities that go well beyond industry talks and networking. One that has gotten a fair deal of attention has been the “The Lion King” musical hosted in Clubhouse by its cast members. However, one example that could be taken as a closer source of inspiration for many independent musicians is the process that led Mauritius-born and L.A based artist Axel Mansoor to become one of Clubhouse’s breakout stars (who become the face of Clubhouse for a while as his portrait was used as the icon app) in March 2021. After joining the app in late 2020, Mansoor decided to use it to host his Lullaby Club - “an extended stream featuring soothing acoustic lullabies for viewers”.
Due to the high need of solace during this pandemic times, the sessions became a success, having at times more than “1,000 users joining the room to see Mansoor and chosen guests (including John Mayer) go live at 9 p.m. PT”. With an EP on the way, Mansoor used the opportunity to further engage with his fans through Clubhouse by creating a virtual tour through different rooms of the app. Taking the concept of his EP as a starting point, he would share his story and music with different “Clubhouse communities where he thought his songs might resonate, including rooms dedicated to psychedelics, self-love, Southeast Asian culture and wellness”. The plan worked and by February 2021 Mansoor’s Clubhouse following exploded from 2,000 to more than 80,000 users, bolstering his digital footprint elsewhere and having his “Spotify listenership grow 109%, his streams swell by 129% and his Instagram reach expand by 8,425%”.
c) Making use of the new diversity in the social audio market to target the right audience
One of the main limitations of Clubhouse is that it is still a stand-alone platform. This means that artists face significant friction when they want to convert their following into plays at Spotify or followers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Thus, several mainstream artists are finding some of the new audio social apps competing against Clubhouse as interesting alternatives to create live interactions with their fans.
For example, based on a recommendation from Believe’s team, Filipino boy band BGYO hosted a Spotify Greenroom session to promote a new single. This session was a success, gathering more than 700 simultaneous listeners and trending on Twitter with the hashtag #askBGYO (which was used to retrieve questions from the participants). According to Naomi Cristel F. Enriquez from ABS-CBN (the media company behind BGYO’s Star Music label), “Fans enjoyed the clarity of the audio while the artists enjoyed Greenroom because they were in a more relaxed environment”. Naomi also mentions that after going through the comments and tweets of the event it's clear that “both the artists and fans had fun and are open to doing another Spotify Greenroom session”.
A similar process has also been seen on Twitter Spaces, which has been widely used by K-Pop bands such as NCT or LOONA, as well as artists such as Nick Jonas as a place to create live Q&A’s sessions with their fans to promote new releases.
d) Making the most out of the current social audio battle
Another important element to take into consideration is that we are currently experiencing a moment of high competition in the social audio ecosystem. This means that platforms are doing big investments to consolidate their position in the market. In many ways, this feels similar to the way these same companies are fighting for the short video market that exploded alongside TikTok’s popularity. Just as it's no secret that Instagram is allowing users to have better results through its Reels in an effort to convert them from TIkTok, we can expect something along those lines to happen in the battle for the social audio market. Thus, we can expect every one of the competing apps to give some sort of support and infrastructure to the most relevant creators producing content for their platform.
Maya Diab’s recent campaign for its single “High Heels”, led by Believe’s Editorial & Marketing Partnership team, is a great case study of how to make the most out of this situation. Maya is a well-known Lebanese artist, who is also widely followed throughout the MENA region. Thanks to her consolidated career and the Believe’s team relationship with Anghami (the leading streaming platform in the MENA region), she was able to link the campaign of this release with the launch of one of the platform’s social audio features called Anghami Live Talk.
This made Maya Diab the first Arabic artist to use this new feature on the app. This took place in an event where she was able to listen to her track at the same time as the rest of the attendees, as well as answer questions and interact with her fans, all in real time. Because of the launch of this new feature, the activation done by Maya was heavily supported by Anghami on all their social media accounts, paid campaigns, push notification and a homepage card for all users in the MENA region at the time of the live talk event. The experience was very successful, helping Maya Diab’s streaming numbers on Anghami to reach over 79 million plays and boosting her Instagram followers by over 100,000. Besides the increased exposure, Maya has also commented that experience of listening to her music and interacting with her fans in real time was very positive on a personal level for her.
Fans [of BGYO] enjoyed the clarity of the audio while the artists enjoyed Spotify Greenroom because they were in a more relaxed environment
Social audio is here to stay and can serve as a crucial part of many artist’s direct to fan marketing tools.
The rise of Clubhouse revealed the great array of possibilities to explore for social audio apps. The combination of the intimacy of a podcasts with the interactivity of livestreaming makes it a unique type of content that is able to deepen engagement and expand time spent on-platform, for both users and creators. This makes it a great tool which artists can use to connect directly with fans and incorporate them into their direct-to-fan marketing and monetization strategies.
We can expect the future of social audio to follow a similar path to the one we are seeing for social and live video. One that is “about more diverse ecosystems for creation and engagement — not about one format taking over the other” as music analyst Cherie Hu predicts.
This means that as we move forwards to the end of 2021 artists shouldn’t be focusing on which of the social audio apps will take over the rest. Instead, they should be on the lookout of the distinct possibilities each one of them is offering and use them to their best advantage so they can create an intimate and significant engagement with their fans and industry peers.