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From Clubhouse to Twitter Spaces: Audio platforms are offering a break from video overdose amid the pandemic

06:12 PM Jul 17, 2021 | Shillpi A Singh

On World Environment Day 2021, Twitter Spaces, a live audio conversation feature, hosted the poet’s collective Kavishala's Kavi Sammelan, where people shared poems on nature and the environment.

Senior journalist Faridoon Shahryar hosted the poetry session held in partnership with Twitter India and had popular names such as Priya Malik, Anup Soni, Rajesh Tailang, and Gajraj Rao.

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In another Space, Indian Forest Service officers Saket Badola and Parveen Kaswan hosted a discussion on forests, wildlife, conservation efforts and challenges.

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On June 16, Spotify relaunched the Locker Room app, which it acquired in March, as Spotify Greenroom. The new social audio platform lets creators and fans connect in new ways, host and participate in live discussions with artistes and athletes on music, sports and culture.

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On June 26, Rekhta Foundation, a non-profit organisation operating the world's largest website and resource for Urdu/Hindustani poetry and literature, held its first-ever mushaira on Clubhouse, an invite-only audio app that was first rolled out for iOS and made its debut on Android on May 21.

In the pandemic-induced lockdown, when people spent most of their time indoors following the strict COVID-19 protocols, they had no choice but to stay connected with each other, albeit virtually. A plethora of video platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and CISCO Webex took the world by storm in 2020.

This year, a host of new-age audio platforms such as Twitter Spaces, Clubhouse, Spotify and so on have become hotspots of virtual addas where people across geographies meet, discuss, debate and even disagree on topics.

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Succinctly summing up how the rise of audio platforms during the COVID second wave helped in having meaningful conversations, a Twitter spokesperson says, “Responding at speed to the COVID emergency in India, we prioritised the rollout of Spaces in the country. Earlier in May, everyone in India got access to host and tune into Space on Android and iOS. Many people started to host Spaces to connect and have open discussions about the crisis — from impact to staying safe and mobilising resources. Spaces were also utilised to discuss the importance of mental health amid the crisis, with Yuvaa starting a series of weekly Spaces sessions on mental health, calling it #MindKiBaat.”

Nostalgia reloaded

The audio medium has always been music to former adman and Urdu connoisseur Jameel Gulrays’ ears. Having worked extensively in the field of aural communication during his advertising days, he is a firm believer in reading through one's ears.

“A voice playing on any device serves as the perfect background to many activities. A listener can interpret a voice visually, just the way they want,” he says, talking about how his six-year-old read-aloud stories’ project Katha Kathan has found a new home on Clubhouse. But unlike the YouTube and SoundCloud uploads, he finds storytelling sessions on Clubhouse more interactive and engaging.

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“Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening. We give these storytelling sessions a feel of the radio play. I also get to speak to the audience, clear their doubts, discuss the story and get their feedback in real-time,” he says. Gulrays and his Team Kathan perform dramatised readings of the lesser-known stories of Premchand on Saturdays at 10 pm as part of Jashn-e-Premchand and those of Saadat Hasan Manto on Sundays at 10 pm for The Other Side of Manto.

Talk-a-thon

Last year, Rekhta Foundation live-streamed musical sessions (Rekhta Live) with renowned singers and virtually organised the Jashn-e-Rekhta UK edition. “This year, we wanted to have a different approach for events. We came across Clubhouse; the app has been gaining an audience base rapidly. It creates a feeling of newness as well as carries the nostalgia of radio days,” says Satish Gupta, head – programs and outreach, Rekhta Foundation, talking about the Mushaira.

The celebrity talk show, Guftugu, hosted by Syed Mohd Irfan made its debut on Clubhouse last Saturday, with poet, lyricist and script-writer Javed Akhtar as guest, and ran for more than three hours with people across the world tuning in. Gulrays’ storytelling sessions on Clubhouse has listeners across the world joining in. “It evokes nostalgia, reminding me of the good old days of the popular radio show Hawa Mahal,” says an avid attendee from London, who grew up listening to the show on radio during her early years in Bhopal.

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Language no bar

The exhaustion, stress, and the pandemic have induced video fatigue among people. The isolation and lockdown forced them to explore newer ways to connect, converse and collaborate, be it on Spaces, Clubhouse or Spotify.

“In a country like India where you have so many different languages and such a rich oral tradition and culture, we think audio has huge potential,” says Twitter India spokesperson.

The audio platforms are hosting it all, from launches to press conferences, from workshops to concerts, from discussions to job interviews, you name it, and there’s enough Space and Room for it.

Twitter spokesperson says that there’s a huge uptick in #TamilSpaces. “More than 17K listeners attended a Spaces audio launch event for the film, Jagame Thandhiram, with Anthony Daasan, Santhosh Narayanan, Arivu, Dhee, and Dhanush. Chinmayi Sripaada recently held a six-hour Spaces concert, packed with listener requests, and AR Rahman took to Twitter Spaces to talk about his directorial debut, 99 Songs,” adds the spokesperson.

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What clicks the most is the freedom to converse in a language that one is comfortable with. “Clubhouse has several room names in regional languages and the conversations are held without any linguistic barrier. It is an advantage for users who want to connect in their language because best conversations happen in your mother tongue,” says blogger Deepa Sehara, who is well-versed in Telugu, Hindi, English, Bengali and Malayalam.

However, Gupta believes that Clubhouse will be the next big social thing and a game-changer for new-age events. “However, brands are yet to leverage Clubhouse and use it to their advantage, even though Clubhouse has prominent celebrities and personalities as users," he says.

Features wise

While joining Space as a speaker allows a person to pin Tweets to Space, and Tweet Space so other followers can join, apart from a host of reaction emojis for live interaction. The Clubhouse on July 14 introduced the backchannel, the new direct messaging service with both 1:1 and group chat and an optional second inbox for message requests to help users discuss rooms in real-time, take questions from the audience and thank them or chat with Clubhouse friends.

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Spotify has launched a fresh onboarding experience, the ability to record a room by the host, chat moderation and more. “Later this year, Greenroom will offer new music, entertainment, and culture programming, and a host of interactive features that will enable creators to connect with audiences at the moments that matter most. The enhanced offering will also give creators — professional athletes, writers, artistes, podcasters, and other influencers — opportunities to host real-time discussions, debates, AMA sessions, etc.,” says a Spotify spokesperson.

The live audio platform is launching the Spotify Creator Fund, designed to help live audio creators monetise their work and creators can sign up for more participation info when the fund opens.

To make the Spaces experience seamless and enriching, Twitter has introduced a new feature that enables a host to schedule Spaces up to two weeks in advance, and it is testing a new way to find Spaces through a tab and working on features for co-hosting.

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The Clubhouse has launched Payments for US-based creators (who have this feature enabled on their profile) to receive money from users in the US; Twitter has Ticketed Spaces.

“Hosts put time and effort into creating a Space for conversation, connection and fun. To reward the experiences they create, Twitter has introduced a way for hosts to get monetary support. Hosts can set ticket prices and the number to sell. Hosts can earn up to 97% of the revenue on ticket sales after platform fees are deducted on in-app purchase sales,” says a spokesperson.

Plans ahead

What works is the freedom that platforms give to the host (creator) and guests (listener).

Ankur Mishra, founder, Kavishala, seems optimistic. “Spaces and other live audio apps and features are new for everyone, but I think audio is how the future of content consumption will be and for good. Listening to a conversation on any audio platform gives one the freedom to carry on with whatever work one is doing, uninterrupted. It is a significant advantage in this age of multi-tasking.”

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Pallavi Singh, who attends Spaces by Vinamra S and Bhajapod, finds the platform a get-together of mutuals but says it will become irrelevant pretty soon. “These audio platforms are replacing coffee breaks, which we are not getting due to the pandemic. The users and creators are cashing in on the novelty factor. Ultimately, it will be written words, which will matter in terms of reach.”

The spate of new audio platforms has taught us that listening is an art that requires attention and a voice is all that we need to connect in a virtual get-together. “After all, you can truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time,” says Gulrays.

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