The Lion King Clubhouse
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Forget video, the future is audio – and Clubhouse’s lockdown rise proves it

18 January 2021

When it comes to audio, there are reels of commentary on the booming business of podcasting and the universal consumption of music on streaming services. Yet, with people forced to stay at home and find other ways to interact with their communities, the digital landscape is currently undergoing one of the biggest audio phenomenons we’ve ever seen.

Leading this movement? Clubhouse. Last year Silicon Valley’s Paul Davison and Rohan Seth created the audio-based app to “allow people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world”. Priding itself on an invite-only strategy, the platform initially saw itself as a home to the elite of the elite, celebrities, entrepreneurs and influencers including the likes of Ashton Kutcher, Drake and Kevin Hart. As a result, its early beta release in May saw Clubhouse accumulate a total of over 1,500 members. Not bad, but not huge. However, seven months on and thanks to its burgeoning popularity, the app now has over 600,000 devotees and is currently worth $100 million.

A major reason for Clubhouse’s success is the fact it has levelled playing field of celebrities, influencers and commentators to participate in insightful conversations. Another core feature is its room for creativity. On Boxing Day, the app facilitated one of the biggest social events when it became host to a live audio rendition of Disney’s The Lion King. Many were glued to their phones while engaging in a musical performance complete with a 40-member cast, live instrumentation, a choir and a resourcefully-orchestrated pull to refresh imagery that visually paired up with each scene in the show. The play, which was facilitated by director and executive producer Noelle Chesnut Whitmore and Bomani X, was packed to capacity so much so that some users couldn’t get in and dominated Twitter, which saw hashtag #TheLionKingCH was trending throughout the day.

A week later, #HamiltonCH was also trending when sex and relationships commentator and podcaster Oloni worked with the cast of the current Hamilton West End production to judge auditions for the musical, offering a grand prize of two tickets to the West End’s Hamilton and an exclusive backstage pass. Meanwhile, over in the US, Broadway actor Leroy Church and former Glee Star Amber Riley hosted auditions for a forthcoming US tour of Dreamgirls

But this very specific audio revolution doesn’t stop at Clubhouse. Following its acquisition of podcast app Breaker, Twitter is now on the way to becoming its own audio-driven powerhouse revealing it intends to replicate the platform with its own version, Spaces. Twitter shared that selected users would be given the ability to create their own rooms and despite Clubhouse’s lack of content moderation when it comes to online abuse (it has been criticised for not dealing with anti-semitism), Twitter revealed creators can control who can or cannot speak in their Space as well as additional reporting and blocking features. In other parts of the audio sphere, Netflix is bringing an audio-only mode to its Android users, TikTok is continuing to focus on audio and both Spotify and Apple are taking the necessary steps to dominate the podcast industry with their latest moves – the  former signed a deal with NPR, while the latter is planning a premium podcast subscription service.

As we’ve seen with music throughout our lives and podcasts in most recent years, sound remains one of the most powerful influencers – it always has been and always will be. And with the introduction of Clubhouse and other audio-reliant platforms, the medium has proved once again just how pivotal it can be when utilised in ever more creative ways. 

By Jennifer Adetoro, culture editor of CORQ.