Have You Been Invited?
By Sydney Walters
Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio-chat app is quickly gaining popularity among artists since its April 2020 launch. I was invited by a friend after they told me about the many professional connections they had gleaned from the app. I was intrigued and signed up that night. After writing a brief bio, selecting some conversation topics that interested me, I jumped into my first group.
Amidst lines of tiny profile pictures, the group’s hosts and leaders of the discussion are situated at the top of the screen. A grey circle appears around the profile of whoever is talking. If people in the club wish to contribute, they can virtually “raise their hand” as you would in a Zoom meeting. You are then moved closer to the “stage” and are called on in turn. In larger groups, the hand raising feature is particularly useful so that listeners can ask direct questions to the host without risk of interruption. However, in most groups I observed, people spoke without using the hand raise feature for a less structured conversation. Initially, I spent about an hour on the app. And to be honest, I was underwhelmed. I became annoyed when people talked too long or did not add anything helpful to the discussion. I also observed how one person’s question or comment could quickly veer the conversation into irrelevant territory.
But before writing it off completely, I wanted to explore more about the app and how artists are using it. On his experience using Clubhouse, Los Angeles artist and curator Mat Gleason told me, “You can benefit in ten seconds if you are listening to the right person at the right time. It is a waste of time to listen to the army of amateurs on there pushing their trendy garbage. But there are good people with good information and better gossip out there.” After spending more time on the app, I found that to be true. When I tuned back into Clubhouse a few days after my first experience, I joined a room discussing NFTs. Within a few minutes, I heard one of the hosts say, “I’ve been in the cryptocurrency game for a long time and I still have FOMO. Don’t waste your time feeling panicked. Just focus on what’s right for you at the time.” Solid advice for all artists out there scrambling to mint work.
While my friend who originally invited me to the app benefited from the professional connections, artist Sijia Chen says she mainly benefits from community support. She says, “I was in an artist group in which people were sharing the challenges they faced during COVID and supported each other by sharing their experiences and thoughts.” I have also listened in on groups whose core members seem to have genuine camaraderie and imbibe goodwill towards people listening.
But the real alchemy in Clubhouse occurs in knowledge sharing. In CH, knowledge is currency and when you share, you build credibility. But be prepared to know what you are talking about because you will be called out and challenged. That type of group accountability seeking truth and knowledge is a refreshing contrast to the hoards of web trolls. As Gleason acutely put it, “[it is] an education that does not require five-figure student loans.” As of today, I have yet to turn on my mic to share anything. However, at the very least, I can make art while I listen and learn.