Testing out Spotify's languishing response to Clubhouse
Thanks to everyone who helped me test-drive Greenroom over the weekend. It was fun getting a feel for the pros and cons of the platform, on its own or as a component in a record-spinning hangout. The limitations are clearer now; unless Spotify can incorporate sycnhronized music playback into the app (or more likely, between the app and the desktop client), there are too many moving parts required to build the experience I’m looking for.
I’ve been preoccupied with efforts to release a handful of records in 2022 — more on that in a few weeks — but earlier this month I was tipped to try out Spotify’s Greenroom as a lightweight alternative to podcasts and livestreaming. Bought roughly a year ago (née Locker Room), Spotify barely changed the codebase and launched in a defensive reaction to the initial success of Clubhouse. Last night, I ran a quick test room and came away intrigued.
Spotify owns streaming audio, by an astonishing margin. For the moment, there’s little Greenroom does that Clubhouse doesn’t, but Spotify owns 31% of the 525-million user global audio streaming market. Apple and Amazon Music are neck-and-neck at half that percentage. Somewhat curiously, Spotify is still testing Greenroom’s scale and stability many months in, versus adding features. It’s possible given the Joe Rogan Situation that they’re more focused on Greenroom’s scan-and-ban algorithm, because the TOS is hilariously explicit (if you so much as say “Covid,” you’re probably done). Greenroom’s AI chat moderation is daycare conservative — you cannot send the acronym ‘lmfao’ — and hugely WASP-leaning. Swear all you like in the romance languages!
There are myriad UI and API issues observable across the mobile and webapp experiences, which is pretty inexcusable coming up on a year at market. The chat lane in particular suffers from brutal lag due to the API relay between the app and nanny bot. For these and many other reasons — chiefly the lack of obvious differentiators from Clubhouse — adoption has been abysmal. We were the fourth-largest room on the entire platform with just under 200 peak listeners at 7:00pm EST on a Friday night. This all underscores why Spotify has (apparently) declined to invest in feature development. But there are already a number of non-obvious advantages to this app as it exists today. Spotify has simply — inexplicably — failed to promote them.
Greenroom already excels in three ways: broadcasting live podcasts, as a scratchpad to record conversations for future editing as evergreen podcasts, and — because it absolutely smashes the horrendous audio quality of Discord — as a chat hangout. Further to the second point, Greenroom will send you an MP3 of the audio when you close your room, for free. While the quality of this rip needs to come way up (presently mono; feels like 96kbps), it’s a bananas-awesome built-in feature and a stunning differentiator from Clubhouse (Greenroom only makes the MP3 available for 48 hours, so why, in 2022, they can’t process this through a higher-quality encoding bucket is beyond me). All three of these deltas are significant, and indicate that despite the poor start, this thing might catch fire with a light breeze. The lack of ducking during cross-talk is far better than any web-based podcast editing suite, and eliminates the need to record and assemble from multiple sources/locations/softwares/etc. Simply put, this is the quickest and easiest way one could record a live podcast, or the bones of a published podcast, in 2022. The alternatives are far more laborious, technically and in terms of time invested.
Once the platform is stable and measurable, Spotify will have a better view of resource consumption (read: sunk internal costs, because Spotify is trying to spend Clubhouse to death with Greenroom, not turn a profit). If these variables are in line with projections, and adoption and audience feedback increase, they will move to increase interoperability with Greenroom and Spotify’s music infrastructure, and that’s what I’m rooting for.
Once we’re embedding playlists and throwing Spotify links around, this becomes more interactive, and closer to a popup personal radio station. Right now, participants can try to synchronize starting a playlist in Spotify proper, or another service like turntable.fm, and have the Greenroom audio coming from another device. This gets you nearer to listening to records in a room together, but taken further, if everyone using Greenroom had to be a Spotify customer, there would be no implicit broadcast rights issues, though they’re visible down the line. Walling this up inside Spotify would also break the current model, which allows for passive web-based guest listeners, but I’d gladly chuck that “grow your audience” canard in favor of developing a multimedia radio experience for Spotify mutuals.
No pay structure — yet. Clubhouse introduced payments to creators going on a year ago. Payment systems do nothing but lock you into audience expectations and responsibility. I don’t want this. Whatever success you achieve is rapidly overwhelmed by the need to figure out how to sustain it, grow it, or pull off some sort of short-money coup (see: the Wordle guy). More importantly, inserting a payment mechanism would immediately run afoul of Spotify’s licensing model. The interesting idea here would be if someone started a Patreon…that backed a Spotify Greenroom…on a certain schedule…
And that’s the most practical thing that doesn’t work right now: scheduling rooms. I can’t email you a link to a session ahead of time. I have to “go live.” There’s an easy solution that requires deeper integration with Spotify proper, but for now, those worlds are completely firewalled, and due to the subrights issues I’ve outlined, I doubt this will change. Given Greenroom’s failure to compete with Clubhouse, or attract top talent — the latest push is a handful of Ringer, Bleacher Report and Complex shows about wrestling and basketball — my bet is Spotify will rebrand this as a podcast studio, or bin it altogether.