3_Trends_Vol.2: Josh Chapdelaine: Anti-Social Audio, Entertainment Cycles + Influencer Burnout


3_TRENDS is an interview series with experts who have their ear to culture, identifying the overlooked ripples turning into swells.

Josh Chapdelaine (JC) is an audio and digital producer, educator, and writer. He produces Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human Podcast, the Digital Void Podcast, and teaches podcasting at Queens College.

MK: Josh, what’s on your mind?

Anti-Social Audio

JC: Social audio will help shape social media platforms in the 2020’s — but it'll be most effective in private communities, where trust and privacy are central to value systems.

Clubhouse successfully created a platform that allows for intimate social audio experiences at the exact moment the pandemic left people longing for connection. But Clubhouse's new user registration declined 73% in March while Facebook, LinkedIn, and Spotify are all working on their own social audio features.

Moving forward, community and privacy will be central to the success of social media platforms. People need to feel safe to create social audio, which is more spontaneous and less-produced than podcasts or radio. That safety is most easily felt in smaller-knit communities like Discord. The future here is private.

MK: Audio really is inherently intimate, so voice + strangers is something we haven’t experienced much of online. And to your point, while it’s easier to produce, the audible vulnerability shatters our glass screen barriers and adds a different type of pressure. That there’s more weight to speaking in a Clubhouse room to 30 people than tweeting to the entire universe should demonstrate the magnitude of our real voices in online spaces.

What I find most perplexing about these apps is the limbo so many of the conversations exist in. Whenever I’ve hosted a room, I value the intimacy of unedited thought which comes with just speaking, but the second there’s a single audience member, my brain flips to performance mode. I suddenly become hyper-aware of how I sound to not just my direct recipient, but now to also an indirect recipient. It’s hard to have an intimate conversation without acknowledging you’re on a stage having it. And without the physically or mere visualizations of these dynamics, it’s easy to get lost.

It’s like having a phone call on speaker in public.

Social audio is having an iPad moment. We’re forced to reflect on 1. what we want to use this thing for, and 2. what it’s actually good at. I think we’re experiencing the difference now.

Entertainment Cycles

JC: Influencer production companies will end up accidentally recreating traditional corporate media structures.

When David Dobrik issued his second apology video for sexual assault allegations against a member of the Vlog Squad, he mentioned his hope to create a human resources team to his YouTube channel. The feedback loop between what drives engagement and revenue on YouTube, and outrageous influencer behavior is obvious. YouTube, which turned 16 in February, intended to remove gatekeepers, barriers to entry, and platform stories that were historically excluded. Now, those creators are learning the importance of traditional corporate structures as important filters and help create healthier work environments.

MK: I’ve noticed a similar pattern across other mediums too. Just look here at email. We’ve had the unbundling of publications where prominent writers are going solo, while also very quickly, independent writers are banding together, creating bundles and rev-sharing. Ummm, writer-owned magazines? In more cases than we realize: what’s new is old.

The maturation and corporatization of YouTubers and influencers is a fascinating study. God bless the accountant of the Paul Brothers.

Every influencer or YouTuber dreams of making it “big,” but I question how many acknowledge what this ultimately entails: a production team, or at least someone to help manage PR, budget, coordination, editing, etc. Unless you alternatively take it all on yourself? So, the question then becomes: What’s driving each Creator: scale, fame and cash, or independence, connection and control? Is it possible to obtain all?

Influencer Burnout

JC: Influencers shouldn't need to sacrifice agency and autonomy in order to monetize.

In Taylor Lorenz's For Creators, Everything Is for Saleshe explores NewNew, a start-up that allows influencers to create monetizable polls related to every aspect of their life. It hopes to create the "human stock market."

NewNew's hope? To address creator burnout.

“Creators are burning out, but their fans want more and more,” said Jen Lee, 25, the founder of a popular creator economy community on Discord.

”By monetizing each aspect of their life, they can extract value from everyday interactions.”

Commodifying agency isn't community development. Addressing creator burnout requires a critical perspective of the ecosystem at large. From algorithms that grant preference to those who publish more frequently to lack of financial transparency, the creators that help tech giants build billion dollar enterprises feel as if they can never turn off.

This isn't a critique of NewNew's founders, who are looking to help influencers battle a true problem. But this solution is just the latest in a financial race-to-the-bottom that fails to address the systemic problems of big tech.

MK: You hit it perfectly: it’s another problem sold as a solve.

I think what’s happened is we’ve manufactured our personal brands — building online audiences, personalities and aesthetics, yet we’ve just been sitting on them. Along comes the tastes of profitability (YouTube AdSense, #spon grams, nudes to NFTs) and we’re all thristy to cash in. The only problem? We have personal brands, not personal businesses. We’re desperate to monetize and are reverse engineering solutions.

Finding sustainability in this monetization is the key. No one can live on tips...

What I can’t wait to watch unfold is the new dynamics we’re establishing between the community exclusively funding the Creator. When the Creator cuts the middle-man out and goes direct to the fan for money, “the customer is always right” mentality can sink in.

When each fan then becomes a shareholder, Creators become beholden to the shareholder, now forced to optimize each and every decision for them. In a human IPO market, as a Creator, you’re public in the truest sense: public shareholders, not you, decide your fate.