Lockdowns led to a surge in social audio apps over the past few years, revolutionizing the way people connect and communicate. From the early listening party pioneers like Switchboard and Roadtrip to "town square" apps like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, these platforms illustrated new ways to engage in real-time conversations, share music, ideas, and form meaningful connections. Here's a quick overview of the origins of the modern social audio movement and the pioneering role of our very own Switchboard App (formerly known as TurnMeUp). We'll also discuss how social audio is poised to shape the future as microphones and speakers become ubiquitous across a wide range of devices.
The Birth of Social Audio
Perhaps somewhat hubristically, we would trace the modern social audio movement back to the early 2010s around the time we (Synervoz) started tinkering with an app we called TurnMeUp. To our knowledge, this was the first app where you could listen to music together with a persistent Voice over IP connection (i.e. a listening party with voice chat). We pioneered (and patented) technology related to “auto-ducking” media in response to voice activity detection (VAD) in environments where people were connected through voice or video chat while listening to music and other media. TurnMeUp was aimed at use cases like walking, running, cycling, and skiing together, such that you could listen to music and still talk without having to take your headphones off.
In 2016, Synervoz entered the Techstars accelerator in partnership with Virgin Media, and shortly thereafter we relaunched the app as Switchboard. The target audience shifted to remote workers who wanted to feel more connected by having instant audio connections to their remote team, and to be able to hang out and listen to music together in rooms. We explored a lot of pioneering ideas before they were popularized by others: drop-in audio channels, voice commands to activate them, synchronizing the music you’re listening to, watching YouTube together, wiring up buttons to turn your remote office desk into an instant intercom, and more. You can see some examples of this over at https://switchboard.audio/labs/ — but suffice it to say that we laid some of the foundations for the social audio movement to come.
The Explosion of Social Audio
Switchboard was perhaps a little too early to market, as it was during the COVID-19 lockdowns that the social audio genre truly took off. We passed the “listening party” torch to Roadtrip (later renamed Campground), which was, to some extent, a modern take on turntable.fm — but in this case including voice chat and targeted at mobile devices.
Then came Clubhouse and an explosion of competing products and features that attempted to ride the social audio wave. Twitter Spaces, new features in Discord, Spotify, and Meta’s suite of apps are only a few of the dozens of examples. Some of these platforms became a lifeline for individuals craving social interaction and networking opportunities in a physically distanced world. Others faded into obscurity. Kosmi is one product that stuck around, and we became closely involved with. If you’re curious, head over to https://kosmi.io/ to check that out.
The Future of Social Audio
A crucial factor contributing to the proliferation of social audio is the widespread availability of microphones and speakers on a variety of devices. Smart speakers have become commonplace in homes, providing an effortless way to join audio discussions with a simple voice command. Earbuds, worn more frequently, have transformed into personal audio hubs, allowing individuals to participate in conversations on the go. Smart TVs and soundbars are also starting to integrate social audio capabilities, enabling immersive experiences in living rooms.
Smart assistants will also play a vital role in facilitating connections through social audio. Whether its finding out which friends are available, making it easy to join conversations, switching between apps, or creating personal audio rooms, smart assistants will streamline the user experience. Voice assistants will help people to effortlessly connect with others
As microphones and speakers continue to proliferate across devices, social audio is poised for further growth. The trend will expand beyond dedicated apps to becoming an integral part of many digital platforms and ecosystems. We anticipate a seamless integration of social audio into messaging apps, social media platforms, streaming media (music, video, and games), virtual reality environments, and, indeed, the metaverse. The future of social audio holds the promise of enhanced communication, deeper connections, and the democratization of voices.
The explosion of social audio apps has ushered in a new era of communication, transforming the way individuals connect, collaborate, and build relationships. With Switchboard as one of the original pioneers of social audio, dating back to its early days as TurnMeUp, we helped lay the groundwork for this genre. As microphones and speakers become more prevalent on a wider range of always-connected devices, you can expect Synervoz and our Switchboard platform (https://switchboard.audio/) to be an increasingly obvious part of the landscape.