King Of The Clubhouse: How Axel Mansoor Became The New Social Network’s Breakout Music Star

Ekaterina Gorbacheva
– Axeleration
From the island of Mauritius, off the coast of Madagascar, Axel Mansoor has quickly built a following on Clubhouse.

Midday on an early February Monday in Mauritius, the far-flung island nation off the coast of Madagascar, Axel Mansoor was enjoying a gin and tonic.

The 28-year-old singer-songwriter had reason to celebrate: While serenading users on the molten-hot social network Clubhouse’s Lullaby Club that morning – or evening, for those on the other side of the globe in America – he’d received the news that the platform was going to make his face its app’s icon.

“I was in the middle of Lullaby Club, and I didn’t want to ruin the vibe,” Mansoor says, recalling receiving an email with the news. “I didn’t want to make it about me, so I just compartmentalized it.”

The story’s an encapsulation of what’s drawn many to Mansoor – and why he’s become the breakout musical star on Clubhouse, charting a path forward as artists continue to navigate digital terrain reconfigured by the coronavirus pandemic.

Clubhouse is younger than the pandemic itself. The social network, which allows users to gather in audio-only chatrooms with hyper-specific topics, launched in April 2020, and quickly garnered the support of several prominent investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, the vaunted American venture capital firm that’s invested in companies such as Twitter, Airbnb, Lyft, Stripe and Oculus VR.

Growth came quickly. What began as a small, insular community now has some 10 million users, ranging from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Tiffany Haddish and Drake, and an eye-popping valuation of roughly $1 billion.

Naturally, as with MySpace, Instagram and TikTok in the past, musicians are figuring out how to harness Clubhouse to complement their digital offerings and grow their audiences.

– Iconic
For every substantial update, Clubhouse features a different user as its icon – and for the latest iteration, it chose Axel Mansoor.

Enter Mansoor. To the extent the artist – usually based in Southern California, but recently spending time with family in Mauritius – has had a throughline in his young career, it’s been his willingness to try anything.

“Axel is a little bit non-traditional, in that he doesn’t have any one area where he has seen a lot of success and really focuses and excels,” says manager Bryan Mooney. “We always say that he’s had a lot of success in breadth, but not in depth.”

Prior to the pandemic, Mansoor nabbed a Daytime Emmy nomination for an original song he wrote for “General Hospital,” penned commercial tunes for the likes of Lexus and Softbank and even appeared as a contestant on “Songland,” the NBC songwriting competition.

His advertising syncs continued during the pandemic with brands such as McDonald’s and Kit Kat – “That’s just blown up as this random thing that he’s really good at,” Mooney says – and helped pay the bills with physical touring offline.

Meanwhile, Mansoor experimented with livestreaming. His history with the medium extends back to platforms such as YouNow and Periscope, and at one point he helped beta test Facebook Live. With fans stuck at home, he went live on Twitch and also tried more unusual ideas, like a 5G-powered 3D AR gig presented by AT&T and Ericsson in December.

But for Mooney, who began managing Mansoor about three years ago after going to one of his shows and witnessing “how charismatic he was live” and the “magical interaction” he had with the audience, “the question was always, ‘How do we convey Axel as a person into these digital platforms?’”

Before the pandemic, Mooney explains, Mansoor would devise ways to make gigs “feel intimate, and make it more like a conversation and less like a traditional show. Digitally, that’s hard to do.”

A friend invited Mansoor to Clubhouse in September and the platform, with its focus on community and conversation, provided a format that better matched his strengths.

“There’s something about the dynamic of Clubhouse, with having multiple people that … can all chat at the same time, versus livestreaming is, like, one to many,” Mansoor says. “Clubhouse is also one to many, but with an extra layer, which is that you can have many to many. That adds an entire other level of interactivity.”

But when Mansoor joined – and still today, to a degree – Clubhouse was dominated by panel-style conversations and virtual networking events.

“I don’t think there’s much live music on Clubhouse, because Clubhouse, while it’s an audio-only platform, isn’t really made for recorded music,” says Mooney, who along with Mansoor notes that it’s tough to feed elaborate instrumental rigs into the app and cites latency issues that make real-time collaboration nearly impossible. (Clubhouse declined to comment for this story.)

The drawbacks applied less to Mansoor, who adapted a Facebook Live concept he’d done earlier in the pandemic – an extended stream featuring soothing acoustic lullabies for viewers – into Lullaby Club, a recurring room for Clubhouse users in search of calming live music and conversation.

Given the chaotic nature of the world today, Lullaby Club was an immediate smash, with upwards of 1,000 users joining the room on some nights to see Mansoor and chosen guests go live at 9 p.m. PT.

“You have musicians performing beautiful music, but there’s also really, really honest, wholesome conversations between the artists and the listeners, and everyone has a chance to speak if they want to,” Mooney says. “It’s just a really beautiful space.”

“It’s a really incredible way to still have the feel of a live performance in this pandemic in a way that you can’t really get on any other livestream platform,” Mansoor says.

With Lullaby Club’s runaway success – and new single “Kids Can Be So Stupid” out and an EP on the way – Mansoor saw an opportunity for further engagement on Clubhouse at the beginning of February.

“My thought was, ‘I haven’t seen anybody do this, and so why not be the first to put together a Clubhouse tour,’” he says. “The way Clubhouse works is it’s so based on interests and topics that I was like, ‘OK, well, what is my song about? What are the kinds of topics that my EP and me as an artist are related to that I could really speak to, that I genuinely care about? And how can I get in front of those people?’”

– Mooney Man
As Mansoor’s profile has exploded due to Clubhouse, manager Bryan Mooney has helped to harness the excitement.

On Feb. 5, Mansoor began making the rounds to share his music and lived experience – as someone of Indian, Austrian, Chinese and North African descent who endured bullying during a childhood lived in Belgium, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the United States – with Clubhouse communities where he thought they might resonate, including rooms dedicated to psychedelics, self-love, Southeast Asian culture and wellness.

In February, Mansoor’s Clubhouse following exploded from 2,000 to 80,200. And the time Mansoor invested in room after room, sharing his story and his music, has bolstered his digital footprint elsewhere. Over the last month, he’s seen his Spotify listenership grow 109%, his streams swell by 129% and his Instagram reach expand by 8,425%.

Despite the significant benefits Clubhouse provides, don’t expect it to become an integral part of artists’ offerings immediately.

“This is still a barrier on Clubhouse, which is that it’s invite-only right now,” Mansoor says. “That being the case does create a barrier to being able to interact with any and all fans.”

In fact, a secondary market has erupted for Clubhouse invites, from the r/clubhouseinvites subreddit, which had more than 8,400 members at press time, to eBay, where auctions for invites generally go for less than $20 but have sometimes soared well above $100. (“That is not a chill thing to do,” Mansoor says of auctioning off invites. “That seems so gross.”)

Plus, the app is still exclusive to iOS, meaning only iPhone users have access currently.

So, while Clubhouse increases intimacy with the lucky and ever-growing cadre of fans on the app, it’s still exclusionary, meaning its utility remains limited.

“I actually have fans who don’t have access to Clubhouse, either because they haven’t been invited or because they have an Android phone, and have been seeing me posting about Lullaby Club,” Mansoor says. “They’re like, ‘I want to come. How do I get in?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t help you. I don’t have any invites.’ Even as the icon, I didn’t get any extra invites.”

Still, once Clubhouse becomes public – and, until then, as its number of users continues to swell – Mansoor envisions artists increasingly using the app for livestreamed performances or even VIP-style private experiences. He doesn’t think it’ll fade once physical performances return, either.

“The possibilities are limitless,” he says. “What’s great about Clubhouse is that I see it as supplementary to the live music experience. I think they would play really well together. In an ideal world, you’re doing both.”

For Mansoor, at least, Clubhouse will remain a key tool indefinitely.

“A huge piece of who I am as an artist is who I am as a person,” he says. “Clubhouse just has allowed me to transmit the essence of who I am.”