SoundCloud – all thunder and no lightning?

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Photo by: Slipp D. Thompson

In beginning there was nothing. Then, sounds started to emerge; bleeps and pings reverberated around the internet for years. But they were the only sounds till modems arrived, sounding like demented mechanical whales in extreme pain, as they screamed in bits and bytes and connected you to the early incarnation of the World Wide Web.

And soon after that there was MySpace, today know as the social site equivalent of a pensioner, sitting in an electronic corner muttering about how kids today just don’t have any clue about what’s important and how they never show any respect for their elders who did all the hard work so they could live an easy life.

Some say MySpace is still alive. Other say it’s dead. And they’re probably both right. It’s like a social site version of Schrödinger’s cat.

Today, we have new friends like Spotify. And SoundCloud, of course.

According to everybody’s favourite, sometimes accurate, uncle, Wikipedia, SoundCloud is:

“An audio distribution platform that allows collaboration, promotion and distribution of audio recordings.”

Basically it’s a place where you can upload and share your music.

However, SoundCloud is very much in tune (sorry, poor pun) with other social sites. So much so, that if it lived in London, it would wear a woolly Icelandic sweater, square glasses, an ironic mustache, ride a yellow fixed gear bicycle, work in work in social media and online marketing for major companies somewhere Shoreditch, only own electronic equipment built by Apple, use Instagram all the time, drink chai latte in fair trade coffee houses, , really want to focus on making underground films that revolved around existential angst and the hard nut life of the working class, featuring unknown Grime artist from the East End that it had only ever talked to online (but it really, really feels where the Grime MC’s are coming from, even though it grew up in the Hamptons) and hopefully, oh so hopefully soon get hit by a lorry driven by a Scouser called Dave, who probably saw the yellow fixed gear bicycle, but just couldn’t be asked to avoid hitting the wasted bit of humanity on top of if…hmmmm, where did that come from?

Right, personal rage vented (it’s actually the fixed gear bikes that annoy me), let’s get back to SoundCloud. And the point is that it’s smart, because you can integrate it into your other social sites, like Facebook, in ways that you never could with MySpace. And that has led to some pretty impressive recent numbers.

Even though the company started back in 2007, it didn’t reach a million subscribers till May 2010. However, from there it accelerated hard, passing five million subscribers in June 2011 and racing past the ten million mark in January 2012.

According to Wikipedia, SoundCloud entered 2013 with more than 20 million users, with more than 1,5 million new users signing up to the service every month.

Not bad for a Swedish company with about 100 employees.

But what is it’s wider impact? Has it actually changed the way that people share or listen to music?

The easy answer would be no. People were sharing their music online before SoundCloud. And it’s not yet really that popular, if you compare it with online services like fellow Swedes Spotify. While SoundCloud actually has more users signed up to their services (Spotify had 15 million active users as of July 2012), Spotify can boast of about four million paying customers.

Combine that with the results of a Nielsen survey as reported by the Wall Street Journal, which clearly shows that when people do use online services to listen to or share music, they use YouTube, followed radio, iTunes or CD’s. Actually more than 66 per cent of the American teens who were asked by Nielsen about where they found and/or listened to music answered that they used YouTube, meaning that a video service is the preferred online service for listening to music.

So, is SoundCloud a new incarnation of MySpace? Is it destined to fail, or, in a best case scenario for its founders, to be bought and subsequently run into the ground by Yahoo? (I know there should probably have been a ‘!’ after Yahoo, but that would have made it into Yahoo!? and although that’s how I feel about that company, it just looks weird) The easy answer might be yes.

It has, like MySpace before it, had a profound effect on the music industry. Any and every band (and thereby also label) have taken to releasing new songs on SoundCloud, and your average music journalist probably spends more time trawling through the site than at actual concerts. News stories about the new songs released spread like wildfire across online music sites within minutes of their release.

Recently, the Hip Hop / Punk band Death Grips decided to upload their new album in its entirety to the site, which then, in turn, made their record label cancel their contract – which was probably what they wanted in the first place. Now Death Grips have started their own label and have been able to use the SoundCloud hype and controversy as free marketing.

So the industry have taken to it like a fish to water. But if you remember MySpace (yes, I’m talking to you people in your 30’s) that was also the case back in the dayt. And like MySpace before it, SoundCloud might end up drowning in its own success, as more and more amateur bands clog the service up with desperate attempts to be noticed, making random searching on the site a recipe for failure, unless you like uninspired, corny Creed clones. Yes, I’m aware that that’s a pleonasm.

However, SoundCloud have a couple of advantages over its predecessor. One is that its loading times for songs are very low, even though the sound quality is very good. And secondly, it lets listeners insert their comments in songs, saying what parts they like and why. This can make listening to songs into a social experience. Something MySpace never was.

An example is a recent mix by DJ Shadow which also highlights some of what SoundCloud can offer established artists and what it lets you as a 2010’s wired up person do. Even if you don’t have square glasses and a fixed gear bike.

The DJ Shadow mix is actually something that he wanted to play at a nightclub in Miami. Unbelievably, he was asked to leave the stage by the club itself for playing a set that, in their words, was ‘too future’. So DJ Shadow decided to upload the entire set that he had planned to play to SoundClound and let the public weigh in to the matter.

You can hear the mix here, as SoundCloud lets you embed its files. Even on a blog like this 🙂

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