Online Music Revisited: SoundCloud
Where BandCamp is order, SoundCloud is chaos. Playcounts, downloads and user favourites are scattered among followers, comments and interest groups. It is a vibrant hub driven by communities that praise and share music in equal measures. This is its niche, and a stark contrast to the user-centric design of Bandcamp. Tracks are stacked chronologically, soundwaves are visualised and the interface is very…well…orange. While initial impressions may overwhelm newcomers, Soundcloud is at its simplest a database of songs from music lovers. Your success on this platform hinges on how you channel that enthusiasm.
- Audio: AIFF, WAV, FLAC, OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR and WMA files
- Profile Picture: JPG, GIF, PNG (recommended 200 x 200 pixels, max 2MB)
- Track/Album Art: JPG, GIF, PNG (recommended 200 x 200 pixels, max 2MB)
Community – Soundcloud is populated by music lovers. Bands, bloggers, DJs, managers and fans engage with content in a way that sets it apart from ‘casual’ social networks. As such, there is a strong culture of giving and receiving feedback. Don’t miss out on this. Share, stream and follow your favourite artists; by showing an interest in peoples’ work you’re contributing to the good will of the community. It’s rarely sycophantic. Rather, SoundCloud’s users are kindred spirits that understand the need of vocal support.
With this in mind, consider SoundCloud a sandbox for uploading demos, covers and works in progress (as well as your finished music). Timed comments allow listeners to critique specific parts of your track – a vocal inflection they particularly like, or a guitar part that needs reworking. A thoroughly played demo will give you a wealth of feedback through which you can refine a song before broadcasting it on tidier sites.
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/26371055″ iframe=”true” /]
Tracks – The focus is on songs, not albums. Soundcloud’s player takes you through the minutiae of audiowaves as you listen and read the timed comments. This adds a visual edge to the listening experience and focuses the way you browse music. The embedded player, while limited with Soundcloud’s free account, looks clean and sleek on external websites (and yes, you can change the orange).
Each track acts as a separate entity within your profile. Rather than share an entire EP, you would break it into its constituent parts and distribute each song to a fitting group. The quieter, closing track of your album could go to ambient folk while the frantic opener to melodic death metal (if you’ve recorded such a masterpiece give me a shout). Because of this, it’s important to detail each song by its own merits; avoid doing an iTunes and blanketing your whole collection under ‘Alternative’.
Finally, keep your eyes peeled for local DJs and record labels that invite submissions. By their nature, radio presenters take their passion beyond the two-hour airtime – see BBC Introducing’s Tom Robinson for example.
What Soundcloud is missing:
- Design choice. There is little room to customise your stream. Soundcloud is not so much a profile as a list of uploaded and reposted music. It is a timeline rather than a static page and you are encouraged to stay active. Your use of Soundcloud’s resources is your design choice.
- Range of downloads. Bandcamp spoilt us. Being used to smart download conversions, you might find these features a little startling. If you upload uncompressed (and therefore higher quality) music, fans will download the very same file. This means either listeners must struggle with a 30MB FLAC, or you have to settle for a lower quality stream. It’s frustrating that for a service designed around the listening experience, there is no access for convenient downloads. That said, downloading itself isn’t a prominent feature; Soundcloud is all about that quick streaming hit. With a high proportion of demos and interaction, it is best listened to on a computer than on an iPod.
- Resources. Musicians with a lot of material might find the startup settings restrictive. A free account comes with an allowance of 120 minutes and 3 sets (or albums, whatever you want to call them). While you can pick and choose public songs, this reenforces my advice to treat SoundCloud as a sandbox. Rather than sacrifice 2 of your 5 EPs, group your songs by vague categories (‘2013’, ‘demos’, ‘covers’ etc ). Statistics with the free account are equally limiting. You can see your total plays and downloads, but referral sites are teasingly pixelated until you upgrade. A little harsh to those who’ve been linked by fantastic bloggers.
- Buy/Video links. Edit track > Show more options (under your tags). Here you can link to your online shops on Bandcamp, iTunes or wherever else. Additionally you can complement your song with a video link to YouTube or Vimeo. I can’t for the life of me work out where this elusive ‘inline video player’ lies, but it’s worth having the data for when Soundcloud get their act together.
- Stay active! Your stream is only as interesting as you are. Once you are set up, search for groups that match your style of music. Start with your preferred genres and follow the trail, sharing songs as you go into the ‘drop box’. Adding a song to a group funnels its visibility to an audience of specific tastes. This is particularly important to those who deal in the more obscure genres that would otherwise go unnoticed on mainstream channels.
- Enjoy yourself! This might be the first platform through which you’ll be praised by strangers. It’s refreshing. Burrow through the site and you’ll unearth some real treats. Search for covers of your favourite songs, look up interesting genres and take note of any comments from your fellow musicians.