In 2007, a particularly spartan internet site named SoundCloud was born from the problem-solving efforts of two masters students at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm who simply wanted to create a better way for people to share sounds. Three weeks ago, this same enigmatic start-up announced a fifty million dollar Series C investment led by Silicon Valley venture capital titan Kleiner Perkins, ultimately valuing SoundCloud at $200 million.
For almost any other young firm, such a development might lead to wild celebrations, social media blitzes, and ostentatious marketing campaigns. Not SoundCloud, however, which seems to be proceeding with business as usual. From this attitude it is apparent that SoundCloud’s business as usual is in fact quite unusual. There seems to be an aura of muted perseverance behind the company, whose user base recently surpassed ten million strong. In our global technology environment where outsized, bombastic personalities reign, SoundCloud has managed to remain an almost clandestine force in the web audio industry, still skirting under the radar in the weeks following their recent capital influx.
Adidas’s “all soundcloud” video featurette on the company’s two founders, Eric Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung, sheds some light on the deftly humble characteristics of SoundCloud. “There were so many broken things on the web,” observes Wahlforss, reflecting on SoundCloud’s origins. “In some ways, that’s where it started.” Setting out to build a free, functional platform through which people could seamlessly share their sounds has been an ongoing process, but through it all SoundCloud has deliberately held fast to its mission statement. “The first thing that just came to my mind right away was selling music,” responds Wahlforss when asked about the “worst feature idea” for the site they ever had.
Creation, facilitation, and humility define SoundCloud, not prestige or profit motive. It’s slowly becoming clear that SoundCloud is perfectly content as a discreet industry leader. I only discovered SoundCloud a few months ago, and I fall smack in the middle of their target user demographics. Had I known earlier, I never would have exhausted so much time on Bandcamp, a site whose primary function is to sell music. Unlike Bandcamp, SoundCloud in the words of Wahlforss attempts to comprehend all of the ways people “use” sound and then “mould (new sonic) behaviors” to make “things that never have been seen.” What a fantastic project.
SoundCloud operates from the standpoint that it has so far having achieved nothing, and that deferential quality has served as an incredible advantage. Now, with its newly acquired fifty million, will SoundCloud catapult from start-up darling to industry torchbearer, or it will prolong its beloved grassroots status? Sometimes the meek do inherit the earth.
One of my favorite jazz pianists, Robert Glasper, has teamed up with music creation and collaboration service Indaba Music to post a remix contest for the song “Move Love” off his upcoming album, Black Radio. This is a fantastic, interactive marketing idea that more and more major musicians are supporting, facilitating creativity while promoting their own music brands. My remix is in the works!
Ok, 9 hours later…enjoy!
YouTube has been the mainstay of what I’ll term “music discovery” since before I entered college, overshadowing the much-maligned MySpace, but in the last several years new outlets have emerged to challenge YouTube’s primacy. The former is SoundCloud, a simple but fantastic site that one blogger recently predicted could become the “YouTube” for internet audio. As soon as the service improves its search engine capabilities, I definitely see that happening. SoundCloud touts a massive collection of original music and DJ remixes, and serves as the best option for up-and-coming artists to publish and share their music. Bandcamp is another viable option, offering the additional ability to sell your music and process such transactions. Last week I came across another category of music discovery engines: recommendation apps Discovr & Groovebug. Sadly I possess neither an iPhone nor iPad, thus Groovebug remains uninvestigated, but Discovr offers a Mac OS version, which I begrudgingly purchased from the App Store for $4.99
The Discovr interface is sublime. Upon searching for an artist – I used Dwele as an example – the app produces a floating avatar in the center of the window representing that artist. Double-clicking leads you to a profile page with the artist’s bio, discography, press, and (in the next update I’m told) that artist’s Twitter feed (Tweets are already integrated into the iOs version). Pretty awesome.
Backtracking to the main page and the app’s true crux, a single click on the artist’s avatar spawns five or six “spokes” connecting that artist to related acts. For example, from Dwele we are introduced to Jill Scott, Eric Roberson, Raheem DeVaughn, Bilal, Musiq, and Frank McComb. As far as I can tell, the program’s algorithms are not too advanced, as restarting the discovery process with the same artist yields the exact same connections each time. In essence, Discovr creates a virtual music map joining similar musicians together in a web of floating circles. It’s a profound project, but not without drawbacks.
For starters, the program struggles with what can become a limited screen size. Lacking any auto-resizing options, it quickly becomes difficult to fit the map of artists within the program’s display window. In other words, the program is practically maxed out after clicking on 5-10 different artists. I have only toyed around in Discovr for several days, but another downside seems to be the limited number of artists in the program’s database. When searching for artists with whom I was already familiar and engaging the program from there, I was rarely introduced to a musician previously unknown to me. I also wonder about the subjectivity of the musical relationships between artists. Is Dwele that similar to Jill Scott? A $4.99 price tag ($1.99 for the mobile app) serves as another barrier of entry, only because we as app consumers are accustomed to freebies. My main concern with the product rests on its playback ability. While Discovr directed me to Dwele’s music videos, albums, et al, I could only preview his tracks upon playback. If Discovr could somehow integrate full on-demand capability (perhaps via API integration from one of the many great on-demand music services), then I believe it could become an extremely popular app. As of right now, I can’t say how often I’ll use it. All of that said, Discovr Music is a very intriguing product in what could be a rewarding niche within the music app market.