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.