How SoundCloud Can Move Beyond Music To Be The Sound Sharing Platform It Wishes It Was

Field-recording-wikipediaYesterday SoundCloud launched a new messaging system but while it adds some communication options it's not the collaborative move forward I imagined. In fact, my own initial confusion caused me to step back and consider how SoundCloud's user interface connects to their bigger vision. It strikes me as being at an in-between place, which makes sense, but one that's moving towards more superficial social sharing and away from collaboration. My limited take is that this move is part of a mainstreaming process that is going in the wrong direction.

SoundCloud Introduces New Messaging System

The news is that SoundCloud has introduced a new messaging system on the site which isn't chat but is basically internal email. Here's what seems to be new:

Your messages are "organized by conversation" which should make message discussions a bit easier.

When clicking the Share button, a popup appears with the options to share to social media, embed or send a message with the encouragement to include links to tracks. A list of discussions will appear on the left side of your screen for easy reentry.

You can message individual accounts via the envelope icon that appears next to the Share button on account pages.

So basically there's a clear way to message another user or to share tracks with other users.

SoundCloud does have spam measures in place, such as limiting the ability to send the same message too many times to multiple individuals, and allows you to "Mute" individuals and block them from following you.

How Does This Small Change Relate to SoundCloud's Bigger Vision?

As a news item it's not incredibly important but it returned me to the self-image SoundCloud has developed according to former VP of Biz Dev Dave Haynes:

"SoundCloud's vision to allow anyone to hear the world's sounds and – importantly – allow anyone to be heard, is subtly, yet infinitely more bold than that of many other music streaming services. We're not just making it easier to consume a catalogue of premium commercial music, we're redefining the way that sound can be created, expanding the world of sound that is available and changing the rules for how it can shared online."

"SoundCloud is not just empowering those that want to consume music and audio, we're empowering those that want to collaborate, share and create it too."

But in sorting out the messaging news it struck me that SoundCloud's on-site collaborative tools aren't that strong. Given that I haven't created work with others for SoundCloud, I could be missing some obvious details. Please let me know in a polite manner if that is the case.

I don't know how third party integrations play into this. Perhaps it is easier to collaborate using other platforms and tools with SoundCloud simply integrated. If you're doing such things, let me know.

That said, when following the activities of a project like Disquiet Junto which began as a SoundCloud group, the whole process of collaboration and communication seems fairly fragmented.

Disquiet Junto started as a SoundCloud group but then there's a separate SoundCloud page for the music and a third party email announcement list and explanatory material on the original Disquiet site.

That's actually fairly normal, particularly for a project related to a separate site that then gets launched as a unique project on SoundCloud, yet it indicates just how complicated collaborating on SoundCloud becomes when you take into account all communication and information needs. You have to go to third parties to meet all those needs on SoundCloud.

But what that also means is that the people who are actually working at the crossover between music and sound, often including people making field recordings and the like, aren't being fully supported or promoted on SoundCloud itself.

Why Should SoundCloud Support Weirdo Noise Artists?

While SoundCloud certainly wants to support collaboration, why would it want to support people recording things like an old barn door creaking especially if they're not sampling it for a hip hop track?

SoundCloud is trying to encourage the mainstream to take up a new activity, paying closer attention to sounds and treating them as one might a picture or video clip. However they likely wish to exclude short verbal statements and conversations that would basically turn them into an audio chat platform. It's about the sounds that people aren't already recording and paying attention to on a mass basis.

New behaviors are hard but, historically speaking, it's experimental musicians and audio artists who have attended to sound in a conscious manner and who have turned other people on to such things. John Cage's legacy alone in that regard is much more significant than any mainstream efforts to date yet Cage went from the fringes to the mainstream with his work.

If SoundCloud really wants to make sound a mainstream interest they are going to have to go to the fringes to find their way. That means giving people actually working with sound the tools to do more of that work on SoundCloud. Developing those tools but keeping them simple will give everyday people more of what they need to participate in what is largely an alien practice.

Since that seems unlikely, SoundCloud seems fated to be a great place for uploading and promoting one's music while always wishing it was something more.

[Thumbnail image via Wikipedia.]


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is building a writing hub at Flux Research. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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1 Comment

  1. Great overview of some of the reasons many of us are at least not renewing our pro accounts. The new messaging is progress but on something I don’t recall hearing any complaints about. The sorting is good. Having a picture of the song in there to play is nice. But it doesn’t help with collaborating.
    For me as a singer/songwriter the soundcloud classic commenting system was great for collaborating with other soundclouders. I could get a comment (on a work in progress) like “your phrasing is off here” or “pitchy” or “there is a funny noise here, is that your dog?”. That much is still possible on New or Next SoundCloud; or the site where friends seem to be migrating to: http://hearthis.at/. But when you reply to one of those comments they are no longer nested underneath the visual track. So to keep it meaningful you almost have to reply right AFTER the original comment and not reply TO the comment. It is clunky but I guess they need to make a buck.
    I will always be grateful for the friends and collaborators I met there. Now it will be primaarily a place to warehouse my tracks. I might even turn off comments public tracks.
    Peter Lehndorff https://soundcloud.com/peterlehndorff

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