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How Do You Music, Part Three: Soundcloud (Music Discovery and the Web)

Posted on 5 March 2011

Alright, so I promised this two days ago, but things got…. crazy. I’m sure no one was waiting with baited breath, but I do want to finish what I started here. So today, I’m going to be getting into Soundcloud:

Full How Do You Music? Series:
Introduction
The Hype Machine
CBC Radio 3
Tumblr/ex.fm
Last.fm

What Is It?

Easiest way for me to describe it: YouTube for audio. Someone uploads a track on Soundcloud, and they can post it anywhere: embedded in Facebook, blogs, Tumblr, etc. The crazy thing is, no one thought of doing YouTube for audio until these guys. Or at least, no one executed it well. It’s weird: the web is so visually oriented– we’ve got Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Picplz, Picasa– all these competitors in the photo and video-sharing spheres– but when it comes to sound, MySpace was pretty much the dominant player for bands, even after everyone else had migrated away– and the only way to listen to music uploaded to MySpace is to actually go to the MySpace page. Soundcloud isn’t focused on just the music sphere, mind you (their philosophy of sound sharing being the next evolution of the mobile web is one that I agree with), but they ARE a great place to find musicians and bands by bringing back a direct distribution model. Here’s how it works:

What’s Hot?

Once you sign up, you’re given a number of options. Since we’re talking music discovery here, this is going to be about finding people to follow so you can hear their music. There’s a few ways to do this.

The first is similar to the Hype Machine’s method: take a look at what’s popular, and what’s new at http://soundcloud.com/tracks. Hotness is based on comments, plays, and “hearts”, latest is exactly what it says. Browse through here, see what’s good.

If you like a track, you can “love” it by clicking on the little heart. If you’d like to hear more by the artist, click on the artist name (highlighted in blue after the words “uploaded by”) to go to their page. Here’s the page for Doug Koyama, an improvisational multitrack artist from Quesnel:

In this view, I’m looking at the tracks he’s uploaded in order from newest to oldest. You can also check out his sets (a set is a playlist, with tracks put in a specific order by the user), as well as comments he’s made on other people’s tracks, and tracks he’s favourited. If I decide I’d like to stay up-to-date on music he’s making, I click “follow”, and I’ve now subscribed to his music.

Exploring Users:

Next, I’m going to get into using comments and favourites from other users. I find them to be another good way to find new music. If you like a musician, or you find another user who likes some of the same things as you, you can start going through their favourites or the artist they’re following to see what else they’ve found that you might enjoy. Here’s my favourites page, and here’s users I’m following.

Other Ways to Explore:

There’s other ways to explore, too. There’s search. And creative commons search. Tags are genre stamps placed on tracks by the person who uploaded them. Groups are communities of users clustered around certain commonalities. And the Soundcloud blog and Tumblr pages showcase interesting artists every day, and have regular features on Soundcloud musicians in different cities around the world.

Apps:

There’s some cool apps built around Soundcloud, too. My favourite is called CitySounds.fm.  It lets you choose any location in the world and listen to the latest and most popular music being uploaded to Soundcloud there. Some cities are more active than others, but it is a neat way to get a little snap shot of different places, and randomly drop in on artists you might not otherwise hear.

Also, Joe Laz has built a cool little app that accesses your last.fm data to find musicians you listen to a lot who are on Soundcloud. If you’re a last.fm user, you can try it here.

Back to the Dashboard:

So now that you’ve started following a few artists (or labels, or blogs), what do you do? Back to the dashboard. When you log in to Soundcloud, you get a news feed not unlike Twitter or Facebook. The difference is, this is only the tracks, comments, and favourites of other users you’ve followed.

A nice feature of Soundcloud is that when you’re within the site itself, there’s continuous play. That means that here I can start listening to the track from Digital Shadow, and once it finishes the track from Greg Gibbs will start up. Again, great to put on some headphones, do some work, and heart tracks you like for later investigation and listening. Soundcloud also has mobile apps (I have an Android). When I work out at home I’ll fire it up, plug my phone into my speakers, and see what’s new.

Exclusive Tracks/Dropbox:

One last thing I should mention, particularly if you’re someone who musicians or labels might want to be sharing tracks with (like a promoter, blogger, or radio programmer) is the dropbox. This is a way for people to share their tracks directly with you. Just send them to http://soundcloud.com/<username>/dropbox/profile and they can upload a track, which will then appear in your dashboard under “exclusive tracks.” You can embed your dropbox on other pages, too. I’ve actually had a couple of my favourite songs come to me through my Dropbox.

Direct Relationships:

One of my favourite things about Soundcloud is that it’s a direct relationship with bands or their representatives. Hype Machine is a cool way to see what fans and bloggers are thinking, and CBC Radio 3 is a great curated stream with aweseome customization features. On Soundcloud, I’m mostly following musicians directly. I send them a message through Soundcloud, and it’s them getting back to me. It’s a nice place for labels and publicists to be, too, because they’re able to put showcases together. This is a step removed from the direct-artist relationship, but it still feels more personal. At CFUR, I’m dealing with bands and their representatives who really want me to hear their stuff. Soundcloud is the closest thing to replicating that experience online, except I’m able to filter out the stuff I’m not interested in a lot easier. It also has a lot of non-music-discovery-related features, too, that add to the overall experience, but it remains a fantastic music-discovery tool. And once more: I strongly recommend you follow the Soundcloud team on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and/or their blog— they’re very good at showcasing and promoting the community.

Further Reading:

Lifehacker: SoundCloud Helps You Share and Discover New, Free Music

The Guardian: How Justin Bieber Gave Soundcloud A Boost

NME.com: The Rise and Rise of Soundcloud

Soundcloud.com: Soundcloud 101

Filed under: how to, music

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