SoundCloud, an online sharing community for sound and music, is now hours from public launch. I’ve been playing around with a closed beta for several months, and have to say, I’ve been really impressed. SoundCloud isn’t the first attempt to provide places to share music files with others, but previous attempts have been lackluster when it comes to easy sharing, features necessary to make music listening more enjoyable, and upload capacity. Most importantly, none has accomplished the community “stickiness” that has been the cornerstone of successful media services like Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube. In fact, there’s been so much of a noise-to-signal problem with the Web space, I expect a lot of you have simply tuned out new Web services. There are some good reasons to pay attention to SoundCloud, though:
- Singing telegram, anyone? Music on SoundCloud acts more like a messaging service. Tracks from people you’re following appear in an inbox for you to sort through. You can even create a DropBox for other people, so this could be huge for people running labels or live events. (That’s especially welcome now that a lot of people have given up on individually clicking myspace links to hear what someone sounds like.)
- Easier uploads and sharing: Getting files on the service in your favorite format, with whatever length you want, is a whole lot easier than on competing services.
- Smart player interaction: Services like this now live and die on their embeddable player. SoundCloud’s is really clever and attractive. Download links are everywhere. Also, SoundCloud attacks the biggest problem with music – it’s invisible. There’s a waveform view, and people can comment on specific points in your music. That feature has been annoying in a lot of video players, but here comments appear only if you want them to, and I’ve found them really helpful in getting feedback. (See my example track below, for instance.)
- Open API: A full API means you can built interesting apps atop SoundCloud. Check out the lovely Radioclouds by Matas Petrikas for an example of how interesting this can be; source code is available.
SoundCloud, indeed, seems to have all the kinds of features that made Flickr stand out from a crowd of photo services. Labels are already onboard, too: Compost, BPitch Control, and Goldie are already making it part of their workflow, says SoundCloud.
One very significant missing feature: it’s not yet possible to embed licenses in your music, so it’s not possible to tell what’s copyrighted and what’s Creative Commons-licensed. SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung tells us this feature is coming very soon, though, and as on Flickr, you’ll be able to set a global default for your music, so if you want to release everything under a CC license, you can. That should make SoundCloud absolutely explode as a place for CC-licensed remixing.
Now, the only bad news: pro accounts are a bit pricey when compared to a service like Flickr, priced at EUR9-EUR59 each month. The EUR9/mo account is actually probably what most people will need: 15 tracks per month (that seems like plenty), plus basic stats, dropbox, and support. If you were a beta tester like me, you probably got a complimentary Light account through the beginning of next year. And importantly, there’s no limit on file sizes on any of the accounts. That means you could easily upload 15 live/DJ sets a month, so no complaint here. My guess is that the rates are a reflection of what it costs now in bandwidth for an ad-free site. And you can always go for a free account and see how the service works. But I do expect price to be the major obstacle to this service’s popularity. Update: comment to that effect in, what, five minutes of me posting?
Alex and the team say they’re CDM readers, and I’ll get to meet with them next week while I’m in Berlin. So if you’ve got any questions or feedback, let us know. I’d also love to see this stuff integrated more tightly in other communities; Facebook is there, for a start. Stay tuned.
Here’s an example of my player (just an informal live improv set, not a full track). I need to go upload more content but plan to do that over the coming weeks. But it gives you a sense of how this works in action.
Here’s the upload interface, which I find quite usable. Note that you can also use SoundCloud for private files: