The Future of SoundCloud

(This is my response to the ReadWriteWeb Article Is SoundCloud The Next YouTube? [Interview] which I posted in the Disqus forum of the post and is duplicated here).

It’s curious that something like SoundCloud didn’t rise at the same time as YouTube. Sound could have even become a feature of Youtube but perhaps they already had their hands full with copyright lawsuits. IMHO the success of SoundCloud is tied to its portability and need to look closely at Youtube’s viral embed video strategy. In an increasingly mobile web the SoundCloud flash embed just isn’t going to cut it (remember that YouTube switched over to iFrame embeds so the media works seamlessly on iOS devices). A personal gripe is that there’s no official RSS feeding for SoundCloud (although there are makeshift solutions).

Perhaps the largest stumbling block is the money issue as Wells Baum aptly pointed out. I’m skeptical as well of paying yet another vendor for this kind of service. I could just as easily post my audio to YouTube for free. YouTube makes its money on ads and that would probably be very difficult for SoundCloud to implement over mostly amateur audio (but again…it appears to pay off for Youtube when those videos go viral). The Facebook partnership is probably a step in the right direction toward audio virality and I should point out that SoundCloud does appear in many more places than it used to.

Another critique of SoundCloud is the web UI. It’s a social network…but not a good one (but neither is Youtube). I won’t go into detail as to why it’s not successful but the service has proved not compelling enough for me to immerse myself in like other social based services. (A great example of an immersive social music service is Rdio’s desktop app/site).

I think it’s interesting that Ljung concedes that “sound is more than just music.” He’s acknowledging that people are not looking to SoundCloud to be their audio entertainment like they would iTunes/Spotify/Rdio etc. But to browse SoundCloud right now one gets a feeling that is precisely what it wanted to be (which is noble). For discovery, SoundCloud is the true successor to MySpace Music (maybe even more than Facebook) and bands and established artists have a more effective way of sharing tracks than before.

It’s not bands alone that will be the tipping point for SoundCloud. It requires a renaissance of the audio medium itself for all users (again, the Youtube short-form video parallel). Here’s what I think it’s up against. Our ears. We have been conditioned by decades of professional audio engineering to have a bias for professional sounding audio. I’m sure you’ve heard recordings by amateur musicians on low-fi equipment. Unless you have a connection to the musician in question your ears are likely to reject poor quality audio. Another interesting point made by Djiung is that mobile apps can somewhat mimic professional audio to undiscerning listeners. That’s where SoundCloud diverges from the YouTube model. YouTube didn’t need high quality video to be successful (although I’m sure it didn’t hurt when it appeared, not to mention all those music videos). As most people don’t want to hear crap recordings the validity of recorded sound is questioned solely on presentation. This is not really SoundCloud’s problem, this is just our own conditioning. It could probably change fairly quickly if some low-fi sound recordings became viral and inspired genre’s suitable for audio sharing.

I’m a fan of the idea of SoundCloud. I think it’s got to be as free as YouTube and focused on ease and reach of audio distribution. Once that’s in place just let the users do the rest.

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