In the Internet clutter there are a few sounds that truly stand out. Like the sound of 10,000 bats getting it on. Or an underwater recording of ice melting in a glacier.
SoundCloud (Soundcloud.com) started in 2008 as a dead-simple platform to upload, share and stream audio over the Web. In three years, the Berlin-based start-up’s platform has transformed into an online publishing and distributing tool for audio with 8.5 million users, including American rapper 50 Cent and British stand-up comedian Russell Brand—with the last million having joined in the past two months. Users include professional musicians, but also amateurs and sound artists who’ll share everything from a baby’s heartbeat to the sound of fornicating bats.
With increased traffic from India, Dave Haynes, vice-president, business development, of SoundCloud, was here to attend the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune (18-20 November) and “to see who SoundCloud’s Indian users were”.
With more than a decade’s experience in the music industry, Haynes was listed as one of UK’s Young Music Entrepreneurs in 2010 by the British Council. The self-described “sound geek” tells us about the genesis of SoundCloud, who can use it and how its usage patterns are unique in India. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Making a wave: A screenshot of SoundCloud.
How did SoundCloud come into being?
It was born out of the frustration of the two founders, sound designer Alex Ljung and artist Eric Wahlforss, who wanted a place on the Web to share audio. We had Flickr for image, Vimeo and YouTube for video, but nothing for sound.
But Myspace has been around since 2003...
The two are very different. Myspace is for musicians to share their music and post images, tour dates and other updates. SoundCloud has no such aspirations. It’s an easy way to upload sound on the Web and share it. It’s not social networking. It’s really about sound.
In what ways is it easy to use?
You create a sound file and upload. The SoundCloud widget lets you embed audio files anywhere on the Web—and on social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It lets you link with other applications (we have over 200 partners). We realized that if you were a musician or someone working with sound you were already talking to people on other platforms and we didn’t want to get into that space. We’re not a destination; we’re a tool. We allow listeners to comment on a specific point of a track. That’s how geeky we are about sound.
Where are your users based?
Our biggest numbers are in the US, then the UK, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, India. Not all of these users are musicians, though. We have a lot of people using it differently.
Tell us about the different ways in which SoundCloud is being used.
We have politicians using it for campaigns, spiritual leaders recording sermons, someone has an account for their three-year-old’s babbling. Musicians like 50 Cent are using it differently too: They’ll post a freestyle track and ask producers to finish it up.
Lots of journalists are using it around the world, such as ABC News Radio’s Dan Patterson recording the sounds of “Occupy Wall Street” in New York. In September, we released an HTML5 player enabling audio recordings embedded in news stories to be viewed on an iPhone or iPad. This is great for news organizations and podcasters who’re keen to embed audio in posts but are aware that the iPad and iPhone audience cannot view them as Apple devices do not support Flash.
What is your usage in India like?
One of our top 10 users globally is a radio jockey in Chennai! Recordings of a show called 92.7 BIG FM’sBest of Cross Talk with Balaji came on to our radar because it came up in our Top 10 “most popular” lists. Balaji’s latest upload has 200,000 hits already.
You don’t have any advertising. How do you monetize your operations?
While anyone can set up an account, our revenue model is based on premium subscriptions (€29, or Rs 2,015 annually), which allow bigger uploads, easier sharing and more.
What’s next for SoundCloud?
We just launched a mobile app: m.soundcloud.com. When iPhones came in, everyone realized they had a camera on them. We want people to realize that they’re walking around with a microphone in their pockets.