At a media conference in Los Angeles earlier this month, Alexander Ljung, the Swedish CEO and co-founder of the audio sharing site SoundCloud, said he expected audio to outpace online video sharing in the years to come.
Prophesy or hyperbole, SoundCloud already has more than 7 million users around the world. And with the announcement at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference last week that SoundCloud would be partnering with Facebook Music, its membership is certain to increase.
To nurture its social networking connections, the Berlin-based company has expanded across the Atlantic, opening its first U.S. offices at 510 Treat Avenue. Henrik Lenberg, SoundCloud’s head of platform, said that San Francisco is the best location in terms of social media partners, and as for setting up shop in the Mission as opposed to Silicon Valley or SoMa, “it was egoistic,” laughed Lenberg. They decided, “let’s put the office where we want to be.”
Henrik Lenberg on SoundCloud by mattsarnecki
Even before SoundCloud’s arrival in the Mission, local residents had caught on. Especially for musicians, SoundCloud looked to be the technological panacea for deficits in existing audio-sharing platforms. Compared to services like YouSendIt (for sharing files) and Myspace (for listening to music), SoundCloud is more immediate, and not confined to a home page.
And unlike its peers, SoundCloud is simple. As Flickr users upload and share photos, and YouTube users upload and share videos, with SoundCloud, users log in and upload music or sounds to share across the web.
“I used Myspace for years, but it’s awful,” said Deborah Steinberg, a Mission musician and member of Conspiracy of Venus, a 40-woman a capella group that has performed in the neighborhood. “I could not share a single track at a time, nor could I link to my music.”
With SoundCloud, each uploaded piece of music or audio clip receives its own URL, which means that tracks can be shared and embedded on any site. Steinberg said that she appreciates being able to upload her songs and post them to social networks such as Facebook.
In addition, SoundCloud has made an audio track social, musicians say. “I like the way it’s laid out, and the way that users can comment on certain parts of the song,” said Dan Menapace, an electronic musician based in San Francisco who composes under the name Suboculis, referring to the listener’s ability to leave comments at measured moments along the SoundCloud waveform.
Some users complain that SoundCloud’s site is limited — unable to fulfill all their music-related social, promotional and sharing needs. And with the company increasingly relying on partnerships with social media sites and applications, it is unlikely to become a one-stop shop.
“If your music or event utilizes artwork or video to any degree, forget it,” emailed Josh Widmann, a Mission DJ, composer and promoter who often performs at events in the Mission. “There are huge limitations — there is no video element, no area to upload pictures of a party you promote, no forum for discussion or promotion of events.”
“It’s just a good way to share actual tracks,” said Steinberg, adding that the layout is not really designed to have a blurb about the band. “It couldn’t replace a mailing list.”
SoundCloud staff is likely to agree. That mailing list, they argue, has already been replaced by Facebook. As the company grows, Lenberg said, they want to stay focused on the basic sharing and interaction features around sound.
“To us it’s very clear that sound is something wider than music. Music is a key part of sound, but there are also all sorts of other sounds that are being created.”
Interviews, field recordings, podcasts — even mental notes — all are within SoundCloud’s purview of audio to be garnered and spread across the web.
SoundCloud is solidifying its relationships with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and integrating its functionality into applications such as RootsMusic, which allows musicians to create a customized band page on Facebook with SoundCloud audio files, so users can tailor their audio files to their individual needs.
Part of SoundCloud’s strength as a company lies in this strategy to partner with other media rather than go it alone. According to Lenberg, by working closely with other companies, SoundCloud can garner the power of a network while also solidifying its place as the go-to audio sharing service in the social media ecosystem.
As SoundCloud’s user base grows, individuals across many disciplines are finding ways to use the service. The SoundCloud player and mobile application has become a popular tool for blogging, podcasting and other forms of journalism. Earlier this month, ABC News Radio adopted SoundCloud to record and publish its “Voices of September 11th.”
Here in the Mission, Allen Hough, editor of the popular blog missionmission.org, used SoundCloud to post a witness’s account of the shooting and car accident in the Mission earlier this month.
At SoundCloud’s U.S. offices, they may not yet have installed a phone or finished building the rooftop terrace, but there is no lack of excitement over the work to come.
“We like to say, we want to ‘unmute’ the web, because it’s been so quiet in that sense,” said Lenberg. “The world of sound is going to change as radically as the world of video changed. And we want to be the company driving that change.
“And we’re here now.”