Through SoundCloud, musicians are connecting with one another and with listeners all over the world. We spoke with three artists about the importance of the platform.
No one quite knows where the Music industry will go next, and that’s because prognostication is a dangerous undertaking, often prone to error.
The past is rarely prologue, and a trend is only as good as a trail of digital breadcrumbs leading to the unknowable. Take streaming, for example. There was once a time when most people were content hauling around a bunch of CDs with them. Then something funny happened — music downloads took off, followed by the world of streaming. You can carry an entire catalogue of music on the smartphone in your pocket.
A recent report by Billboard finds that, thanks to streaming subscriptions, the music industry is rebounding in an enormous way. Streaming is set to rake in billions, and the uptick is under way. There’s even room for nostalgia as more listeners opt for dropping a needle on a record, a niche market that’s seeing growth as well.
One thing’s for sure: the landscape doesn’t mirror anything that’s come before. This is, to borrow a phrase from the avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg, like breathing the “air of another planet.”
Collaboration is contagious, like a virus, spreading from one user to another. And now more than ever, the barriers have been eroding to the point that entire albums, soundtracks, pop-radio-friendly songs can be achieved simply by accessing a computer, tablet or, more conveniently for some, a mobile phone. The phrase “dialing it in,” takes on a whole new meaning in this thriving environment.
Dozens of websites allow singers, musicians, producers and DJs to showcase their best offerings, but one of the most popular has been Soundcloud. The site has been in the news recently, not all of it positive, as the company moves to a pay service to compete with such services as Pandora, Apple and Spotify. But even so, one thing really stands out about the website: it’s a natural ground for collaborations of all sorts.
Sure, people share favorite playlists, mix tapes (romantic and platonic), but if you’re an artist, SoundCloud can offer more than likes, loves (hearts) and shares: How about a touring opportunity? A music licensing deal? A growing audience?
“SoundCloud is an open platform that supports and encourages creators, no matter where they are in the journey of building their career,” says Megan West, SoundCloud’s VP of Content Relations. “We’re creator-driven and we develop tools with that in mind — to empower creators to collaborate, build and connect around their audio content in an easy and authentic way.”
West says millions of connections are made on their platform every day, from musical collaborations and product partnerships to discovering like-minded artists. These connections often include finding who and where a fan base comes from.
“Leveraging these connections, creators can share a track straight out of the studio, receive feedback from other creators and share inspiration, as well as directly and authentically connect with fans,” West says. “The combination of the highly engaged and responsive community and unique tools the SoundCloud ecosystem offers makes it more attainable for an emerging artist to take the next step on their path toward success.”
Success comes in many different forms. However, having the space to make creatively successful projects is what drives many artists on the SoundCloud platform. Jaron, Ryan Dahl and Sonya Alvarez are such artists among many who are pushing the very boundaries of how music can be expressed.
From Rough Drafts to Fox Sports
Fifteen-year-old Jaron from Los Angeles is plugged deep into the SoundCloud music community. He calls it a subset consisting of a number of extremely talented musicians.
“Some of the greatest connections I’ve made include people like Thomas Rafty,” Jaron says. “Thomas is from Sydney, Australia, and he used to go by ‘defective’ back in the day. Thomas taught me the basics of music production, and now we’re really great friends. Over time, I started to develop a larger group of friends and connections.”
And when Jaron talks about connections, he means the international kind. “My friend Dennis, who goes by Crysp, is from Brisbane, Australia; Xavier, who goes by Xavi, from Missouri; Brandon, who goes by Kaizen, from Florida; Jari, who goes by Creepa, from the Netherlands; Elijah, who goes by Sadkey, from Oklahoma; Victor, who goes by Airuei, from California; Carl, who goes by Krysh, from Switzerland — and many more,” Jaron adds. “It’s wild having connections to people all over the world and being able to talk to them instantly. Some of my best friends are on the other side of the world.”
Jaron described the unique process of collaborating with artists online. “For me, I definitely feel a lot less pressure and find myself much more creative when I work on a section of a song by myself and then send it to the other artist,” Jaron says. “I know I can always just restart whatever I tried if it doesn’t work out. The biggest con would have to be not being able to give feedback in real time and not being able to hop in and add a few things in the moment. I’m aware that the pro and con completely contradict each other, but there are always instances of working where one will work over the other.”
On occasion, Jaron has been able to bring the collaborative process home, working with a few of his SoundCloud connections in person. Recently, for example, Carl’s family from Switzerland visited the States, and the two young musicians were able to work in Jaron’s home studio while the families quickly connected over a homemade meal.
Jaron recently got an unexpected message. He says, “A licensing company contacted me because Fox Sports was interested in using my song ‘Departure.’ The fact that my first song that I had written, produced and published had caught the attention of Fox Sports was truly an honor. It definitely wasn’t something I had originally pursued, but when the opportunity arose, I was eager to accept the offer.”
In mid-October, Jaron took a long shot. “My friend Brandon offered to let me use him as a reference to get in contact with MrSuicideSheep,” an electronic music YouTube channel with over 7.5 million followers. “Our goal was to get me on the second page, and we didn’t think much of it.” Three days later, Jaron was in for a surprise.
“I found out in math class. I was having a pretty terrible day, to be honest. Math was pretty sucky. And then I got a collection of messages from Brandon telling me to call him. When I stepped out of class and called him, he told me I got an email from MrSuicideSheep telling me they were interested in my song. I texted Dad right away, he helped me sign everything, and only a day later, ‘Sonder’ was on their main page, which also happened during school. I could hear a bunch of my friends listening to the song, and they were all excited too.”
Every opportunity began with SoundCloud and the connections he’s made through the platform, and many more artists can say the same.
Playing Europe, But Not Playing It Safe
Ryan Dahl got his music chops from “growing up in real-life scenarios.” These would include stints in jazz band, orchestra, playing in reggae and rock bands.
“YouTube has been a massive help for learning programs,” Dahl says. “I think something else will surpass SoundCloud in the next five years — probably something more interactive — but for now, I am exceptionally grateful for it.”
Dahl has grown an international following and he’s done this in part by separating himself from the competition.
“Part of marketing yourself as an artist is making yourself look like you are super unique, when in reality you may not even be that different,” Dahl says. “Today branding and marketing are everything. I took a lot of chances early on, like paying for my flights to play in Europe and making sure I recorded my sets and uploaded them on SoundCloud. And of course, I produce my own music, which is number one. Things like this can have a huge impact on your brand.”
Dahl believes the platform can help an artist appeal to people in other countries and cities. It can also work as a type of laboratory.
“I can literally produce a track, sometimes in two hours, mix it down, and upload it for feedback or to share it with people. It just so happens that it is also a very popular website, so this helps as well,” he says.
In today’s climate, an artist has to focus on brand, have an online presence, which might require posts on social media, graphic design and coordinating promotional events. SoundCloud is the real force behind a lot of music marketing, he adds.
“I have gotten several international and out-of-state gigs as a result of my sets and music on SoundCloud,” Dahl says.
‘Mixes in Your Pocket’
Sonya Alvarez has had some great experiences on SoundCloud as well. The first was being discovered by a future mentor on a SoundCloud mix.
What Alvarez enjoys most about the service is that it doesn’t feel cluttered or too heavily multilayered. It serves one purpose — music.
“Leaving the platform to only music, the app is streamlined to cut out all the other nonsense of the world and focus on good music only,” Alvarez says. She has built a following, both national and international, by simply making and posting mixes and guest mixes.
While there are many other music collaborative/sharing sites out there, Alvarez prefers SoundCloud because, as she sees it, the platform is authentic. The people are there because of your music, and she finds that encouraging.
“It’s amazing how you’re able to instantaneously share your sounds with others at the click of a button,” Alvarez says. “This eliminates the need for physical CDs as everyone walks around with a copy of your mixes in their pockets!”
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