It seems that Soundcloud is about to disappear: the sound-sharing website has only a few weeks, possibly months, of money left in the coffers and, if current reports are to be believed, once that has run out it will disappear. There are reports of backups being made, by archive.org and even individuals, but time will tell how accessible and/or user-friendly those might end up.
On NewMusicBox today, bassist Gahlord Dewald has posted an overview of why musicians might share their music, and what other services, besides Soundcloud, might serve people in the future. I really just want to add to that to say what value Soundcloud has had for me as a writer/investigator into new music over the last few years.
And that is: enormous. When I first noticed a few years ago that composers and performers were putting their works up on Soundcloud it was a tremendously exciting moment. Until then, it had been possible to access bootlegged new music, live recordings and so on through chatrooms and personal contacts; but from a research point of view it was a laborious process that required a certain amount of pleading. Now with Soundcloud – and for some reason this seemed to be the breakout platform everyone was using – I could search for things proactively, at my own pace and according to my needs. Asked to write a programme note about composer x? Chances were, if she was under, say, 45, I could find a bunch of her work on Soundcloud. Wanted to explore who was on this year’s Gaudeamus shortlist, or currently at Schloss Solitude, or making waves at Darmstadt – again, Soundcloud. When Riot Ensemble ran its most recent call for scores, the overwhelming majority of our 279 applicants had posted their portfolio works on Soundcloud. For a generation of composers, I got the sense that Soundcloud had become a default setting – and in that respect it was becoming a transformative technology for the visibility and reception of new music, and especially that by composers too young or too weird to have record deals or broadcasts. This was undoubtedly new, and very healthy. Sites like Soundcloud have made it easier to know what composers in their 30s are up to these days than composers in their 50s or 60s, who may be locked into more traditional modes of dissemination for their work.
Now, when Soundcloud is gone no doubt something will arrive in its place. Still more likely, though, several things will arrive at once. And some will already be here: Bandcamp is covering some of that territory, and I’ve even heard talk of retreating back to MySpace. And this will mean fragmentation across platforms, with all the inconsistencies, annoyances and break-ups of putative communities that that entails. You can’t follow a thread of likes between platforms, for example. You can’t easily curate a playlist of recommendations.
Soundcloud wasn’t perfect, and there wasn’t anything inherently special about its offering. (Although I did like its feature that tracks would continue to play even if you clicked to a new page. This seems so intuitive it always surprises me when it doesn’t happen on other sites.) But it had become something of a norm, a standard. And when those disappear everyone will be back to square one. I’m going to miss it.
Update: … If, that is, those reports can be believed. Since I posted this, a Facebook reader alerted me to this post on the Soundcloud blog, from 14 July and written by Soundcloud co-founder Alex Ljung, which claims that ‘Soundcloud is here to stay. … The music you love on SoundCloud isn’t going away, the music you shared or uploaded isn’t going away, because SoundCloud is not going away. Not in 50 days, not in 80 days or anytime in the foreseeable future. Your music is safe.’ I’m still wary, especially in the fragile world of Internet economics, that there’s rarely smoke without fire, but let’s hope this post’s claims are true.