soundcloud.com was a haven for creative people working in sound. The launch of the New SoundCloud has perhaps brought an end to that. It has become an even better place for those who wish merely to promote their music, although some of the problems yet to be ironed out affect them as well. Most of all it’s become another playground for the Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr crowd. Basically it’s becoming a repetition of the standard market model—a few creators and a mass of consumers—but with an internet twist.
I’m not going to give an in-depth critique of the new interface. There are two multifaceted changes that, to me, are fatal flaws which I think will decide whether I stay with SoundCloud when my membership is up for renewal in the spring; whether those I follow stay on SoundCloud; and whether this blog will fail because I have nothing to link to.
In the spring of 2011 a friend suggested I post my recordings on soundcloud.com. Why not. I put up a fifteenth anniversary collection of my poems/soundscapes/soundtracks (whatever they are) called 15 Years of Prattle and Din (take note: I am not linking to it). It might not have gone much farther if I hadn’t stumbled into something much more interesting than a possible audience.
I’ve since heard that SoundCloud was conceived as a means for sound artists to connect, share, communicate, and collaborate. That’s what I found: an almost-community; a semi-social network of similarly-minded creative people (mostly poets and experimental sound artists) amidst the hundreds of thousands or millions of musicians posting there. A nebulous collective of very distinctive talents with whom I could become involved.
For me this was a new experience, having spent much of my life in creative isolation. It started out slowly by exploring and joining groups, by following the artists found there. It was exciting enough just to discover people with similar ideas, just to be a fan. But then I’d read the comments on the tracks and sometimes add my own—this would lead to replies, which became discussions through further comments and emails. Now I feel like I’m a part of something that might well come to an end.
So, one change in the New SoundCloud, the tiny comment boxes that are only a single line, might kill it for me. This is two-fold. First, the aforementioned dialog becomes stunted. The comments are unnecessarily difficult to read.
Second, and almost as important to me, is the option of passing on information to listeners, to show a little courtesy to those who might actually care to hear what I’m saying. I think right from the beginning I posted some production notes on the track page, but very early on I also started posting the text to my poems and rants on the track page. This was initially at the request of non-English speakers. With them having to open up a special page, it seemed like they had to work too hard to know what I was saying. I started to post the text in a track comment. The feedback I’ve gotten is that this is helpful, even for native English speakers, that a person can listen to the recording and then go back to verify what they think they’ve heard. But I can’t do that with the new comment boxes.
The other problem area involves listening to those I follow.
The positive reviews of the new interface tell us how much easier it is to listen to your stream, how much simpler your stream is. True, if you’re a passive listener. I’ve never paid attention to the stream (didn’t even know it had a name). On the dashboard (which is now gone) there was the stream, there was a tab for incoming tracks, and a tab for activity on my tracks and comments—those latter two tabs are what I would pay attention to. Both tabs are gone: activity on my tracks (and comments on my comments?) shows up in a sidebar to my stream and the incoming tracks are only to be found in the stream itself. This might have been a good thing, simplifying the inflow of information. But now that the social media crowd are the focus of the SoundCloud experience, tracks can be reposted (honestly, I don’t begrudge this—I just want to be able to block repostings). Thankfully very few of those I follow have been reposting. Even so, it adds a lot of clutter and distraction to my stream.
There’s currently no way to delete recordings from my stream, as I could with incoming tracks. If I can’t block incoming repostings I’d at least like to be able to delete them from my stream. More importantly, after I’ve heard someone’s recent posting I would delete it from my Incoming Tracks page to minimize clutter and make it easier to explore just those recordings that have been posted since the last time I checked in. Not any more. This, also, might not be a problem if I had all the time I needed. I don’t. Time is an extremely precious thing in my life and the New SoundCloud is wasting it.
I only follow about 100 people, but even this is a drain on time that could be spent creating my own work. I follow them because I’m interested in what they’re doing and/or because I support the cause (this would be all the poets). If I only have fifteen minutes to listen before I have to do something else, all the recordings I didn’t get to will be buried under those I’ve already heard, plus all the newer incoming tracks, plus all the repostings. I have so little time to listen as it is, now I have to dig for those recordings I actually want to hear.
For years I’d been looking for a few people doing something similar to what I’m doing, recording poetry with other sounds, or who are just interested in such things. Then I accidentally stumble into this really cool place called soundcloud.com. I’d like to stick with it. More importantly, I’d like the others to stay with SoundCloud.
For now I’m still using the old SoundCloud, as are many of those I follow. But for how long?
I hope this blog is a lament and not an obituary.