SoundCloud has clocked up an impressive five million users, with four million of those joining within the past year.
Although born out of the founders’ love of music and created to visualise and reference sound, it is seeing a growth in popularity among journalists.
There are no statistics available to document how many SoundCloud recordings are categorised as ‘news’, but speaking via Skype from his base in Berlin, Alexander Ljung, CEO and founder of SoundCloud, told Journalism.co.uk the number of spoken word recordings is increasing.
It’s a big trend at the moment in that we are seeing non-music content growing very fast.
What is SoundCloud?
SoundCloud allows users to upload audio or record directly from the SoundCloud website, or from its desktop, iPhone or Android app. The really powerful thing about it is the ability to add comments at particular points on the audio waveform and allow others to share their views, too.
For example, I can add a comment to the waveform below at the point where Ljung starts talking about major news organisations using SoundCloud. I can also include a link within the comment to take listeners straight to the app and you can also add comments using your Twitter or Facebook account.
Other big advantages for journalists include being able to embed the SoundCloud recording on a news website, download an mp3 for editing, and engaging with the now vast SoundCloud community. See the report here for five ideas on how journalists can use SoundCloud.
SoundCloud has been around since 2008, after Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss came up with the idea in response to their need to discuss their own music and sound files, Ljung said.
I was previously a sound designer for film and tv. I was always working a lot with sound effects, voiceovers, things like that, and Eric’s music is also very detailed.
Eric and I felt it’s very difficult to talk about sound through email because it’s a non-visual thing and therefore it’s hard to reference it. We wanted to first visualise the sound and then put comments in to make it easier to collaborate.
Although SoundCloud started with music in mind, it was hoped it would go beyond, and it has done so, both in terms of music-related spoken content and journalism.
Since the launch of the apps, we’ve seen a lot of bands posting interviews from their tours and almost using it like Twitter and just sharing audio with the world.
Ljung told Journalism.co.uk that he also a big fan of the Next Web’s Daily Dose, a round-up of the tech news from the previous day.
They came up with this really nice format. I get that in my dashboard once a day it’s been really successful.
It is perhaps not surprising that Ljung favours the SoundCloud experience to listening to podcasts, a format he called “broken” in a recent interview in the Telegraph.
Podcasting is alive and great but the system for it at the moment is a bit broken. If you think about how we consume content today, like YouTube videos, we want to have them streamed, on demand, embeddable.
If you have a widget like [YouTube or SoundCloud] it lends itself to a lot of social interaction. When you look at the traditional podcasting system it’s all about subscribing to a feed, downloading, syncing, and there is no social interaction around it.
Even though the system is broken, there’s a huge demand for that kind of stuff out there that people are willing to jump though hoops to experience it.
I think [SoundCloud] has a chance to really bring back podcasting and that kind of publishing back into the spotlight again.”
His argument is that choosing SoundCloud over traditional podcasting methods makes audio “so much more accessible to people in the way that they want to consume it”.
But one problem with SoundCloud is it relies on Flash-based widgets, both for recording and for consuming audio, and Apple products such as the iPhone and the iPad do not support Flash (so apologies for those reading this story in the Journalism.co.uk iPhone app as you cannot see the embedded SoundCloud wave file above).
Although our website is built in HTML5, our widgets are currently Flash only as we haven’t felt the technology is ready for it. As soon as we can do it in a different way, we will.
SoundCloud developers have been working on a non-Flash option for viewing SoundCloud widgets for some time. “It probably won’t be that long before that works,” he said, but was unable to commit to a timescale beyond that a solution would be available “quite soon”.
However, there is an option for developers to build their own SoundCloud apps using the developers toolset or to make sites suitable for devices that do not support Flash, such as the iPad.
And developers have been making the most of the open API. SoundCloud Labs showcases various third-party apps and experiments.
One that has potential uses for journalists is SoundCloud Importer which allows you to record and display a phone interview on SoundCloud. At the time of writing the UK telephone number does not work, however. The options of importing audio via email and converting audio already online to SoundCloud do work and offer further possibilities.
Even if there are still obstacles in displaying SoundCloud widgets on Apple devices – and this may discourage you to embed SoundCloud files – remember there is a five million-strong community to engage with and it is not a bad idea for journalists to be adding audio to SoundCloud as a matter of course.