Tag: soundcloud

Beyond SoundCloud: Why We Share

We share music online. It’s part of getting our music heard by audiences, promoters, funders, and our peers. Recently, SoundCloud, one of the services used by musicians to host and share files digitally, has been in the news because they’ve undergone significant layoffs and there are now questions about the future of the service. But the current trajectory of the company gives composers and musicians an opportunity to re-examine some things. While it may seem important to figure out “What service do I use now?!?”, we’ll make better choices (today and for the future) if we spend a little time first thinking about “Why do I share my music online?”

It’s important to remember that we don’t have to share our music, we don’t have to give it away for free, we don’t even have to make it available at all. This is a choice we have. And while it might seem obvious that making our music available makes sense, it’s worth remembering that sales of vinyl generate more revenue than ad-supported streaming (see page 3). So if we’re distributing our music online, it likely isn’t primarily for sales revenue.

Many of us in contemporary art music and experimental music make and support our own work; we make music as a result of our own personal networks of composers, players, and venues more often than as a result of label or other institutional support. There aren’t relevant charting methods for us. Our revenue/attention generation is too small for an advertising or subscription-based platform to care about our audience.

Those who are now looking for how to share music post-SoundCloud will benefit from first examining their own needs and goals. Knowing why you share music will help you pick a system or platform that works best for you and your audience. In this article, I’ll cover some of the important questions we can ask ourselves as music creators and then connect them to ways we can share music using different services.

Below, I’ve matched some technologies and techniques to different reasons you might be sharing music. Where possible I’ve focused on options that meet the following criteria: 1) offer some potential for generating revenue, 2) are available for audience members to hear on the open web (i.e. they don’t need to subscribe or buy anything to hear what you share). Sadly this isn’t always possible with contemporary tools.

Here goes:

I share music to generate revenue through sales.

SoundCloud was a miserable choice for this in the first place, as there was no meaningful way to get paid by them. If you want to get paid for your work, you might want to examine Bandcamp. This is a service that caters to independent artists who want to connect with their fans and get paid for their recordings. The site provides all the stuff you need to sell things.


Sample Bandcamp page

I share music to increase my exposure, as a marketing expense.

SoundCloud was pretty fickle for this sort of thing. Aside from luckily getting placed alongside a popular hit—as rapper Rory Fresco did when the SoundCloud algorithm chose his track “Lowkey” to follow Kanye’s “Real Friends”—chances of getting exposure just by being on SoundCloud were very thin. If you want to be a part of that kind of system, getting your music onto Spotify or other streaming services like iTunes will probably give you a similar chance of getting placed alongside a popular track in a curated playlist. Luck generated by SoundCloud’s algorithm or luck through a human curator is still luck.

Distrokid is a simple way to get your music into streaming services. So is CDBaby. The two have different pricing structures, and it’s worth investigating them to see which is best for you. Generally speaking, if you’re very prolific Distrokid will be better. If you only release occasionally, CDBaby may be the better option.

In addition, there’s YouTube. Though it requires you to come up with something for the video aspect, there’s no denying that YouTube is a monster when it comes to music discovery. Make a simple, attractive template for your video and upload there, and maybe you’ll get lucky with a playlist, etc. Either way you’ll have a unique URL, some analytics about your listeners, and maybe make a fraction of a cent if there’s some advertising clicking.

I share music to grow my audience. I market it myself on my website or through distributing links.

If you accept that most people who listen to your music are going to find it because of efforts you take (advertising, getting press, emailing/sharing links, etc.) then Bandcamp is going to be worth investigating. You can upload your tracks, each track will have a unique web address that you can share/promote/advertise, etc. In addition, you can embed your track directly on your website (if you prefer to advertise a web address you own) or elsewhere.

If you are concerned that putting more casual recordings onto Bandcamp will clutter more “serious” album releases that you also have on Bandcamp, try making an album called In Progress or Mixtape or something else that feels right for you. Then, just keep adding your casual tracks to this album as you go. The music “album” is a techno-social construct anyway, existing primarily as an artifact of early 20th-century production methods. For your casual tracks, where you aren’t seeking anything more than an address for others to find your music, one Bandcamp album to which you continually add tracks will do the job handily.

Another service to look into is Octave. This is a paid service, but it’s essentially a more functional version of the SoundCloud embed. If all you need are embed links to put on your own website, this might be your service.

A free service that doesn’t get much use but has many of the same features as Bandcamp is Orfium—individual track URLs, embeddable players, revenue generation. In addition to sales revenue, Orfium has a licensing component which might be useful as another revenue stream. One big advantage for Orfium when it comes to anyone moving from SoundCloud is the “import from SoundCloud” feature.

I share music to build community around my work.

SoundCloud has been hobbling its ability to do this for some time. When it killed off “groups”—the only curated community-building feature that could be used collaboratively by music-makers—SoundCloud essentially gave up community building. There are other platforms, however, that are infinitely better at helping you develop a community around your work. There are the obvious ones: Facebook and Twitter. But also, there’s Tumblr.

Tumblr #experimental music sampling

I’d like to give a special note that Tumblr is an environment in which a tremendous variety of niche interests are served. A quick aside: If you think that Tumblr is only for teens 1) you’re wrong and 2) what’s wrong with teens in the audience? While the file size upload limits will prevent some longer works from being uploaded directly, you can embed links to any of the other services you try. I would recommend investigating Tumblr as community-building platform: it has passionate users interested in niche/unique things and the posts are visible without requiring someone to log in—they’re public.

Those four reasons for sharing will probably cover many of us. In a Twitter conversation the other night, composer Jay Batzner had a few other reasons, which may be unique to academic uses. I’ll paraphrase them below.

I share music for the analytics, particularly to know where my audience resides geographically.

If the data on listeners is important, the best way to get analytics data on your listeners will be to have your own website with your own analytics package installed. If this is a hassle you don’t wish to undertake, then perhaps the Bandcamp free data will suffice. Also, Orfium is supposedly working on getting analytics built for their platform.

I share music to get comments and in-track feedback, for pedagogical uses.

The comment system at specific points within the waveform on SoundCloud was handy when it wasn’t spam. And that in-track commenting capability is one that isn’t well matched by other services.

SoundCloud's in-track commenting

SoundCloud’s in-track commenting capability is a valued feature

However, the collaboration tool Splice has the ability for in-track commenting and also general commenting. Splice doesn’t put music and comments out publicly; it’s designed for people working on a track together to be able comment and share files back and forth before releasing. To use with students, the students would need accounts (which are free) and you would need to give them access to your track. This might be a problem or a benefit, depending on how your class works. Perhaps students will be more engaged with commenting if they know it isn’t tied to their public digital persona. Or perhaps it’ll be a hassle for teachers to grant access to the tracks, etc.

It’s easy to get caught up in tools and questions of “how.” Contemporary marketing practices encourage us to focus on “how” questions because the answer is always some product or another. If we start with “why,” then we can better evaluate the array of options out there for us.

It’s also important to remember that the way we generate revenue, attention, and choose collaborators to further our work may be very, very different from the way the rest of the music industry handles things. As a result, most of the tools we encounter may require us to think a little bit outside the box to make them function for us. Hopefully, as experimenters and finders of new sounds, we can adapt and get what we need from the tools available.

Now Hear This: NMBx Interviews Now On SoundCloud

Introducing a new way to enjoy the music and interviews NewMusicBox posts every month! You can now sit back and listen to audio-only versions of the profile videos we have created in a single continuous stream, or pick and choose to create your own playlist.

So far 12 tracks totaling more than 90 minutes have been added to this collection. Don’t see your favorite interview? Let us know which stories you’d like to see added to this feature in the comments below.

A Feedback Loop of Movement and Sound: Five Questions with Choreographer Cori Marquis

This week marks the Disquiet Junto’s 134th composition challenge. We’ve covered the activities of this SoundCloud group and their intriguing creative homework assignments before, but the current project to compose music to accompany a dance video by choreographer Cori Marquis seemed particularly intriguing. The visual movement is complete, but its sound has yet to be crafted in response.

Those who choose to participate in this week’s challenge will select a one-minute section to score and then will share it with the group as per usual. In addition, Marquis may use some of the created music in her final cut of the video. If you’re reading this post and would like to find out more and/or join in yourself, you can get all the necessary details here. Deadline is Monday, July 28, 2014, at 11:59 p.m. (wherever you are).

I was intrigued by the idea of a dance piece that was presented as an edited video rather than delivered as a live performance, and I wanted to learn more about how Marquis made use of sound in her creative process. She invited me to quiz her on her work and methods.

Molly Sheridan: The clip above is actually my first encounter with a dance piece that is specifically designed so that an edited video presentation is the performance, not just a documentation method. Can you educate me a little bit on the development of this in the dance field? How it evolved and how it’s being used by yourself and others?  

Cori Marquis: Film and camera technology has played a progressively greater and greater role in dance since the start of their relationship. (Maybe surprisingly, dance and film have actually had a really long history together.) Simple documentation of dance work actually began in the late 1800s, then Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly really popularized dance specifically for film in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It was many of the modern greats like Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham who started to play around with film technology when it became available to them somewhere in the ‘70s or so. So dance has been documented by film, film has been a part of live dance performances, and dance films have inhabited a completely separate form altogether.

I think the film/dance relationship is attractive to choreographers for so many reasons. Even just documentation of dance work is significant; unlike music or theater, there is no universal way to score or script dance work to be used in future generations. My choreography notes are pretty useless and nonsensical to anyone but me, which I think is more often the case than not. While film as documentation never quite does a live performance justice–it loses the immediacy; the possibility of new mistakes; the community, energy, and ephemeral nature of live performance–it does preserve work that otherwise might be completely lost without it being a living kinesthetic history on current bodies. Even casually, I use it in rehearsal often.

Then looking at film as the mode and medium for dance work opens up an entirely new form altogether, and in its own right. You can get the intimacy of film with the physicality of motion; you can alter the viewer’s visual perspective as well as the timing and pacing of the work. The editing becomes part of–or maybe most of–the choreography. You can bring site-specific work beyond the location. You can create physically unfeasible images. And logistically, it can be presented an infinite number of times, with the possibility of a huge geographical reach and scope in audience without the financial obstacles of touring a cast around the world.
All of this is to say that dance and film, and dance films, are nothing new. I think what is new is the ability to make that kind of work without an enormous budget, in this YouTube generation sort of way. But I don’t think that makes dance films reductionist, as that might seem in their ability to become ubiquitous. It somehow seems related to the explosion of other media in our generation, how TV shows have gone from often being “reductionist” sitcoms to fully fleshed-out stories that cover far more ground (with incredible production values) than a two-hour play or movie could (think Breaking Bad, Mad Men, True Detective, etc.). I think the relationship between dance and film has moved from a better-than-nothing way to document (reducing the work’s full impact) to a form that opens up entirely new vocabularies and possibilities, adding and deepening the way we can communicate and tell stories (even if in abstraction!).

MS: Can you give me a little of the program note for the piece you’re asking the Disquiet Junto Project participants to score?

CM: The idea for this dance film is rooted in the ephemeral nature of live performance, and specifically the transient way dancers trace and use space. I wanted to investigate what it is to record these floor patterns and points of contact so that they do not disappear the moment they occur. A clear vehicle for this became paint on bodies, with dance on film. The work uses multiple colors of paint to track two dancers: their points of contact with the floor, themselves, and each other; in athletic phrase work; partnering; and nuanced improvisation. The film primarily utilizes semi-aerial and intimate close-up shots.

Screen capture from Marquis's to-be-scored dance piece.

Screen capture from Marquis’s to-be-scored dance piece.

MS: Did you have a sound in mind for this piece as you choreographed it?

CM: I didn’t have any specific sound ideas for this piece–I still don’t. I obviously have different sounds and types of music that I like, and I can imagine some types of sound that would work well for the film, but I was excited to see what tones and pacing would emerge from the phrase work and the editing itself. I’m not a musician, so I’m excited to hear what far more musically creative people will develop using this film as source material. I had different music playing during the choreography process, during filming, and even while I was editing, but nothing that I became tied to or tried to marry to the material.

MS: How do you typicality work with music when you choreograph?

CM: My starting point for a piece is usually conceptual in nature, some idea that I’m interested in investigating. This quickly becomes movement, and only later becomes scored. I usually just have a current playlist that I’m interested in playing during rehearsal, so I do like dancing to music. But set music for specific sections of a larger work tends to come much later in my process. We often try sections with many types of songs to see how it changes the movement. Sometimes I stumble upon it while I’m working–where everyone in the room feels the “aha…that’s what this section sounds like!” when a section fits really well with a song. But while the music certainly informs the shape, time, and structure of a section, I usually end up altering or editing the music in some way to fit the choreography (which I just do in GarageBand). I like using melodic stuff, often electronic, sometimes experimental, sometimes pop, but almost never music that’s hard to listen to. I like music that makes the audience–and the dancers–want to dance.

MS: How did you come to decide to collaborate with the Junto project to score the film? What was interesting to you about that idea and how does it interact with your artistic motivation on the dance side?

CM: Marc [Weidenbaum, moderator of the Disquiet Junto] and I met during an interview for his book on Aphex Twin. (I used an Aphex Twin song for a quartet I choreographed a number of years ago, and Marc stumbled across the video online and contacted me.) He was really interested in the idea that music is often secondary for me, and it’s usually a stressful process trying to find music to fit a work. I’ve definitely been interested in collaborating with a musician for a long time, and this project seemed like an excellent way to explore that for both me and the Junto Project. Historically, social and performance dances were developed based on music. I like this idea that came with modernism that we can reverse that direction if we want–that dance can be the foundation, the source material, the thing that comes first, and music can stem from that. I think it only deepens and enriches the possibilities of performance if the relationship between music and dance can be reciprocal–more like a feedback loop than unidirectional with music always first.


The conversation has begun! Here are the tracks submitted so far:

Sounds Heard: The Disquiet Junto

Dear Members of the Disquiet Junto,
This week’s project focuses on the spatial aspect of sound. The instructions are as follows

Rework Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography

It is Franklin’s own Junto Society that provided the name for this association. Image courtesy Disquiet.com

On Thursday night, I get an email from the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud. It’s a homework assignment I know I will not complete by its Monday deadline, but one that fascinates me nonetheless. It’s also one I know will result in the creation of many tracks of new music built by others.

If this sounds intriguing to you, you can join in at any time—anyone can participate, no application necessary. There are just a few rules and simple guidelines to ease everyone into the party.

Even for those who don’t want to wade in and create music themselves, with 88 projects already completed, the curious listener has a cavernous library to select from (and ample shared process notes from each track creator to get lost in). More files are being added each week.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to select for you any kind of “best of” representative mix from this project, but for anyone intrigued by the sonic ideas this type of exercise can generate, your spelunking down the Disquiet Junto rabbit hole is sure to be rewarded. When you stumble on something special, please share it in the comments!
Drowning in options, I decided to start with some personally intriguing assignments and work from there. We begin at the beginning, a very good—if chilly—place to start. Access the full assignment details and track notes by clicking through to each file’s SoundCloud page.
Assignment #1: Ice Cubes

Assignment #6: Remixing Archival Edison Cylinders

Assignment #8: Rework Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

Assignment #56: Make music from the sound of the tick of a clock.

Assignment #57: Use sounds from the Phonetics Lab Archive at UCLA to depict emotions.

Assignment #82: Create a minimal techno track using elements of a Haydn string quartet.


Quick Questions with Junto founder Marc Weidenbaum

Molly Sheridan:
You win the gold star for the most creatively stimulating homework assignments I have ever encountered. What took the Disquiet Junto from neat idea to actually happening project?

Marc Weidenbaum: Thanks! That’s super generous of you. The enthusiasm of the participants, who come back week after week, is what has made the Disquiet Junto happen: their music, their ideas, their energy, their generosity. I’m afraid to say that had the first project not been so warmly received—40-plus participants joined in, if memory serves—I might not have had the nerve to do a second. Instead, we hit the ground running, and we haven’t stopped since, one week after the next.

MS: Let’s quantify this image. Can you throw some fun numbers at me—number of participants since the project started, number of tracks, hours of music created, number of plays and comments gathered—that sort of thing? How many people does it take to run this machine or does the machine provide the tools on its own?

MW: Sure thing. Here are some numerical accountings of our goings-on, as of September 4, 2013:

  • 2,533: number of tracks currently live in the Disquiet Junto group page
  • 372: number of musicians responsible for those 2,533 tracks
  • 87: number of weekly projects
  • 71: number of tracks submitted to the most active weekly project
  • 18: seconds in length of shortest project (a mini-suite based on the Vine app)
  • 4: number of days from project announcement (Thursday) to deadline (Monday)
  • 4: number of live concerts thus far (one each in Chicago, Denver, Manhattan, and San Francisco)
  • 1: number of moderators (that is, it’s just me)
  • 0: number of weeks we’ve taken off

MS: You’re the Junto founder/moderator, but are you also an active participant?

MW: I believe I’ve only participated in the Disquiet Junto once, for a project called “audiobiography,” the 60th, back in March 2013. I don’t really make much music, myself, in the direct sense, though I think the projects themselves count as a kind of music-making, in a meta sense. I do fiddle with music at home. I play with iOS and Android apps—at some point I may even upload some super minimal rhythmic work I’ve been up to. I used to make pause tapes in my teens. I had two turntables and a mixer until my kid was born. I do a lot of push-button, straightforward reworking of existing material—like, I enjoy running instrumental hip-hop through the Automaton plug-in from Audio Damage. But I think of much of that as “active listening” more than as music-making. And with only a few exceptions, the Junto projects have been way, way beyond my meager ability level. This whole thing comes out of my experience as an editor of arts/culture journalism and of comics, both of which I have done a lot of: I assign work I could not myself accomplish.

MS: While I haven’t participated myself, it’s been my impression that the restriction provided by the assignment is key but that discussion of the employed method(s), a sort of “show your work,” is also central. There’s an outsider input and public process to the music making. Even though we often talk about the digital cocooning that new technologies allow, this is a reversal of that in some ways through technology—bringing others into what is often normally a private creative space for just one artist.
MW: Yeah, I agree entirely. I think three key things are essential to the Junto’s success. The restraints and the deadline are big, but so too is the knowledge that not just an audience but an audience of peers is at the ready: to listen, give feedback, befriend, collaborate with. As for the “through technology,” as you put it, absolutely: this project exists specifically as a means of utilizing the SoundCloud interface. I’m not saying it would not have existed otherwise, but it exists as it does to make the best use of that virtual public space as SoundCloud both intentionally and unintentionally happened to have designed it.

MS: Where does the Junto project, both the structure of it and the work coming out of it, stand in relation to other music in the 2013 landscape? It strikes me that it touches so many current anxieties and obsessions: remix culture, social media, transparency, collective action, crowd sourcing.

MW: One person’s anxieties are another’s enthusiasms. The Disquiet Junto is the most “fluid” and “immediate” work I have ever done, and I think fluidity and immediacy are common factors in the various phenomena you list. A key distinction I’d add is that the Junto is often as much about sound as it is about music, or about music as a subset and/or adversary of sound, and about both sound and music being a means to explore ideas non-verbally.
MS: The concept has since moved offline through some concert organizing and such. I haven’t heard a live event, but I can see how that might generate some conceptual tensions. Is the Disquiet Junto bigger, or at least about more, than the sum of its online parts?
MW: I like to think that the SoundCloud Disquiet Junto presence is a home, not a family. The Junto members can go other places from time to time and be a family there, too. Those can be virtual places, like YouTube and Vine, and they can be physical places, like concert halls and art galleries.

MS: No one is making any money here, correct? No albums made and sold, created content shared to varying degrees (depending on the assignments and the participants). Considering its collaborative nature, can things like ownership and revenue generation co-exist here or is this space not for those end goals.

MW: Some small amount of money has been made here and there, though making money is at best a quaternary aspect of the Disquiet Junto. We charged a small ticket price at some of the concerts, though others were free admission. Some people have released some of their tracks commercially. SoundCloud gets money from those who elect for a higher grade of account. More likely the projects have refined and expanded the skills of the participants, myself as moderator included, and that experience perhaps has helped people economically elsewhere. As for the Creative Commons matter, we have not engaged with some projects because of financial concerns—for example, there was a cool band that did an open remix project, but the band stipulated that it retain the full, rather than shared, copyright of the remix, and that seems unfair, so I didn’t proceed with it. Though I’m still thinking about it. Did I mention this is all fluid? See, while making money is not a focus of the Disquiet Junto, commerce—the exchange of ideas, culture, technology—is.