SoundCloud & Audioboo
Intro from Jay Allison
About 20 years ago, an older family friend asked me for advice on buying a recorder. I told him about the various options and he said, “It sounds pretty confusing right now; I think I’ll wait until the technology stops.”
In the meantime, our TOOLS editor Jeff Towne is reviewing away. Now he’s looking at audio sharing platforms: SoundCloud and Audioboo. Both services create their own contexts and also integrate easily with social media like Facebook and Twitter. You can upload highly produced audio from your computer or record directly from your mobile device. Jeff checks out both services. We can imagine lots of ways to collaborate and create with these tools, while we wait for the technology to stop.
from Jeff Towne
The last few years have produced some dramatic changes to the audio production landscape. Small, affordable flash recorders have made it easier than ever to capture high quality audio in almost any environment. Editing and mixing audio is more accessible than ever; even an average computer’s processor speed and storage capacity is more than sufficient to accomplish sophisticated editing. One can make good recordings, even edit them, on many smartphones. There’s a great range of choice among audio editing software for desktop and laptop computers as well. Podcasting and other internet-based delivery systems have opened new horizons for distribution of audio productions.
The latest technological advance is the integration of audio into the dynamic and interactive world of social media. Of course it’s long been possible to send sound files to others over the internet, but sharing audio, and receiving feedback about it, has been relatively cumbersome. Sharing audio on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter was especially tricky, but new applications are making hosting and sharing audio a simple procedure.
SoundCloud is the most prominent of these technologies. It’s an application that runs on desktop computers and mobile devices, but it’s more than just a program or a website: it’s a syndication service that can distribute your audio to many destinations; it’s a social networking site that hosts your content and encourages comments, groups, linking and community-building. This has proven attractive to large numbers of independent musicians who post original compositions, remixes and mash-ups. Despite its current preponderance of musical content, SoundCloud can be just as useful to journalists, documentarians and storytellers.
It’s a deep well of audio material of all types, and one could easily spend countless hours browsing though the many submissions. The typical tools of interactive media can help sort through the chaos: if you find something you like, you can follow its creator, explore groups that it’s in, share it with friends as a favorite, add it to a playlist, make comments, etc.
On a more practical level for any kind of audio producer, it offers an easy way to make your tracks available for others to hear. You can upload recordings (or record directly into the application) and each recording will be translated into SoundCloud format, and displayed on your profile web page. To upload you click a button on the SoundCloud page, then navigate to the file. You don’t have to set up an FTP client to upload files to a remote server, then create links to those files; it’s all done behind the scenes. You don’t even have to own a recording device, or any additional recording or editing software. If you have a microphone attached to your computer, or one built-in, you can simply press the Record button on the SoundCloud page to create shareable audio.
Recording into the mobile app (for iPhone or Android) is every bit as easy: press the big red Record button, then upload what you’ve recorded with one more taps of the screen. The SoundCloud mobile app cannot access recordings made in other apps on your smartphone, but there are many apps that have built-in SoundCloud support. The popular recording app called FiRe is one: simply record as usual into the app, then tap the “Share” button then choose SoundCloud.
There are many applications, both for phones and for desktop computers that include the integral ability to upload to SoundCloud. A complete (and continually-changing) list is here:
Once uploaded, each recording is represented by a large waveform graphic, which is itself a player widget. That player can be accessed with any web browser, including most mobile devices. Here’s the page for user Transomtools:
But you do not need to send listeners to the SoundCloud site: it’s easy to embed a track, with its player, in a web page or blog post. Simply click the “share” icon in the upper left corner of the player, copy the “Embed code” as indicated, and paste that into the html for your web page or blog post. An interactive player, a small version of the one on the SoundCloud page, will be displayed amidst the text of your post. Visitors can play and comment on the audio without leaving your page.
Comments can be made about the audio clip as a whole, or in one of SoundCloud’s coolest innovations, remarks can be entered at specific positions along the timeline, so it’s easy to get feedback about specific sections of the audio. That unprecedented level of interactivity is extremely powerful, and can be used in many ways. The user posting the audio can offer additional information to listeners at key moments, or listeners can ask questions, or offer critiques, at specific times. Public feedback from an audience can be interesting, but this could also be an extremely convenient way for reporters, editors or collaborators to work privately, when it’s not convenient, or desirable, to collaborate in real-time.
“Sharing” is a versatile term: it can mean making the audio available to a broad audience, or it can mean sharing with a more limited number of people. Clips can be made private, only available to those who are specifically given access. This could be a very easy way for reporters, producers and editors to trade raw audio or in-progress edits, and be able to offer feedback that’s embedded in the soundfile. There’s even a “dropbox” where anyone can send you audio files, even if they’re not registered SoundCloud users.
(no, this is not the place to drop your audio masterpiece to have it featured on Transom! Unsolicited audio will be deleted.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, that “sharing” can be much more broad. It only takes a simple mouse-click to share the audio file via Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or email. Being able to post audio on social media platforms as easily as one shares photos is a big leap forward. Although audio diaries are unlikely to supplant party pix or YouTube videos as the most popular Facebook posts, you never know… Documentary audio being distributed quickly and easily from the field could certainly be at least as powerful as 140 character Tweets. But regardless of urgent breaking news, simply making it easy for audio producers to share their work, and for audiences to access these productions, could transform the way people use audio.
Podcasting has been a very successful alternative to conventional broadcast models, and SoundCloud tracks can be distributed as a podcast if desired. At the time this article is being written, the podcast functionality is still in a Beta test phase, but the procedure is simple. Each track you post can be designated as available in a variety of ways: as public or private, streaming-only or downloadable, widget enabled (to allow the SoundCloud player widget to be embedded elsewhere on the web) or not, and available to third-party apps and podcasts or not. Enabling podcasting will create an RSS feed, which allows users to subscribe, receiving new posts automatically. The set-up even walks you through submitting the feed to iTunes, which most people use to organize and listen to podcasts.
The free level of SoundCloud membership gives you an amazing amount of functionality: the major restriction is one of storage space; you can only save 120 minutes of audio at any given time. There are then progressive steps of “premium” memberships that allow additional storage, and increasing levels of customization.
There’s a comparison page with prices, here:
The smaller, more compact player widget available in the premium accounts is nice, as is the ability to adjust colors to match one’s web theme. Of course one would need to upgrade in order to host a large archive of audio, or if one were building a business around distributing audio files. Still, it’s impressive how much of the core functionality is available in the free version.
If you need an easy way to share audio tracks on the web, especially to social media sites, SoundCloud offers a solid solution. There are other sites and applications that perform similar functions. One popular service is called Audioboo. Like SoundCloud, Audioboo offers uploading and sharing of audio files, and of course, followers can comment on the audio, although not with the time flags that Soundcoud offers. Audioboo is structured more like a social-media site: it’s easy to follow other members and receive their audio updates automatically. For better or worse, individual audio posts are referred to as “Boos” a term I can’t imagine catching-on, but then again, not so long ago, “Tweets” seemed unlikely to be embraced, so who knows? At this time, Boos are limited in length to 5 minutes or less, at least with a standard account. That makes Audioboo a great way to share concise nuggets of information, but it won’t work as a site for sharing your long-form audio documentary, unless you upgrade to a Pro account. There are some references to a “plus” account being available soon, but at press time there was only the standard account, and a Pro account targeted at developers.
It is very easy to record on your computer, or smartphone, and upload to Audioboo, then share either to the entire site, or have the audio automatically post a link to Twitter, Facebook, Posterous, FriendFeed and/or Tumblr. Boos connected with Facebook post with an attractive player. Or you can send a Boo only to one particular person; something a site representative laughingly admits is making your phone act more like a phone…
Audioboo feels like it’s set up more for sharing spontaneous short audio clips, perhaps recorded on the fly, while SoundCloud is focused more on sharing longer, more elaborate audio constructions. That said, there’s plenty of room for overlap, and either service can do both things.
It’s unclear how big of a popular phenomenon sharing audio files within a social media framework will be, but while that’s playing-out, audio producers and artists can use these services to reach listeners more easily than ever, and to gather important feedback. Both SoundCloud and Audioboo offer powerful free services, so perhaps it’s time to start sharing your audio more widely!