Why Audio? SoundCloud and the Power of Audio on the Web

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Image:  LicenseAttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by j_baer

The first time I saw SoundCloud a few year ago, I was blown away. Comments embedded in the music. Actually seeing the sound waves – the core of what sound is – displayed on the screen, normally hidden and forgotten about. It seemed like an audiophile’s dream. Although it did start with indie musicians, it has been gaining traction beyond that world. Lately, I have thought of it as the YouTube of audio, and I am sure I’m not the first one to use that phrase. In reality, it may be more like Vimeo, the premium video service, used by many filmmakers and other video professionals. Unlike YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud put substantial limits on uploads for free accounts, encouraging professional creators to upgrade to a paid account. In both cases, I think it is worth the cost.

SoundCloud offers channels, “likes,” following, and commenting just like other social networking sites. Comments are still embedded in the sound waves, as well as in a familiar list on the page. I have been thinking about SoundCloud a lot lately, and how it fits in to the internet media landscape. Given the relative longevity of the service, and its growing popularity, especially amount young people, I am left asking the question, “Why audio?”

In a world saturated with visual media, why would anyone, viewer or creator, choose audio over video? Music is the obvious frontrunner here. It has been the bread and butter of SoundCloud and will continue to be. Even after the internet resurrected the music video (thank you!), music is still essentially an audio-based art. Radio news is still prevalent, whether you are an NPR enthusiast or a talk radio junkie. SoundCloud and other internet services allow radio programs to expand their audience. News reporters create content for print, website, video, and radio, but posting reports and reflections about news events directly online to something like SoundCloud offers certain advantages. This could be more convenient for reporters who are looking to get information or interviews out to the public in a fast way. You can record a conversation and upload it directly to SoundCloud to make it accessible to listeners with limited editing. Podcasts are another purely audio-based form of media. I have used different apps to subscribe to and listen to podcasts, but they were purely for consumption. What is brilliant about putting podcasts on SoundCloud, as the show RadioLab and others do, is that it transforms listening into an interactive experience. While listening, you can view comments and post you own questions and comments at specific points throughout the show. Naturally, SoundCloud has this same effective on everything that is uploaded to the site.

I have provide my own perspective on why audio online is important. What other reasons do you see for its popularity? What makes it better and more useful (or not) than video? What other uses for online audio can you think of?

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