There must be something about Sweden and online music innovation. Music-streaming service Spotify is Swedish and so, too, is SoundCloud. It's a legitimate forum for showcasing and sharing your musical talent which is now headquartered in Berlin, but was first set up in Stockholm.
The site has been around since 2007 and offers a good alternative to the better-known MySpace. SoundCloud uses other social networks to spread music uploaded by its members – widgets can be embedded in a Facebook page, shared on Foursquare or via a Twitter feed. MySpace simply drove fans to music hosted on its own site.
To date, SoundCloud has just over 10 million registered users. Many are artists, but most are music or podcast fans keen to explore what's on offer. Where SoundCloud differs from MySpace is that it isn’t simply a personal band page where fans can get an early preview of unreleased songs, but a means of actually sharing the tracks and getting peer feedback.
You could, of course, use Facebook or Twitter to achieve a similar aim, but there’s one aspect of SoundCloud that sets it apart. As well as support for a range of popular music mixing apps it acts as a mechanism for artists to interact and work together on tracks without needing to be in physical proximity.
Ten years ago, this idea was no more than a pipe dream. Band members attempting to work together over the web would each record their instruments separately, but poor web connections meant playing together didn't really work. SoundCloud doesn't fix this, but it does let you privately share tracks and invite honest feedback with comment tags appended to specific sections.
Once you’re happy with a track, you can upload it to SoundCloud and have other users tell you exactly what they think of it. Tracks are displayed as waveforms, just as you'd see in an audio editor. SoundCloud users can comment on specific portions of a song to provide constructive feedback about where something works really well and whether and how a section needs improvement.
Rather than wait for someone to stumble across your tracks, you can directly share them. Up to 100 shares are offered by the free version of SoundCloud. Other users can also share their tracks with you. Dropbox sharing via the Dropbox widget allows you to share as much as you like.
How to use SoundCloud
Step 1: Create a free account at SoundCloud.com and log in. You need to reconfirm your email details before you can add any content to the site. Alternatively, you can use Facebook to log in - useful if you've friends in bands. The dashboard view provides an overview of your SoundCloud activity, from your own profile to the tracks you've saved and shared. Note that you'll need the latest version of Adobe Flash to play tracks on SoundCloud.
Step 2: SoundCloud starts by prompting you to upload any existing recordings you may have or to explore the site's million-strong archive by searching my group, track or user name. Many famous names can be found on SoundCloud - we began by listening to a selection by Gotye, for example. Tick the 'show only licensed tracks option' to display results only by the original artists.
Step 3: Groups refers to self-selecting similar artist groups that paid-up SoundCloud members can join. If you find an artist or group you like, you can 'follow' them. You'll then automatically get new songs in your SoundCloud. These will be available in the 'incoming tracks' tab of the SoundCloud dashboard. You can also directly download almost anything on SoundCloud - great if you want to build up an archive of a favourite band's alternative mixes. Click the download button to save it to your PC.
Step 4: Commenting is useful as specific portions of a song can be critiqued and then tweaked by the artist before they finally release it. Users often point out mixing errors or where the lyrics have become mangled. To add a comment, click the speech bubble and type in your feedback. If you find an artist you follow too prolific, you can 'mute' them, which stops their songs and comments pouring in, but this doesn't prevent you listening to them on demand or commenting on their tracks.
Step 5: SoundCloud works natively with a number of mixing apps. A selection is shown if you click on the App Gallery button at the top right of your dashboard. Browse by smartphone or tablet platform or just use desktop versions. This is useful if you don't have any mixing software or want to dabble in creating electronic music.
Step 6: SoundCloud has its own recording function. Click Tracks to bring up the recorder. You can upload two hours of audio with the free version of SoundCloud. This can use either the built-in recorder on your iPhone or Android handset or an external microphone. You can record narrative just as easily. In fact, the site is a great source of podcasts. Once you've recorded and trimmed your track, press the Upload button to share it.
Next page: Get more from SoundCloud
Get more from SoundCloud
Apps are what really make SoundCloud. There are more than 100 to choose from. Some cost a fair bit, but others such as SunVox cost only a couple of pounds and let record and directly upload to SoundCloud. If you're not comfortable creating original mixes, you can mix cherry-picked items from SoundCloud's extensive Creative Commons Licence menu and remix those.
You may not immediately want to share details of everything you've been working on, but there's the ability to share up to 100 tracks with trusted people via the free version of the software.
Once you're happy with your tracks, use the BandPage app to showcase everything on Facebook. If you're using one of the paid-for versions of SoundCloud, you can specify your best tracks as spotlight ones that are offered by default whenever someone visits your page.
You aren't limited to recording music. You could create a narrative of your favourite photos using the Instagram-based Story Wheel and select the best photos from your phone's camera roll.
If you install the free SoundCloud software on your iPad or Android tablet you gain an instant music player filled with all the tracks you've earmarked on the SoundCloud website. Commenting is less fiddly as you get a larger pop-up commenting box.