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Saturday, 20 August 2011 09:11

Wired in: Interview with Parker Higgins from SoundCloud

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For weeks now, I’ve been reporting about great new bands from all across Europe. This was possible, of course, only because I was always able to access their profiles online and contact them. So, recently I couldn’t help but wonder how much the internet has changed how we experience music and whether that means fans can get in touch with their favorite bands more directly. Parker Higgins is a Community Manager at SoundCloud and told me about a few fun ways you can get involved in the music scene and meet up with musicians you love.

E&M: Most start-up companies are based in the U.S. these days. How did Soundcloud come about? 

PH: I wasn't there when it was founded, but the legend goes that the two founders, Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss, were frustrated with the options for sending large audio files around. When you're a sound creator, that's important. Whether you're trying to get a backing track to a vocalist or a raw track to get mastered, you want to send a big file somehow. At the same time, they realised that such a platform would be great for anybody who's making and recording sound, which is a group that's growing as we carry around sophisticated recording devices in our phones and laptops and tablets all the time. Eric and Alex lived in Sweden then, but wanted SoundCloud to start in Berlin. This city is one of the hubs of a growing European start-up movement, the city is well known for supporting creative people from all over the world, and the music and arts scene is really reflected in the way SoundCloud looks and works.

E&M: We report about musicians all the time. But I'm also wondering what possibilities there are for fans to get involved in the music scene...

PH: I think there are more possibilities than ever! It can be a bit overwhelming for bands or musicians to sign up for SoundCloud and Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook etc, etc, but many of them are doing that, which means interacting with them in a real way is totally within reach. At the same time, we hear literally every day about musicians who never thought of sharing their music beyond their closest friends, but when they put it on the web with SoundCloud, they receive an amazing response and encouragement. It's a real flattening of the "audio creator" space.

It's not just for people who think of themselves as "musicians", if you've got a smartphone, you could already be recording things around you.

Even more, it's not just for people who think of themselves as "musicians". For example, if you've got a smartphone, you could already be recording and uploading samples based on things around you. The musician Tim Exile has been doing incredible live jams with samples submitted in real-time with SoundCloud, for example. It's not music, but there are also some great recording initiatives going on now with a really low barrier to entry, like Sounds of my City, which is a program documenting the soundscape of Toronto (and being emulated in different cities around the world), or United Sounds, which aims to collect recordings of the UN Declaration of Human Rights made by regular people from around the world.

E&M: That sounds fun. Are there any ways to actually get in touch with people though, face to face?

PH: At SoundCloud, we've been using the platform at Meetup to coordinate "Global Meetup Days", where users from all over the world get together and meet in real life and away from the screen. It's really exciting because these creators may have heard each other online, but now get to meet, talk shop, and jam. Each city's organiser does something a little different, and so some are more musical than others, but it's worth checking to see if there's one in your neighbourhood - and maybe putting it together if you'd like to see it.

E&M:. ... and if I'm a tech nerd? 

PH: This might be even more exciting. We've been helping to organise a series of events called Music Hack Days all over the world, city by city. A bunch of developers who are passionate about music and audio get together for a whole weekend, and over one or two sleepless nights put together an application that ties into one or a few different music and audio services online. We've seen really cool ones for music creators, like the Invisible Instruments and some for music consumers, like the djtxt service for collaboratively creating party playlists with SMS. Definitely worth attending one of these if you're a developer!

Europe is a great place, it's one of the most exciting places in the world to be right now.

E&M: Services like Soundcloud and Spotify are such a big part of how we experience music today. In what way has the internet affected our relationship to music?

PH: I think that people are more willing to try things out, but less willing to keep trying it if it doesn't grab them. At one point in time, most people discovered most of their music through radio, and buying an album was enough of an investment that you might listen to it a few times through even if you didn't love it. For music creators, of course, there are pros and cons to this configuration, but I think on balance it is a net positive for both them and fans. In any case, it's a reality of music today, so there's nothing to do but make the best of it.

E&M: I saw that some of the songs online are Creative Commons licensed, what does that mean?

PH: Creative Commons licenses are free, internationally available copyright licenses that allow creators to voluntarily waive some of the rights they're automatically given in a copyright. For example, a lot of people who make music actually want for people to make copies of it for their friends, or for filmmakers to use their music in the background, or for other artists to sample or remix their work. Because of the way copyright law works, though, each of those people would have to come to the artist for permission separately. Creative Commons licenses let you choose what kinds of uses you allow, and they're standard, so people who want to make uses can just check and know. SoundCloud has had support for Creative Commons licenses for a long time, but we refreshed our options about a year ago.

E&M: I'm sure you're exposed to new bands all the time - Who's your favorite European band on Soundcloud that we have to check out?

PH: I'd have to say The Son(s), who were one of the first bands I found on SoundCloud. The truth is that every day I find somebody cool that I follow and hear more from; another great one is johnny_ripper. I love following them so whenever they put up something new, it shows up on my dashboard.

E&M: You're an American living in Germany and you work in a very international office. What does Europe mean to you? 

PH: Europe is a great place, and especially in the tech start-up world, it's one of the most exciting places in the world to be right now. It's a hard time to be excited about the politics of either the EU or my home country, but I really think that the European approaches on social issues get a lot of things right.

E&M: Thanks for your time Parker! 

Last modified on Saturday, 20 August 2011 12:16

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