Head in the Clouds: SoundCloud and the New Era of Independent Distribution in Music

Head in the Clouds:

SoundCloud and the New Era of Independent Distribution in Music

By Kevin Cavanagh

As digital technology has developed, the world has become more and more of a stage in which even the audience is on display.  Whether it is because more consumers are becoming “prosumers” or because user-generated content sites are becoming more popular and therefore more telling of the culture and what it’s participants desire, it is evident that the times are changing.  José van Dijck argues that between community involvement (civilly, socially, politically) and more communal forms of creativity, production and distribution, it is evidently no longer valid to view consumers as simply consumers.  Videos on YouTube, fansites, blogs and other forms of digital expression, fandom, and community reveal the peoples relationship with the medium more than any statistical study of uninvolved viewers.

Although because of the rise in number of producers or “prosumers”, it makes sense that it be more difficult for an artist or content creator to make it “big”.  But the relativity of “big” is one that is still morphing and being defined, as new forms and opportunities for media are being developed monthly.  An example of a new and extremely popular form of musical distribution and networking is SoundCloud.  If you have a Macbook, you probably have the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Garageband on your desktop, and although you might not have used it, it is a fairly limited and simple version of what can be an almost infinitely all-encompassing synthesizer, drum machine, audio-recording “studio” music-maker.  Other programs like LogicPro, Ableton Live, and Reason all take this concept a little further to a more professional degree, although still attempting at being user-friendly.

With the advent of the DAW and other advancements in the ease of audio production and compression (in a similar way sites like YouTube of more specifically Vimeo have become a possibility in regards to streaming video), sites like SoundCloud have become a haven for amateur producers to post their music in the hopes of being “discovered” or simply getting feedback and networking with other “prosumers”.  Although the site is mostly filled with these types of musicians or music lovers, record labels/producers/DJs/etc have all began using the site as means of marketing and building community around this blooming relationship between the internet and art communities.  People being discovered for doing “remixes” of their favorite artists have been catapulted into, although maybe modest, a level of fame and notoriety likely unachievable before the existence of such a site.  A great example is involving the superstar Deadmau5.  A fan of his created a remix that started getting other fans attention, and because of how intense the fan base is, it didn’t take long for the numbers to add up and for Deadmau5 to be forced to take notice, upon which the 15 year old finds his work being posted by possibly the most popular dance music producer in the world.

Site like SoundCloud prove that although consumers are still consumers, the line has been blurred and the possibilities continue to grow for aspiring producers of all levels of notoriety.  Whether it is being able to preview an upcoming album, listen to a live DJ set, sharing and remixing a song, or being able to leave a comment at a very specific point in the music (i.e. What synth/sample/effect did you use to achieve that?) the relationship between production and consumption is stronger than ever and more mutualistic than I ever imagined growing up.

Not only did 15 year old Madeon impress Deadmau5 enough to get him to publicize his music, he was signed and had music released.  Do you think the quality of art/content will generally be reduced in the modern era of user-generated content/prosumers, or will the opportunity provide for more outlets of quality expression (as both are increasingly prominent features of Web 2.0)?

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