If you are a DJ or producer, I’m willing to wager that if you have been on the Internet any time over the past two years, you have heard of Soundcloud. As the company that promises to “move audio”, the service sounds like a lucrative bet for any budding musician. I mean, all you need to do is sign up for an account, upload a couple of your best mixes or original tracks, and hundreds of listeners or “fans” will flock to you, right?
Hate to say it, but it isn’t quite that easy.
Similar to many other online services fueled by social media, including YouTube and Twitter, the benefits you get out of Soundcloud are entirely based on the effort you put into it. Gaining the attention of listeners and followers actually requires a bit of dedication and engagement, and requires bringing more to the table than just having good musical content.
Here’s the good news: There are several easy things you can do right off of the bat to help establish your presence on Soundcloud, for free. Although most experienced Soundcloud users will probably find these tips obvious, they may come in handy to a newer user.
- Sign up for a paid account.
The vast majority of Soundcloud users are signed up for the free account. Although not having to pay a dime may work if you are just looking to privately exchange music with other producers, it has little benefit if you want to promote your work to the masses. With each of your tracks on a strict diet of 100 downloads, coupled with a scant 2-hour upload limit (barely 2 mixes if you are a DJ), it won’t be long before the limitations of being a freeloader become apparent. Although it may seem expensive to sign up for the Lite or Solo accounts at first, look at it as an investment in yourself.
Think about it this way: at one point, you probably spent money to have CDs of your mixes pressed up to hand out at parties. I personally used to spend hundreds of dollars each year on hard copies of my own mix CDs, only to learn (the hard way) that many of them would get thrown right in the trash by people who didn’t know (or care) about who I was. I should have just thrown the cash out of my pocket in the trash instead and saved my iMac’s CD burner some mileage! When I decided to sign up for the solo account I personally felt that it was justified. I am now only handing CDs out to people I personally know, actually saving me money in the long run because I press up fewer hard copies. Personally, I feel that if a DJ or producer can afford to spend money on new software, plug-ins, MP3s, or vinyl, they should be able to swing the Lite or Solo accounts (about $40 and $100 per year respectively).
- Use a Favorites List
Want to know a surefire way to not gain any followers on Soundcloud? Show absolutely no interest whatsoever in what other people are doing. Soundcloud’s interface makes it easy to stream mixes at the click of a mouse without having to wait for them to download. Use the dashboard to see what the people you follow have uploaded, and go out of your way to save the ones you like to your favorites list. Using favorites is a great bookmarking tool. Because search is not (yet) possible on the iPhone version of Soundcloud, the best workaround to be able to listen to what I want is via the app’s instant ability to access my favorites list. (EDIT 8/13: Search has been added to the most recent update- I just never bothered to download it until today!) Plus, your friends will see that you took the time to favorite the mixes of theirs that you (hopefully) liked, making them more likely to return the favor down the road.
- Leave Comments
Once again, this all goes back to showing genuine interest in what other people are doing out there. Leaving comments in other people’s original tracks and mixes is a powerful tool, even more so than having a favorites list. This is because you have increased your visibility by leaving your mark in a song or mix that several people who don’t know or follow you are listening to. If you just so happen to say something interesting, they may be persuaded to check your Soundcloud page on the merit of a single comment. However, I’d like to emphasize the word “merit” here. You need to say something interesting or insightful when you leave your two cents. “Great track!” usually won’t cut it. Leave a comment about something specific you liked about the song. Or, if someone has a question they left, respond to it. Post a track I.D. on a mix that doesn’t have a tracklist. How about a link to a blog post you wrote promoting the song in question. All of these types of comments are constructive and can better help increase your presence on Soundcloud. You don’t have to leave comments on everything you listen to, but remember that each one you leave creates a potential path back to your page.
- Design an attractive avatar
I cannot stress enough how important good design is when it comes to solidifying your identity on Soundcloud. Now you can argue all you want about how the music should do the talking, but a well-designed avatar can attract listeners subconsciously. Likewise, an ugly avatar that has no shortage of played-out bevel, emboss, and lens flare filters are thrown all over it does the opposite! Whether your listeners realize it or not, it’s a guarantee they will assume a professionally designed logo will result in equally polished music and vice versa. Crux Records is a perfect example of an eye-catching, elegantly-designed avatar.
An important thing to keep in mind, however: be sure the design is optimized for thumbnail size. In many instances, your logo will be seen as a small box on either a followers list, or on the timeline of a song you commented on, so it has to translate nicely both small and large. Using just two or three primary colors, an eye-catching photo of yourself, minimal (preferably zero) text, or simple patterns will help ensure an eye-pleasing avatar. And if you cannot design to save your life or afford to pay a professional designer, NO avatar is much better than a BADLY DESIGNED one!
Whatever type of music you like, there is bound to be a group set up specifically for it. There is no limit to which groups you can join, so why not link up with some other like-minded Soundclouders who you may not already know? The biggest benefit to groups is that you can submit your tracks and mixes to them, thus adding a channel to getting your work out there. If you are really ambitious, you can even start a group of your own. Just make sure it caters towards something unique and focused. For example, you are more likely to get devoted listeners if you started a group geared towards deep house producers from the southern California area than you would if you just set up a general Techno group that had no geographic focus. Keep in mind that it does take a while to get people to sign up and submit tracks to a newly formed group, however.
- Tagging, Tagging, Tagging
Another no-brainer. Tag every possible description you can with the songs that you upload. If you upload DJ mixes, be sure to tag them with the names of popular producers and record labels of the tracks they include. Always tag the genre of music as well. The more tags, the better. Tagging will instantly enhance your search ranking and visibility on Soundcloud. The majority of my listeners discovered my page through nothing more than a simple search to find songs that happened to be included in the mixes I uploaded.
We all know how inter-connected social media is nowadays. If you have a Facebook account or a blog, Soundcloud has several basic free widgets you can use on both. One of the widgets is basically a miniaturized MP3 player with a tracklist beneath it, and the other is a dropbox which is useful if you are interested in having other people send their tracks to you. Although installing a Soundcloud player on Facebook is pretty standard fare, keep in mind that you can customize the player for your blog or website. Try incorporating a color scheme that matches the interface of your site. By helping it blend in as opposed to it being intruding can help generate listeners. And worry not, the player will not automatically start playing when visiting the site. Soundcloud knows better than that!
I am working on writing up a batch of additional tips for using Soundcloud which I will be sharing with you over the upcoming weeks. I have been talking with a local producer who has almost 2000 followers, as well as a developer who is working on developing an Android version of the app using open source code. I’m hoping to get a chance to interview them and gain some potential insight into how these true power users harness Soundcloud. Until then, have fun, and I hope these tips help get you on the right track!