Story-Making Machines: SoundCloud

Rising Voices note: This article originally appeared at, a showcase and workshop for public media, with story workshops twice yearly and a new online Workshop. The article is republished with permission.

We continue our series of talks with people who build Story-Making Machines. We pose a series of questions. They send answers and examples of their tools in use. Next up is Evan Tenenbaum, SoundCloud's Audio Content Manager.

From the SoundCloud website:

“Hear the world's sounds. Explore the largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators of music & audio.”

Evan Tenenbaum (Audio Content Manager, SoundCloud): SoundCloud reaches more than 200 million people each month. Creators of all kinds use SoundCloud, from independents such as The Kitchen Sisters and Joe Richman's Radio Diaries, to This American Life and other weekly shows, to stations like WBUR-Boston.

Transom: What makes your application different from other storytelling solutions?

ET: Storytelling is a powerful, innately social medium. Sharing experiences and stories with one another is a fundamental part of being human. SoundCloud fosters that experience in the online world. As a company we work to create an engaging listening experience for users, as well as empower creators — and their audience — to share those stories everywhere across the web.

[Note the timeline-based Comments feature in the above track.]

SoundCloud allows people to discover original music and audio, to connect with others and share their sounds widely. Sounds uploaded to our platform can be embedded in and played on any website, as well as posted, shared, and played directly in other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Transom: What are a few of your favorite examples (include URL, and why these appeal to you)?

ET: Snap Judgment— This series, from NPR and PRX, makes great use of digital tools. They tell amazing stories, and have amassed an impressive digital audience. Throughout the week, Snap Judgment uses SoundCloud to post segments of their show on social networks, staying actively engaged and connected with their audience. They've expanded beyond their own website, maximizing their Facebook and Twitter feeds as key destinations for fans to hear their content.

[The Sets feature lists the segments in this Snap Judgement hour.]

Decode DC— Andrea Seabrook took a big leap last year when she left NPR to produce her own style of radio show. Andrea and her team have consistently produced great episodes while building an online audience essentially from the ground up. Using SoundCloud on her website and in social media promotes organic audience growth, allowing Andrea's most passionate fans to quickly and easily share the shows via social networks.

[The SoundCloud Stats on the bottom are the number of Plays, Likes, Reposts, and Comments.]

99% Invisible— Roman Mars and Sam Greenspan produce a show that breaks many common public radio stereotypes. As early adopters of SoundCloud, their shows aren't a standard length and their audience has been built first and foremost on the Internet. They've found new, inventive ways of sourcing funds and constantly collaborate with other producers. 99% Invisible has redefined what it means to be a successful ‘radio show’. It continues to lead as a pioneer in the audio ecosystem. Roman was recently named one of Fast Company's “Most Creative People in Business for 2013″.

Transom: What elements (with what qualifications) can be included in your presentations; e.g., video (must be at YouTube), audio (mp3, uploaded to our site)? Can the presentations at your site be embedded elsewhere?

ET: Almost all audio formats can be posted to SoundCloud. Images can be included with the audio, and can be presented in a number of different ways depending on the SoundCloud player a storyteller chooses.

SoundCloud tracks can be embedded in and played on any website and most social media channels.

Transom: Can your users export their work in any format (e.g., HTML, XML) to archive it, or even use it in another application? (Putting this indelicately, if your project does not succeed, and you're forced to close doors, what can your users reclaim that might be useful elsewhere?)

ET: Creators using SoundCloud are the sole owners of their content. You control who can listen to it, where it can be accessed and how it can be shared. A user also has access to the original file they have uploaded (including the original format it was uploaded in).

Transom: Any new features coming this year?

ET: In December '12, we re-engineered our web app to introduce a number of new features. Among the goals were for people to discover new content, for creators to build audiences, and for everyone to share what they hear. Two of these exciting new features:

  1. “Curated Sets” allow consumers and producers to group and share content found on SoundCloud, similar to a playlist. We've been thrilled to watch producers and listeners create sets of related content and share them around the web.
  2. “Reposting” also helps great content reach more ears. In the same way that someone can retweet on twitter or reblog on Tumblr, this feature allows SoundClouders to highlight great listens for their social networks by ‘reposting’ sounds to their followers’ streams.

We also have a podcast solution. Any audio producer with a SoundCloud account can feed his or her content to any podcatcher (e.g. iTunes). It's currently in beta, but producers can submit a request to have it activated for their account.

Transom: What have you learned about how humans tell stories? About how we view, read, and hear them?

ET: Storytelling is most rewarding when you directly connect to your audience, and when you feel others are hearing your words. The Internet is one busy intersection of millions of thoughts, ideas, questions, comments, complaints, and creativity. It's a challenge to break through the noise, but the flip side is that it's easier to develop an audience and establish personal connections.

The concept of ‘virality’ was not invented on the Internet. For as long as humans have been telling stories, other humans have been retelling those stories. Today, we can share stories from the source, rather than attempt to retell them. Thanks to leading platforms and digital tools, a storyteller now has the chance to build a direct connection with each new person who hears their work.

Ultimately we aim to make these tools as easy as possible to use, so you can stay focused on what's most important: your stories.

Evan Tenenbaum works on SoundCloud's Content Team:

“My official title is ‘Audio Content Manager’. I work with radio producers, networks, newsrooms, podcasters, storytellers, and audiophiles – basically anyone creating content outside of music. I introduce them to our platform and awesome community, educate them about the ways SoundCloud can be used, and support them as they use our tools. This is my dream job.”

You can follow on their website. The thumbnail used for this article is by GrV and republished from Wikimedia Commons.


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