For all you hear about the primacy of visual culture, you might not expect a Web service exclusively focused on sound to be a big hit. SoundCloud, however, has seen meteoric growth, hitting 10 million users in January. Its interface, however, hasn’t quite grown and matured at the same pace. We’ve seen a lovely-looking new HTML5-based player embed, but the main site hasn’t gotten the same refresh – until now.

Yesterday evening, SoundCloud provided press and some members of the public with a first view of the new site. The facelift is organized around even greater focus on SoundCloud’s signature waveform view, with a greater emphasis on sharing and real-time updating, as well as more easily managing profiles.

In short, everything is a lot cleaner – a whole lot cleaner – and more focused on actually listening to and sharing music.

What’s new:

  • The Waveform is bigger and more prominent – and stripped of hated comment clutter – with a new navigational interface.
  • Profiles are redesigned for easier navigation.
  • “Reposts” now add to sharing mechanisms for tracks and sets.
  • Real-time updates show activity right away. (This seems to me a bit reminiscent of the direction taken by listening services like Spotify.)
  • Continuous playback. I’ve long used Chrome (and now Firefox) extension ex.fm for this feature, which even allows you to move between sites; it’s nice to see SoundCloud allow you to keep sounds playing in the background as you navigate, though.
  • Sets put collections of sounds into a single Waveform, in place of a playlist. This could be a solution for creating legal mixes for DJs and curators – or mixes of your own music – without running afoul of copyright restrictions by posting conventional DJ mixes. (That said, of course, you don’t get to actually mix and cross-fade. Now that’d be interesting.)
  • Streamlined navigation, with keyboard shortcuts, master volume control, and other features.
  • Improved search algorithm (a frequent source of complaints from readers to whom I’ve spoken), plus auto-complete/search suggestion.

The redesigned SoundCloud profile. All screenshots courtesy SoundCloud.

So, when will you get all of this? SoundCloud says the roll-out will take “months,” though they haven’t given a solid timeframe. Initially, “tens of thousands” of beta invites will be available; you can request one now via a dedicated minisite for the redesign. That’s a tiny fraction of the total user base, so we’ll see how easy it is to get into the queue; I’ll work on getting CDM in so we can at least report back. A public beta will come later this year, with a “full switchover” for everyone expected by the end of the year.

I’ve gotten feedback from CDM readers about what they want out of SoundCloud, and initially, it doesn’t appear the redesign addresses all those concerns. It certainly looks prettier and more usable, and for public sharing, SoundCloud has been terrific. But readers have also requested easier ways to sell their music than are currently available. I’ve also heard from users – and found in my own experience – that private sharing and collaboration is relatively limited. (Chris Randall notes via Facebook that he prefers Dropbox for this purpose, particularly since they’ve added a player that works with private tracks.) We’ll see if any of these functional areas is addressed as SoundCloud rolls out new functionality, or if it becomes available via their API.

SoundCloud, for their part, does promise “new features,” and says that you’ll continue to have access to “existing features in the current version, such as upload and record.” I think it’s safe to say this brief preview doesn’t cover everything SoundCloud is developing in 2012.

My guess is, with so many cloud tools evolving, users will use a combination of tools to get their work done, collaborate, and share their music. Naturally, we’ll follow that closely to see if we can provide some useful information about how to get the most out of these tools.

What do you think of this first look at the new SoundCloud? And how do you use it? Let us know in comments.

More info / beta signup:
next.soundcloud.com

  • http://twitter.com/Tob3z Tobes

    I just want them to sort out the mass spamming of followers and people that just share tracks with you if you are not following them. It’s like MySpace in that way and it’s what made me leave. I want to be able to find new people easily and what people to be able to share their tracks with me if they think it’s something I would actually like and not just to get their play count up. Limiting the amount you can follow a day would easily solve this problem. I mean after all who is going to follow more than say 20 people a day? Doesn’t sort the problem but slows it right down.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, they seem to be sorting comment spam. Am I missing something, though? I believe if you limit whom you follow, personally, they can’t spam you by sending you tracks?

    • http://mrtunes.ca/ Mr. Tunes

      if you have a soundcloud dropbox, i think anyone can send you promos.

    • Franz

      no, I get spammed on a regular basis. People sending me their newest ” trance, techno, whatever” shite. The anoying thing is: you cant even report its spam, like on youtube. If that doesnt get better im gone soon. And i have two accounts one paid and use sc since the early beta…

    • Franz

      And it dont use a dropbox, they send it as a message or share it with me. Its really getting worse everyday.

  • Sixnon

    I personally don’t get Soundcloud’s popularity. It’s flash, it’s expensive and doesn’t do anything i could not do with existing server space and a few snippets of code to embed in a webpage? Am I missing something also…?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, two notes:

      One, it’s not all Flash any more; they’re supporting HTML5 embeds, mobile devices… that’s not so simple a snippet of code.

      Two, while what you’re describing is correct, the typical target audience – musicians, and average people recording sounds – is going to then a) miss out on a community which they can share and b) has no idea how to do the server setup you’re suggesting.

      So that, to me, explains SoundCloud’s popularity.

    • Sixnon

      I hear you, wasn’t trolling, but i genuinely have had difficulty fathoming the popularity of Soundcloud. I do get the embed is easy and visually appealing, and to be sure it takes a bit of reading, and jiggery pokery if you are a layperson [such as I am] and not a digital native to do such audio embedding yourself. The social media aspect I can see as being very valid for musicians, I think it’s a clever service, I just think it overpriced for what it offers. For example the solo service costs as much as my web hosting does p.a. in its entirety with all of capacity for add ons such as wordpress etc. on top of a website hosting .. I mean all of the other social media stuff is more or less uncharged to the user, and I’m surprised that a notoriously poorly remunerated profession such as musicians were the one in which a paid model took off..

    • Sixnon

      ..i note, parenthetically, that whilst i profess my innocence I have the grammar of a troll in my comment above!

    • Charles

      If you were a creative person looking for broader exposure, would you entrust your intellectual property to a “free” service like Facebook? “Free” sites aren’t really free.

  • Pietro

    New interface but deja vu problems comming with a growing user base. Here is an interesting article
    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/sharp-darts-soundcloud-copyright/Content?oid=3351152

  • Jim Aikin

    Among the features not announced: greater than 128kbps streaming. My synth music typically sounds like garbage at 128, because the codec mangles it. At 320 it sounds very acceptable. Will the new Soundcloud allow 320kbps streaming? Or is it only for headbanger music? Just sayin’.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, many of SoundCloud’s early adopters were electronic dance music labels and artists – and that stuff sounds particularly terrible as a 128k stream. So I’m not sure which headbaners you mean. I agree this is a concern, especially as bandwidth and storage costs become largely cheaper. I’d pay extra for it, as either a producer or listener. I don’t need lossless, but I would upgrade from 128.

  • Gwydion

    The screenshots remind me of virb – who were on the block before Soundcloud, iirc – wonder why SC took off in a way virb never did?

  • markLouis

    I never would have imagined something like Soundcloud would happen.  I mean, to my eyes the future looks like video.  (Or for that matter 3D video.)  I shoot video (usually stop motion animations) for every song I create.  I haven’t researched the tech issues, but with HD, I’ve heard Kronos demos on YouTube that sound fine.  Is there some tech reason people would use Soundcloud with one-dimensional media, just sound, rather than make a video of some kind, any kind, and use YouTube?  Isn’t using just sound kind of, well, old fashioned for such a tech-driven world?  

    • http://raaphorst.info/ Raaphorst

      audio only is one-dimensional media?

      I don’t agree. it’s a totally different experience. radio is absolutely not the same as television.

  • Sixnon

    Well I wouldn’t, no, I detest FB, but millions of people do, as do millions of professionals entrust their documents to Google who are notoriously demanding in terms of the ounce of flesh they want in return in terms of IP. Vimeo and YouTube, for example, also provide “free” layers of far more generous natures I would suggest..my query, I think, more like Gwydion’s (who incidentally gave me some music to use on my Australian radio show about a decade back I believe! Hi!). A “hey remember when the web was less subscription based”. I see other people don’t get it as well, but if it’s working for customers and Soundcloud are making good money from it, good for they!

    • Sixnon

      Sorry, further ineptitude..that was a response to Charles..see, I haven’t even worked out comment culture yet! No wonder I don’t get Soundcloud.

  • sparker

    I use Soundcloud in music education on a daily basis and have found it an invaluable tool for giving constructive feedback to students. I find the ability to share a track privately is an indispensable feature for students to post a work in progress safe in the knowledge that only I, or others if they choose can hear it. Whilst I agree that there are more elegant solutions to online collaboration available, as it stands Soundcloud is simple for all levels of student to understand and whatever changes are finally implemented, I hope much of the functionality, including the option for comments on the waveform remain. Higher quality streaming and less spam would be handy, although a number of students seem to get quite excited when random Europeans suddenly start liking their tracks ;)

  • Hugo

    I too would like the option of having higher bit rate for streaming.  Then I could use it for demoing my sample packs.  128k sounds terrible!  

  • Adam E

    I think they’ve ruined their search algorithm. 
    I used to be able to find DJ mixes based on what people put in the tracklisting, which helped me discover other artist.

    Now that it doesn’t include descriptions as part of the search terms, I am no longer able to use Soundcloud in the same way.
     In reverse, people will be less likely to find my mixes and so I will now be using Mixcloud instead.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, but see the article elsewhere in comments – SoundCloud is generally cracking down on DJ mixes, it seems, because of copyright compliance issues. Whatever you’re seeing in search, that may change. But if you can’t post mixes in the first place, that’s going to be a more significant issue for DJs.

  • Pal

    That looks great, but I do want higher quality audio! 128 kbps is gross.

  • GDT

    Looks really sharp — feels like a step towards a more musician oriented service in the way Myspace used to be and Facebook is trying to be. I hope they improve stability with the update, though, since whenever they go down it really messes up site embeds.


    DBT
    http://www.dubstep-production.com/

  • Istvan Peter BRacz

    I love SoundCloud (as well as THIS site!!!), and have used it since the beginning. I have met so many other composers from all over the world purely through SoundCloud. Its wonderful, and the relationships/connections are deeper than Reverbnation, MySpace, or Facebook. I pay for it, and find it too expensive for the “sound quality” of the stream. FOr that kind of money, I think that the end user should at least be able to choose the stream level on the player itself (just like on YouTube).

  • jonah

    Am I the only one that hates the waveform display because it spoils dynamic surprises? It’s like, oh look, it get spiky there, I guess that’s where the drums come in. It’s like watching a movie with that really annoying guy that’s already seen it and pokes you when something good is going to happen.

    This is one case where the option for a pop out floating window would be a good thing. Stick the track art, album art, or artist logo on there, a pause button and a buy button and call it a day.

  • http://raaphorst.info/ Raaphorst

    it’s cool but there are still many reasons for simply using mp3 instead of html5-players. Google Reader, Feedburner etc still kills iframes. 

    somehow it feels like the audio is hidden in a player. sometimes that’s nice, for selling, but in a lot of situations (RSS,podcasting), this is the last thing you want.

    I admit, a heavy challenge for SC. maybe this desicion is not so bad at all for most people. 

  • Bob Ruzzo, Cranston RI

    I like the old soundcloud interface MUCH better…I like to have the “sets” where it lists the songs in a handy drop down list. The interface of the drop down list works great on Facebook. The NEW soundcloud interface requires too many mouse clicks to get to just play any specific song. It is cumbersome and clumsy and I HATE the sets being in one whole waveform, which is kind of stupid in the first place. Waveforms are totally not necessary. I use coundcloud pretty much for showcasing my own albums of original work. But all this other stuff seems buggy and a real pain in the ass to navigate.