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“Sound is a fundamental part of how people are social with each other.”
When he was a kid, Swedish-born Alex Ljung never had a lemonade stand or dreamed of becoming a startup entrepreneur, but the founder of SoundCloud has quickly become a leading pioneer in our new wired world – due to the ease of collaboration, social interactivity, and iconic orange waveform that define his online audio distribution platform, SoundCloud. As engineering students in Stockholm, Ljung and his co-founder Eric Wahlforss were deeply dissatisfied with the platforms and tools out there for them to collaborate as musicians. They would struggle to describe to each other what part of the song they wished to edit and how they wanted it to sound, unless they were sitting right next to each other. There was Vimeo for video sharing and Flickr for photo sharing, but there wasn’t anything for sound sharing. Further, for Ljung, the existing audio platforms were just replicating the model and character of old media.
Like many great startups, the platform emerges out of a real need to solve a problem.
So it’s no wonder that SoundCloud was created by musicians seeking not money or fame, but rather a way to make collaboration easier. The unique insight and vision of the SoundCloud founders was not to tie themselves down to offering a service that just felt like pressing play on a cassette or DVD player, but harnessing and combining the deeply social essence of music and the Internet. The advice Ljung gives to budding entrepreneurs is to stop thinking and worrying so much – get out there and do it no matter how crazy or outlandish your idea, because you never know where it can lead. Hackathons are a vital part of keeping the stream of innovation flowing at SoundCloud HQ. Ljung and and his team built a ping-pong table, for example, that doubles as a musical instrument to build stronger team relationships.
Not only is sharing sound becoming more and more a part of our daily lives, but the platform is democratic and open, allowing users to interact and collaborate with the likes of the Deftones or 50 Cent, who broadcast and trade tips with the general community.
SoundCloud breaks down barriers between musicians and fans, which is the key advancement in the disruption of entertainment across all of the arts. Artists like Beyonce are using SoundCloud to hold remix competitions and encouraging fans to perform over their tracks. The platform is also challenging the traditional distribution model for music by giving users the ability to monetize their audio or music.
Initially, SoundCloud offered users the ability to share tracks and give feedback, and from this core idea, the platform challenged MySpace and other music sharing sites and has grown to over 180 million users. Ljung and his team didn’t attempt to go down the route of monetizing too soon, instead they continued to expand the social aspects of SoundCloud, so that now, there is an extraordinary amount of people sharing, connecting, commenting, remixing – listening to, and contributing to – all kinds of sounds from all over the world. Ambient noise from the International Space Station, White House press conferences, up-and-coming indie labels, and in Ljung’s case the very first cries of his cousin’s baby to announce his birth – all mingle in a polyphonic aural symphony found everyday on the platform.
SoundCloud was wise enough not to underestimate the impact of audio in this intensely visual age. Down the road, Ljung believes that SoundCloud will eventually host and share more content than YouTube.