Hi everyone! For one half of this week’s Practicum, I’ll be taking us through some of the basic features and functions of SoundCloud. Many if not all of you have probably heard of SoundCloud, or maybe even uploaded some music to it, and if you have, then I expect a link to that music in the comments. Anyway, SoundCloud is most well-known as a music-sharing feature where some big names have gotten their starts, such as Post Malone, Kehlani, and Kygo. But SoundCloud also has the potential to be useful for historians in various ways, which we will go over shortly. First, let’s figure out how to use it!
At its core, SoundCloud is a platform where users can upload any audio. Opera? Yes. Thirty minutes of a keyboard typing? Sure thing. Hip Hop songs that will be famous before we know it? Absolutely, yes to that. Once you create an account, agree to the Terms, and log in, you have access to all of these sounds and then some. Then you can begin to follow artists and “labels” and your friends’ accounts to get a glimpse of what they are creating and listening to. As you listen more and more, you can add tracks to your library so you have constant access to these tracks whenever you need them. Each track has additional information attached to it such as how many people have liked, commented on, and shared the track, related tracks, the artist or creator’s profile information, and different tags associated with the track to help you find other tracks that have similar tags. The information can feel a little overwhelming at first, especially if, like me, you are brand new to SoundCloud.
If you’re the creative type, and you want to upload your own sounds to SoundCloud, it’s relatively simple, but you will have limits with a free account. You can upgrade to SoundCloud Go for a monthly fee of $4.99, or to SoundCloud Go+ for $9.99. There is a student discount for SoundCloud Go+ that you could take advantage of, especially if your digital project includes sounds. Without the upgraded versions of SoundCloud, there will be advertisements every now and then, which can be frustrating.
SoundCloud recommend certain file types for uploading over others. The recommended formats are WAV, FLAC, AIFF, and ALAC, but SoundCloud will also accept OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR, and WMA. SoundCloud can also only accept uploads up to 48 GB, so if your file is larger than that, you will have to adapt it. For those who are excited about sharing tracks to SoundCloud but don’t know where to begin, SoundCloud has great resources built into their website to help even the most inexperienced SoundClouders get their tracks ready to go.
As fun as it is to search through tracks and lesser-known artists and innovative creators, we need to know how we can use SoundCloud for history. I see four main applications for SoundCloud within the history field. One of these has definitely been tapped already, but it could be even bigger. Oral histories, as we have read, are some of the most treasured primary sources we have. To be able to hear voices from decades ago detailing their experiences or certain events creates an unbeatable emotional bond. If we search for “Oral History” on SoundCloud, we will see that there are quite a few hits. While they are not heavily followed (the most popular of these accounts has 251 followers), they are here and they are putting forth oral histories that we may not have access to otherwise. There is the Busselton Oral History Group, the East Texas Research Center Oral History, the Scottish Parliament Oral History Project, and many more. With SoundCloud being so accessible, budding oral historians might find that SoundCloud is a great place to begin collecting, organizing, and presenting their histories for bigger audiences.
The second application, much like Spotify, is for podcasts. If we search just “history” in SoundCloud’s search bar, and then choose “People” on the left side of the screen, we will see quite a few podcast accounts related to history. These are much more popular, with some of them having as many as 800 thousand followers. Clearly, these history podcasts are reaching a wide audience through SoundCloud. Some examples of the podcasts on SoundCloud are Disability History, a History of Mathematics, History of Mozart, and “BackStory,” which presents a huge range of historical topics. While not all of these accounts are actively posting on SoundCloud (in fact, some jumped to Spotify to finish out their tenures), it is a great reminder that SoundCloud can be used as a starting point. Creators can get their foot in the door, build a network and connect with others, and then perhaps move onto a bigger platform like Spotify or Apple Music/Podcasts.
Third and fourth go hand in hand. SoundCloud is home to all sorts of sounds and narrations, many of which could be useful in walking tours or historical exhibits. For example, if Sara or Jane needed some creepy noises to accompany their DC tours, they could use any number of SoundCloud sounds to accompany what their visitors would be seeing. Either through a QR code or a link sent to guests’ phones or some other method, a guest could feel an even closer connection to the history they are encountering, whether that’s through sound affects like wind whistling through trees (there are 250 tracks of this) or through recorded descriptions of whatever the guest is seeing. SoundCloud could work in a similar way in history museums or exhibits. Bringing these sounds directly into the exhibits, or incorporating QR codes or links to the sounds as visitors travel through the exhibit, would change the emotional and physical experience of the exhibit or museum, ultimately making stronger bonds between visitor and exhibit.
SoundCloud is an amazing platform for those who have the time, energy, and patience to get to know it. On a surface level, there is a lot going on, and it can easily get overwhelming and can deter potential users from uploading any material or even listening to any material. All the same, it is an excellent resource both for recording and uploading oral histories, interviews, or sounds that may come in handy one day, and for finding sounds and tracks that could be used in a museum or exhibit setting.