Liverpool Sound City's convention director Jon-Paul Waddington looks at the company's leading social audio crowd gathering
Your average tech head tends to love nothing more than the next big thing, hopping from start-up to start-up, populating a space then vacating it as soon as the next site/app/plug-in becomes the place to virtually be seen.
But some trends bear closer examination, outlive the initial novelty value and hype, and in doing so become valid, valuable and, crucially, actual honest to God useful additions to your digital life.
Social audio is set to be just one such sector, something that may well become a permanent feature of how we all inhabit and populate the digital space.
However, you need to know where to plant your flag. And for now the best two in the field are engaged in something of a David and Goliath face-off.
SOUND IN THE CLOUDS
Coming out of the corner with a heck of a lot of backing, including the support of uber-VC Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, is SoundCloud.
Lauded as something of a MySpace killer – though you may argue MySpace did a good job of finishing themselves off way before that – SoundCloud is already widely regarded and widely used in the music industry and has rapidly becoming the standard tool for sharing large, studio standard files, be they individual tracks, mixes, podcasts or radio shows.
It’s clean interface, bags of add-ons, desktop or app versions – along with its usability, customisation vast user numbers make it a very attractive proposition. It negates the need for an occasionally cumbersome FTP set-up so if you’re sending large bulky uncompressed music files from one developer to another it can take valuable time out of the process.
But the SoundCloud team are not content there. In addition, they’re making a concerted effort to push further into the social realm: from the usual followers/friends type angle, they’ve recently moved into beta with Take Questions, an ‘audio Formspring’ or God forbid an ‘audio Quora’ hat grew out of a Music Hack Day session with Imogen Heap, allowing users to ask and answer audio questions.
They also provide a ‘digital field notes’ record functionality that allows users to capture sounds wherever they are, which is exactly where they began to encroach on the territory of the David of this little fable – AudioBoo.
BOO ON STAGE
Launched in March 2009 and – though partially supported by Channel 4 – not nearly as heavily funded as SoundCloud, this app was initially pitched as an audio Twitter, with Boos replacing Tweets.
All very sociable, innovative and diverting for sure, but where it’s really come into its own is in just the area it now overlaps with SoundCloud. The ability to take short, snappy audio clips has been utilised by those both citizen and professional – perhaps most effectively by The Guardian in their blog coverage of, for example, the G20 riots or the recent anti-cuts demos.
Audioboo provides mini-reports, live from the front line, delivered with great ease and again scores highly in term of usability with geotagging and photo attachment options. It’s more of a pure, out and out mobile app than perhaps SoundCloud, but makes no bones about the fact as that’s was their aim from the start.
So, if you’re feeling that tweets and posts just don’t cut it and you need to move your audio assets across the web, where do you turn to? Well, without wanting to hedge our bets the simple answer is that you probably need both of these tools in your digital toolbox.
For a short burst of sound delivered on the hoof, AudioBoo is your weapon of choice – for longer tracks, uncompressed sound or mixes, it’s SoundCloud all the way. And a little competition between the two can only be a good thing for eager customers looking for ever-improving platforms so it’s very much a win/win situation.
And before anyone says it, the dead tie is nothing to do with the fact we’re got Mark Rock of AudioBoo and Dave Haynes of SoundCloud both speaking at Sound City this year. How dare you even consider that to be the case.