As of 2015 I hate SoundCloud, no longer visit the site, and have been slowly deleting my tracks as I cut back on my membership category. Initially I had some great experiences and have been richly rewarded with the discovery of artists doing similar work and the acquisition of some delightful online friends.
I will tell you of the rise and fall of my SoundCloud experience.
In 2010-11 I would have conversations with this guy while we were in the service elevator, traveling between the basement and the 37th floor. He worked in the mailroom of one of the primary tenants (occupying about 35 floors) and I worked for the company that installed and maintained their office furniture. Turned out he was an artist, too, working in a variety of media, also like me: graphic arts, sculpture (something I don’t do), poetry, and music. I gave him a copy of 15 Years of Prattle and Din.
This was Kristoffer West Johnson.
He suggested I post my recordings on SoundCloud. I’d never heard of it. So often someone mentions a site or I stumble across one and it seems promising until I start exploring it. My very vague recollection is that SoundCloud looked like a waste of time but it was free so I uploaded all the tracks from the album.
This was the first time since spring 1985, when I participated in a group exhibit of drawings at the Duluth Art Institute, that anything of mine had been placed before the public.
What started to turn me around was that I began exploring groups. I found other people combining poetry and music (or sound). This encouraged me to find the work of others, to hear what else was being done, and to exchange comments and emails. In other words, I found a rudimentary online community.
Of course I usually confused and offended whenever I commented on someone’s recording or responded to their comments on my stuff. Part of this is because many of the people I interacted with were not accomplished speakers or writers of English. Yet it was a thrill to engage with someone in Hungary or England or Argentina or Japan, to name a few. The idea that some obscure radio program in England or Germany had played one of my recordings or that one of them was part of a DJ set in Serbia gave me so much pleasure. But also to engage with the artists on a personal level was such a rare experience for me. Unfortunately I have a strange way of joking that is often misunderstood, even by family. And I am very resistant to kind words directed at me or my art; they were so rare in my childhood and those people who always say them seem insincere, so it’s been a struggle to be gracious enough to just say thank you. I also get prickly when anyone suggests that I’m a musician—it seems an insult to those who really are.
A related, attempted good thing that failed was a blog called Poetry and Other Sounds that was intended to be a bit of a reference point for poets working in sound the way Tape Op is for recording engineers. There were two primary failures: one is that it’s just too small of a field, many of us are working alone and suspect we’re the only one putting poetry and music together; the other is that I have neither the skills nor personality to be an editor. It was too much of a growing process for someone who doesn’t have the time to consume or adjust to all the new things out there on the internet.
Was it 2012 or 2013 that SoundCloud launched the new interface? It seemed designed to shut out people like myself, those creators exchanging ideas and support. On the one hand it became just another market site for producers and consumers. On the other it became just one more social site exploiting the narcissism of following (look at me! look at me! I have great taste!). One fatal change is that I was no longer able to limit my stream to what was posted by those I follow. My only reason for following someone was to hear their recordings and not to get sucked in by their tastes in music (though it’s a great way to discover new music I’d stopped following most of the musicians in order to focus on the poets, ostensibly to feed Poetry and Other Sounds). The other flaw is that the comment boxes became so small that you couldn’t read anyone else’s comments nor put in much of your own. It came to revolve around being seen commenting on someone’s track without actually saying anything. Dialog was over.
The results were that I stopped posting, I stopped listening, I stopped commenting, I stopped following or even logging in, and now I’ve begun deleting my tracks. The temporal commitment was sometimes more than I could afford but I seriously miss the new recordings and the interaction.
Below are the names and slight profiles, in alphabetical order, of some of the more talented and interesting people I encountered on SoundCloud, all of whom have become an online friend to some degree. I encourage you to support these artists. Most of us feel we’re so far out of the mainstream that every penny and pat on the back means something.
Andrew James Anderson is an American musician. I’d almost forgotten him because I had poets on the brain. His music could be lumped into some sort of dark ambient industrial ghetto if you don’t want to think about it. I’ve always heard it as a form of tone poem (though descended from industrial) with layers and textures gaining in intensity as the piece progresses. We’ve had a sporadic email dialog that almost ended up in us meeting face to face when he was in Minneapolis. That would have been cool but awkward, because I’m so shy I become very strange.
Lee Foust is a poet and prose writer, musician (drummer), raconteur, and academic who spends three quarters of the year in Florence, Italy teaching creative writing and summer breaks back on his home turf in the San Francisco Bay area (where, once upon a time, he was in a band called Nominal State), I assume trying to recover his humanity. His recordings have kind of a street corner vibe, Dante meets the Beat generation. So far I’ve only had the opportunity to purchase one of his books, prose and poems. The recordings of the poems were made available for download on SoundCloud but have not been assembled into any kind of album. Lee and I have had some interesting email exchanges regarding pop culture: even though we come from very different backgrounds, being close in age we’ve had similar experiences because of mass consumerism (a love of horror movies and the resulting plastic model kits, for instance).
Mark Goodwin, poet and sound artist, teacher (as community poet), host of Air to Hear, lives in the UK. Mark aggressively seeks other artists to promote what we’re doing, including putting together an exhibition in England that featured recordings from all around the world. Over the years I’ve heard him develop as a sound artist. His readings are a sonic adventure, the phonemes often drawn out until the words are barely recognizable. His use of sound is more ambient than musical, more of a suggestion than a statement. I’ve purchased several of his books but his recordings have not been packaged in a way that is convenient for the general consumer (for instance, his publisher provided a download link to a limited number of book buyers), neither as CDs nor as downloads. The last time I checked very few of his recordings on SoundCloud were available for download (correction, Mark says that they are now downloadable).
David McCooey, poet, musician, and academic, lives in Australia. Mark Goodwin was adamant that I listen to David, who at the time had just uploaded an album of spoken poetry and music onto iTunes, Outside Broadcast, featuring many poems from his book Outside. His work is subtle, quiet, and restrained, in the manner of Tomas Tranströmer and Brian Eno. I have since purchased or been given books of his poetry as well as volumes of prose and poetry by his wife, Maria Takolander, both of whom teach creative writing at Deakin. David and I have since developed a rich online correspondence. I have also had the pleasure of mailing him a very large (actually, gigantic) box of Grape Nuts as a thank you for academic assistance for when my younger child was in Australia in early 2015.
Dave Migman seems to work in so many media I’m afraid of mentioning any for leaving out something. Poetry and novels, graphic arts, stone carving, music. He usually says he’s from the UK; I think of him as Scots (he has the most enviable accent). Whenever I can I buy his books and recordings, though much of it has been available for free download on SoundCloud. There are several solo albums on Bandcamp as well as a couple of collaborations with Spleen Erebus (I’ve had trouble purchasing one of these, it seems a Serbian bank is somehow involved and the transaction won’t go through—I hope this is not a permanent condition). His solo recordings tend to show punk roots, being rather stark and energetically abrasive. The readings with Spleen of course retain his dark, angry, misanthropic growl, like Poe or Baudelaire resurrected in the 1980s Punk scene, but surrounded by Spleen’s lush, dark, synthesized ambience.
American artist Jeff Sampson hasn’t done much with spoken word, that I’ve heard, but he has numerous albums featuring his voice and keyboards. A good place to start is on Bandcamp. I’ve purchased quite a few of these albums but have also been given some, more than a dozen total, and yet I feel I’ve barely tapped into all the work Jeff has available. The majority of this work could loosely be defined as ambient, though I’m always hesitant to label anyone’s work either because their creative output is too diverse or in the hope that it will become so. Jeff is not only prolific but also quite flexible. He and I have also developed a rich online dialog.
Hank Tilbury is an American painter, storyteller, and musician. He is the greatest person for exchanging comments on SoundCloud, simultaneously supportive and irreverent. I have had the good fortune of downloading a couple of his albums from Bandcamp (more or less ambient experimental rather than the bluegrass and folk he so often posts) but it’s such a small representation of all the fine work he’s produced. We’ve developed an online dialog that sometimes strays into talk of collaboration (I have set my words to one of his performances).
I’m not saying SoundCloud isn’t worth your time. I encourage you to explore the groups to find some truly unique and interesting artists. I will say it’s no longer worth my time.
Really, I just wanted to post this as a small plug for the artists I mentioned.
And to complain. Complaining makes me happy.