Feature Photo by Malakhai Pearson (@malakhaipearson)
The internet has had an undeniable impact on how music is consumed, created, and discovered. But more than ever, the average person has the tools to learn and nurture their ability to create music. Over the years digitalised music has meant the ability to create music is no longer dictated by the need to learn an instrument, now music can be stringed together by the aid of digital software and an understanding of song structure or musical theory is picked up by ear and intuition. Just look to genres like Grime, EDM and Garage; Music has always been transformed by a burning DIY ethic and Music on Soundcloud is our most recent incarnation of that.
What powered the popularity of these genres is the discovery and understanding of the languages used in these art forms, followed by the willingness to experiment, and use them. A healthy combination of SoundCloud and YouTube is allowing artists to discover and be audacious with their talents and create a distinct sound. An innovative way this has taken shape is through a culture of remixes, re-edits and ‘flips. Just like preceding musical forms, a major part of these edits is digitally altering vocal samples, but what makes it so unique is the blend of genres, it’s almost impossible to pin it down to one type; it goes beyond genre and focuses on influence. The outcome is a vivid representation of how SoundCloud has allowed everyone to bounce ideas.
For around a decade now, upload-to-stream services like SoundCloud have helped a new generation of musicians from a diverse range of backgrounds distribute their music and pick up both local and global audiences for their profiles. Access to music production software and YouTube online tutorials which show you how to use them has also allowed artists to fill in the gaps and hone their crafts. Most importantly it has allowed Black musicians to be the distributors and promoters of their own art forms whiles connecting musicians across the diaspora. Baille Funk, Lo-fi Hip-Hop, Jersey Club, Gqom are just a handful of genres, young black producers are infusing into their remixes and production across the platform. Soundcloud edits are yet to get their true cover story but there has been the widespread appreciation in the radio and club scene. Artists like Kaytranada and Sango or the record label Soulection, which have been picked up by the music press, provide a beacon of hope to the artists that are consistently creating.
But what has also reared its ugly head with Soundcloud is journalism’s need to explain or ‘rationalise’ Black art forms and competition. Soundcloud Rap is a buzzword that’s been scattered all over everyone’s timelines for the whole year. And has done little but show the mainstream’s tendency to focus on the most commodified, controversial, and mimicked form of black culture. The focus is rarely on MC’s from but rather packed with the understanding admiration which follows the Lils and Yungs. Soundcloud has also taken the step to compete in with other streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. The quicker discovery of new artists, genres and albums is the promise that ties all these platforms together. This is a blessing and curse for DJs and producers, as their tracks can be picked up by the algorithm and shared more widely. But it has also meant tighter rules around copyright and the need for profiles to be ‘professionalised’, meaning titles, tags and photos must be perfect.
To make sense of all of this I spoke to three artists, SAY3, Parris and K. Le Maestro
K, Le Maestro is a young DJ and producer from London whose mixes have caught the attention of platforms such as Complex and reached over 1 million streams.
Parris (TheKidParris) is an upcoming London- based producer and DJ who has been featured on Soho Radio
Say3 is a DJ and producer from Miami, who has collaborated with the likes of Bryte and Mina. He also runs “Flux” a party in Miami centred around global influences and forward-thinking underground music.
All three artists use SoundCloud to distribute and share their music. We spoke about the Soundcloud discovery culture, the algorithm, and the internet:
Q: How did you first start making music and become familiar with the software you currently use? Was the internet ever part of your process?
K.Le: I started out in 2012. Being a pre-adolescent, I was bored out my mind and wanted to find a new hobby, so I picked out music since I was fond of it. My older brother introduced me to Mixcraft in 2010 but I rediscovered it in 2012. The internet has always been a vital part of my process as it allowed me to be open to a new platform of music that and also allowed me to obtained sounds that shaped my sound today.
Say3: I probably started making music lightly in 2012 and at that time I was producing off of FL Studios, I was making a lot of like abstract trap beats just messing around in the program. Fast forwarding to now, I’m a huge Ableton advocate. I remember randomly stumbling across Ableton on google searching for different DAWʼs. I needed something efficient. “Dubspot” helped me with the basics of the program and I figured the rest out by just pressing buttons and experimenting in the software.
Parris: When I started university, I got a copy of FL Studio 12 from one of my friends just to play around with it and see what I could make. Although I was coming from quite a musical background, I was terrible when I first started out! By getting into a consistent routine with my production and watching a bunch of YouTube tutorials I was able to pick up other producers’ techniques and learn how to make well-structured songs.
Q: What are some of main influences, has stuff you’ve heard on the internet influenced what genres you create or helped you discover new genres?
K. Le: My main influences usually change from time to time but I have a few solid influences that have helped shape my sound; those being: J Dilla, Madlib, DJ Premier back in 2014-ish but as my sound progressed and being open to new music from the internet and especially platforms like SoundCloud, people such as Kaytranada, TEK.LUN, j.robb etc helped me redefine my sound and break out of the music I was used to making at the time.
Say3: I ask myself this same question all the time, for me I think my influences are always changing. Currently I’ve been heavily influenced by the sounds coming from Lisbon and Gqom. To answer the second question; slightly. I’ll hear a genre of music I’ve never heard and become inspired and try to merge it with another genre of music, creating a culture clash. I think that’s always my goal when I produce and DJ.
Parris: Having grown up on a lot of soul and reggae music, I feel that I am inspired by the melancholic mood that is present in a lot of older songs. I always try to channel this nostalgia into my own music when I’m making beats. When I was in school, I discovered SoundCloud and started listening to people like Joe Kay who runs the Soulection channel. I got put onto several producers and artists, I would never have found otherwise. In addition, I am always looking for samples on YouTube ranging from Jazz to electronic to Latin etc.
Q: Did you begin making mixes with the intention of making a career out of it, or was it a hobby?
K.Le: It was mainly a hobby but also a passion I was sort of in denial of due to the high expectations of parents (especially ethnic parents) and career paths. Making music was a release from the stresses of normal life and school and was something I’d seek when I had nothing going on or if I felt compelled to get creative.
Say3: Really, I started out just producing and making beats, but it wasn’t really putting money in my pockets, so I switched to making club tracks and remixes, then I learned how to DJ and started getting local bookings. Since then I’ve fallen in love with making people dance and being able to control the dance floor with my music, its top 5 best feeling ever.
Parris: One of my friends randomly asked me if I wanted to split the money to buy some DJ decks and I was down to try it. As I started getting familiar with the hardware and putting out my own mixes, more people were telling me they were feeling it so then I started putting on my own events as well. I started DJing out of chance, but it has now developed into an events company I run with a couple of my friends called PACE ENTERTAINMENT.
Q: Do you believe SoundCloud’s paid streaming services has complicated things?
K. Le: SoundCloud’s paid streaming service has created complications for both the users and the artists who upload onto the sight as it takes away from the experience as ads are really the last thing you’re trying to hear when listening to music. But it’s beneficial to the artists who are dependent on the revenue gained in order to fund their expenses whether it be for music or day to day life. In hindsight, I feel the commercialization of SoundCloud will ultimately lead to its decline eventually as it takes a lot away from the experience for both the artists and the users.
Say3: Yes and no, I think the so called “SoundCloud rappers” should be benefiting from that service, there’s a good bit of underground rappers that do crazy numbers on SoundCloud, but I don’t know if they could say the same on iTunes or Spotify. It gets a little complicated for DJ and producers though, that 3 strike rule is real. They’ve cracked down a lot more because of paid streaming service I feel like. To be real, I think Bandcamp is doing it right. Don’t sleep on them.
Parris: Soundcloud has clearly been trying to compete with other streaming services with the introduction of the Soundcloud Go service. The only issue is as they become increasingly similar to the more established platforms like Spotify and Apple Music and their original unique selling point is diminished (which was based around discovering new music). This takes away from the authentic feel that SoundCloud originally had, it clearly hasn’t stopped stop some of today’s stars being discovered on the platform (artists like Juice Wrld and Lil Skies).
Q: How do you think SoundCloud’s discovery algorithm has impacted your work?
K.Le: SoundCloud’s algorithm has definitely in a way managed my work to get across to a wider audience as it would be hard for me to market my music alone without the help of a system that can shuffle these songs into people’s recommendations. But I think it’s definitely clutch for artists as it’s able to present your music in a near professional way in which can grab people’s attention and get heads turning.
Say3: SoundCloud’s discovery algorithm has been a blessing, a lot of my DJ friends tell me all the time, when they dig for music my edits always pop up in the related section. The best way I can describe the algorithm; it’s a snowball effect.
Parris: I try not to pay too much attention to the analytical side of stuff to be honest, and focus on the music as much as possible, however I do feel the genre labelling aspect is very important if your uploading your music on SoundCloud. This is mainly because it’s so easy for the public to discover new music by listening to related tracks and stations on the app.