Why do I like SoundCloud as a podcast hosting platform? What advantages can SoundCloud offer podcasters? Why should you consider SoundCloud as a place to distribute your podcast?
Last week SoundCloud announced that its podcasting features were now publicly available to everyone . Given that I've been using SoundCloud's podcasting feature in their beta program since May 2012, I want to share some of my reflections on why I think SoundCloud has great potential as a powerful platform for podcast publishing and promotion.
To set the context for my comments below, I started using SoundCloud three years ago to see how it could work for the "rapid creation of audio content". I wanted to just be able to push record in an app and then publish and promote my podcasts. I wanted it to be super easy. The result has been my "The Dan York Report (TDYR)" podcast that I publish now at:
From the start it's been an experiment to try out SoundCloud as a platform because I have several other podcasts I'd like to start. So TDYR has been my testbed to try out ideas and tools. I do pay for their SoundCloud Pro Unlimited plan which at $135/year works out to what I consider a reasonable $11.25/month for the hosting of my audio files.
As a result of all of this, here are 10 reasons I find SoundCloud powerful for podcasters.
1. Speed And Simplicity Of Creating And Sharing Podcasts
Here's all I do to create a new podcast episode:
- Open up an app on my iPhone.
- Press "Record" and record whatever I want to say.
- Press "Share to SoundCloud" (or "Upload"), enter in a title and hit the button to start.
That's it. The podcast is uploaded to SoundCloud and then shared out via the RSS feed to iTunes and also via social media to Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
That's seriously it.
Super fast creation and sharing/promotion of audio podcasts.
Now, of course, you could make the process more complex if you want to. I record my TDYR episodes as just raw audio without any kind of post-production and without an intro, outro or any other kinds of audio segments. In my case, I want the simplicity and rawness. But the beautiful fact is..
2. Many Applications to Create/Record Podcasts
... there are many, many, MANY applications that yet you create audio and share it up to SoundCloud. Applications are available for iOS, Android, Mac OS/X, Microsoft Windows and many other operating systems. SoundCloud has a whole directory of applications that can be used. Although many of them are for consuming/listening, they do have a whole list for creating/recording. Many of these are targeted at music producers, but many can also work for podcasters.
Because I am aiming for speed, I typically record on my iPhone and find that I'm generally using either:
- Opinion - an app targeted at podcasters that I reviewed before and like for its simplicity.
- Hindenburg Field Reporter - a more expensive but insanely powerful app with strong editing features, multiple sessions and more.
I've been primarily using Opinion for the past while but recently they rolled out their own podcast hosting (competing with SoundCloud) and now give that preference in the export/sharing part of the app. I'm a bit concerned that they may continue to promote that service and make it harder to publish out to other services. On the other hand, the Hindenburg Field Reporter app doesn't seem to be frequently updated... although that may not be necessary, really. It's a rock solid app!
I've also used AudioCopy, a free app that SoundCloud started recommending when they removed recording from their own SoundCloud app. It's fine, but I like the editing capabilities of the other two apps.
The key point is that there are many choices of apps that will connect and share to SoundCloud.
And, of course, SoundCloud just lets you upload an audio file in a variety of different formats. So you can record your episode using any kind of device or application. I've recorded some episodes using one of my Zoom Handy audio recorders and then just copying the MP3 file from the SD card onto my laptop and uploading to SoundCloud through their web interface.
3. Automatic Sharing Out To Social Media
A great part of the simplicity is that when I post an episode to SoundCloud it gets automagically shared out to whatever services I've configured. I've set up a default configuration and then can override that sharing from the apps during the upload process. The beautiful thing is it supports multiple accounts for Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+:
And, as noted below, you can use services like IFTTT to distribute podcasts out to even more sites and social networks!
4. Insanely EASY Embedding of Podcasts
Another huge advantage of SoundCloud is that it is incredibly easy to embed podcasts in a blog post or web page. SoundCloud supports "oEmbed" and so very often all you have to do is drop the URL of your SoundCloud episode into your software and... ta da... that's it! This works great for all my WordPress sites. It also works great in chat clients such as Wire.
If your site/application doesn't support oEmbed (such as TypePad, the site I use for this blog), it's trivial to get a snippet of HTML code that you can then drop into your post (as I will do at the end of this post):
This also works with social networks, too. Drop a URL for a SoundCloud episode into Facebook or Ello, for example, and the embedded player will automagically appear so that people can listen right there in their feeds.
5. Comments At Specific Points In The Podcast
Engaging with listeners is always a critical part of building a community around your podcast. Typically you get comments as replies to the blog post about your podcast or as replies on social media.
But what's cool about SoundCloud is that you can get replies AT THE POINT IN TIME within your actual podcast. If someone wants to reply to something specific you said, no longer are you trying to get to the point in the episode where you said whatever it was to remember what you said - the comment can be left right at that point of the episode.
Now, this DOES require a SoundCloud account. And so many of your listeners may not want to register for a (free) SoundCloud account just to be able to leave you comments at specific times. But some of your listeners might, and so for them it becomes a great way to build interaction.
6. Open API Makes Integration Easy
SoundCloud understands the power of becoming a platform for developers and they provide rich support through a SoundCloud developer program and much more. One result is the many applications I pointed out in #2 above, but another result is services such as IFTTT (If This, Then That) that allow you to easily set up actions involving SoundCloud. There are many IFTTT "recipes" for SoundCloud that are already available:
As the screen capture shows, the integration can go both ways - in or out of SoundCloud. For instance, I had a recipe for a while that would trigger whenever I published an episode to SoundCloud that would post a link out to my App.net account (until I pretty much stopped using App.net). I also plan to set one up that will post to a specific WordPress site every time I publish a new post. Going the opposite direction, you can see that there are recipes that will publish to your SoundCloud account every time you put a file in, say, a Dropbox folder.
Now, IFTTT is just one site. There are many other sites that have their own integration with SoundCloud... all because of this open application programming interface (API).
7. Search and Discovery
SoundCloud as a web site / service is all focused around the consumption and listening to music and audio. Like any social network, people with an account can "follow" you and get all your recent episodes. SoundCloud makes it very easy to search and find episodes. It supports hashtags.
Now obviously this is again using the SoundCloud site, which your listeners may or may not do... but this becomes a way that you can potentially find new users.
Just as the embedding of a podcast is easy, so is the downloading of a podcast IF you enable people to do so. This is a choice. But if you want to allow people to download an episode, all they need to do is to go to the episode page (an example) and the download button is right there.
If you create a good number of episode and want to highlight some of the episodes you think are the most important, SoundCloud lets you put up to 5 sounds in the "Spotlight" area of your SoundCloud profile page. A nice way to help people coming to your site to see what you think are your best or most important episodes
Typically as a podcaster you want to know how many people are listening, right? As I've written about before and we've talked about over on the FIR podcast, statistics are difficult because you can know how many people downloaded a podcast, but not whether they in listened.
SoundCloud has many statistics and can perhaps obviously give more statistics about user behavior when your podcast episode is played from the SoundCloud site or apps. For regular "RSS downloads", you still do get a good bit of information, although, as mentioned above, it's challenging to know what the stats truly mean. Here's the "RSS downloads" of my last week of TDYR stats:
Apparently I'm interesting to people (or someone) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! Who knew? And then Southbury, CT... (but I have family and friends in that region :-) )
Anyway, a good number of statistics are available
There are other reasons why podcasters may like the platform. For example, it's great that Creative Commons licensing is available for those who want to allow others to share their audio content under a CC license. There are also monetization options available that I, quite frankly, haven't explored yet (since I don't see TDYR as something that people would want to advertise on). The whole "social network" aspect of SoundCloud can be compelling, too, for building an audience. For example, people can "repost" your episodes and share them out with followers.
I'd note, too, that you don't have to use SoundCloud as your exclusive hosting platform. A friend, Donna Papacosta, primarily hosts her podcast on Libsyn and then also uploads it to her SoundCloud account as an additional distribution channel. C.C. Chapman also posts some of his episodes to his SoundCloud account. So it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing. You can experiment!
While I'm obviously rather pleased with SoundCloud, there are still a number of issues I would love to see them address:
- Support for IPv6 - Given the work I do with the Internet Society, I'm looking for hosting platforms that realize that all the new mobile networks and the efforts to bring the next 4 billion people online are going to need to use IPv6 in their networks. YouTube, Facebook and all of Google's properties all work over IPv6. SoundCloud needs to get there, too.
- Use HTML5 instead of Flash - Similarly, SoundCloud really needs to ditch their Flash player and use HTML5 audio instead. Flash creates so many issues on my various systems. We now have HTML5 audio support in most modern browsers. SoundCloud has had experimental support for HTML5, but they need to move that out of beta, too, and make it the default.
- Finish the transition to their new website user experience - SoundCloud has been in this strange transition from their "classic" website to the "new" website for a year or more now and it still provides a strange and bizarre user experience. You click some link in your account settings and... ta da... you are back in an old user experience... and then you have to find your way back to the regular "new" view. They need to just finish this up.
Hopefully those are all things they will continue to work on to make the platform even stronger.
Getting Started with Podcasting On SoundCloud
If after reading all this you want to get started with a podcast on SoundCloud, they provide a very simple guide to begin:
Basically, you create an account, set up the RSS feed settings, get some app that will upload to SoundCloud... and start publishing!
If you are already using SoundCloud, all you should need to do is go into your "Settings" and to the "Content" tab where you will see your RSS feed and can set up any specific fields you want to configure:
As you can see at the bottom of that image you can configure your defaults for all uploads in terms of the license and whether uploads are automatically in the RSS feed.
Again, the Creator Guide for podcasting has more info.
I was admittedly rather skeptical of SoundCloud in the early years of my experimentation. Their "support" of podcasting in their beta program was pretty weak three years ago and it seemed all they wanted to do was build their own "walled garden of audio" and try to get everyone to come onto their platform.
But with this public launch of "podcasting" (which really amounts to exposing RSS feeds!) they've finally opened up those walls and made it so that you can use the SoundCloud platform for hosting your podcast - giving you all the advantages I've outlined above - but then making your content available to everyone out there to consume in whatever applications and systems they choose.
I look forward to hearing many more podcasts on SoundCloud... including yours! Please do feel free to follow me on SoundCloud as I continue with my experimentation. I'd love to hear from you what you think about all of this, either in the comments here or, of course, on the accompanying audio version (TDYR 243) of this post up on SoundCloud.
 In full disclosure I also use Libsyn for hosting some of my podcasts (and have since 2005) and find their services very useful, too.
Photo credit: A merger of a Flickr CC-licensed image from Colleen AF Venable and SoundCloud's logo.