SoundCloud: The New Place for the Modern Version of the 12"

…and the reemergence of the true EP

I love denitia and sene’s music.

For the past month or so, I been playing “Olive” — on repeat sometimes. Playing it to death.

As it stands right now, it’s a standalone song. It’s not a part of their previous release, side efx, which had a completely different sound and there’s no announcement that it’s a part of anything else either.

This is not uncommon in the modern world of SoundCloud, the latest place for artists to introduce their music to fans…and for them to be discovered.

I quite fancy it. I was always a fan of the one-off track. But e’rybody ain’t up on SoundCloud mining. So let’s talk about that shit.

When we wrote about Desiigner back in February, sure, a million or so people had possibly heard his smash “Panda,” but the song had not made it out of the online world.

A placement and backing by Kanye West, and a Mr. West assisted video changed that. Now it’s not uncommon to hear “Panda” being played by a soccer mom at the local 7–11.

Desiigner’s gone on to release what we now call a mixtape (which is really just a free digital full-length release) but for months the only song you could find from him was that one — “Panda” — that’s it.

Some people balked at that, but it’s not so uncommon in the world of SoundCloud…and really not uncommon for the online world of music.

Ten plus years ago, before Facebook utterly destroyed it…and all competition, the place to discover new music was a social media site that I’m sure most people can remember. Yeah, that’s right, MySpace.

Maybe we can blame Rupert Murdoch, who knows. But MySpace was once the place to be. Most media types point to Lily Allen’s MySpace success when they speak of the medium as a place for music exploration and later commercial exposure.

But that’s their world. We had other cases in our world.

In our world, we have Lupe Fiasco, who’s “Kick Push” exploded on MySpace (back when everyone was predicting him to be the Saviour of Rap). J*DaVeY also gained exposure on the site. Their work there, opening for Prince, as well as a cosign by Gilles Peterson (who was playing their music back in ‘05) landed them a Warner Brothers deal in ‘07.

Jay Electronica, before the Just Blaze released and produced “Exhibit C,” gained a national following when he reluctantly dropped “E.S.O.T.S.M.” He was already a well-known industry musician and a former Source Unsigned Hype rapper…but “The Pledge,” which Jay posted on MySpace back in ‘07 garnered enough attention that he was added to the Rock The Bells Tour.

And of course, everyone’s favorite former actor, Drake, was also a MySpace baby. I know that seems hard to believe. But it’s true. MySpace, according to High Snobiety, considered Drake “the best unsigned Canadian artist” back when he was acting on Degrassi in the day and recording and posting his songs at night.

All you need is someone to champion your music and in Drake’s case it was Jas Prince, son of Houston power hitter J. Prince. Jas Prince felt that Lil Wayne would be the best fit for Drake’s music…and although he had to sell Wayne who at first wasn’t convinced…Prince turned out to be right.

Note: even OVO upstart PARTYNEXTDOOR was “discovered” and gained management from his music on MySpace.

Of course, Facebook was growing at the time too and MySpace was imploding so artists needed someplace else to go.

Alex Ljung

SoundCloud came into existence at the height of MySpace’s reign in 2008 and quickly garnered press. Barely nine months into it’s inception, Wired magazine was giving SoundCloud a feature article with the very prophetic title, “SoundCloud Threatens MySpace as Destination For Twitter Era.”

That article covered how groups like Sonic Youth, and artists like Moby and Beck had jumped on the platform due to it’s ease of use and the fact that songs could be embedded unto other sites.

Functionality was the starting point and Alex Ljung and fellow classmate Eric Wahlfoors started the program in ’06 as a means to share their own music.

We both came from the creator side of music. Eric (co-founder) was an artist creating music. I worked as a sound designer creating sounds and music for TV and films. We had both been tech geeks all our lives and were really into the whole social web movement around the time of Flickr. But there was no Flickr for music. There was nothing built for artists. Alex Ljung

Having big names like the above-mentioned was great for helping SoundCloud land funding and grow from a company of 50 employees to it’s present amount of 190. But it’s the smorgasbord of unsigned and unknown talent that use the platform for their music that’s helped SoundCloud grow into a site with over 32 million users.

The first time SoundCloud entered into my world is when we were first taking a wack at getting Fun Da Mentals off the ground back in 2011. We were looking for a platform to make our mixes on and stumbled across SoundCloud. Sadly, every mix we made had 80% of our songs flagged and extracted due to copyright issues.

I wondered, “what the hell is this good for if not putting up mixes,” decided to find another option — Mixcloud, and that’s how we came across Soulection (their first 153 shows can be found on that platform). If you’re not one of the 300,000 or more subscribers to Soulection’s SoundCloud page and escaped the buzz they generated by being one of the first shows that premiered on Apple’s Beats 1 debut, then you should certainly give their page a gander.

Before reading interviews from Soulection’s Joe Kay, I had been strictly combing the netherworld of YouTube to find new artists. But Kay, championed SoundCloud (and eventually moved his show there as well…even they have run into copyright issues with the platform).

I still find most of my Hip-Hop on YouTube but R&B and SoundCloud…now that’s been a good fit.

Bryson Tiller

Yeah, I know once people saw Bryson Tiller blow up off of his SoundCloud with “Don’t” and 30 million listens (I first heard him via Soulection) and now the breakout artist Desiigner did the same, it’s going to be the go-to ghetto platform. (Case in point: Lil Yachty’s “1Night” which once only existed on SoundCloud, has 10 million hits and was the song that opened the door for him with every Atlanta rapper’s manager Coach K). I only go there to find updates from artist that I already know…or to go down the proverbial rabbit hole.

And what is that rabbit hole?

The way it used to be in the dark ages before the Internet, we had to work. We read liner notes for the producers and shot outs. We also did the same with guest appearances. We heard K-Solo, and waited…and waited…and waited until the album was released. Oh, and we bugged who was ever behind the counter at Russel’s Record Store (R.I.P. Dahlia Shopping Center) for a release date (Sayyed Munajj and I almost got banned for asking about Leaders of the New School’s debut so much). That was the old rabbit hole.

The new one is similar but a click will take you to where you want to go. Let’s take my song of the past month “Olive.”

Straightaway — the cover art says produced by Sly5theAve, a name I’m familiar with but whose Soundcloud page I’ve never visited. Checking out his ‘likes’ led me to Melissa McMillan, a self-proclaimed R&B/Jazz Vocalist. She has five tracks on her page, of which, “Keep Coming Back to You” is by far my favorite. But also on denitia and sene’s “Olive” post, they list the artist who contributed…live instrumentation good stuff. (that has nothing to do with the rabbit hole…it was just refreshing that they had seven people get together to make the song). I eventually ended up listening to O Mer (an artist a few scrolls down on Sly5theAve’s page).

A couple of weeks ago, I did the same when NAO released her debut album, For All We Know. Aside from seeing that she had one of the reclusive Paul brothers (in this case A.K. Paul) on the album, the majority of the album was done by someone who I had never heard of, GRADES, and his beats were amazing. (I still haven’t got enough of the bass in “DYWM,” that jawn is sick) Going to GRADES page led me to Sinead Harnett and listening to all of her EPs; the most recent of which, Sinead Harnett was released on August 4th. All told, she has 18 songs spread over five EPs which brings me to my last point.

Indigo Green Brown Orange

The first time I ever remember seeing an EP was the summer of ’91. We had been hearing about Pete Rock and CL Smooth on Heavy D tracks for years and everyone was kind of familiar with Pete Rock from his radio gig but we had never heard their music.

At just six songs, All Souled Out had us feeling cheated. But it was enough to satiate our hunger for hard production and reasonable raps. Of course a year later, we would get Mecca and the Soul Brother…but that’s another story.

Nowadays, when rappers say they’re putting out an EP them albums be like 9 songs. What makes that an EP? Because there’s not a double digit amount of material? Whatever on that.

Meanwhile, many of the R&B/Soul/Electronic artist releasing music on SoundCloud are putting out true EPs — recordings with six songs or less. I had the same feeling listening to IGBO’s Indigo Green Brown Orange EP last year that I had listening to All Souled Out…cheated. Good, live, music with a variety of contributors even the ever-present, everyone’s darling D.R.A.M. was on this recording…but it was only six songs.

And many of the artists that I mentioned above: denitia and sene, Sinead Harnett, IGBO, and another recent favorite Mizan K…all EP only releases…and with no forthcoming album talk or anything of the sort. They truly believe in the ‘leaving them wanting more' edict.

If you’re still not quite sold on how to find music on SoundCloud or it doesn’t seem like something that interest you, be sure to check Kiana Fitzgerald’s NPR page, First Listen. I’m not just saying that because we have similar taste either. The sista has a good ear and knows how to explain music in a way that eludes me and my general writing.

Look at this as a companion piece to “A Reformed Hater’s Mid-year Look at 2016.” There’s plenty of good music out there. It won’t just land in your lap in the way that it did when we had limited choices and radio was king. You’re not going to have it described to you alongside a rating system in a magazine that you buy monthly. Nor will you find it smashed between two videos of familiar artists that you know and love. Nowadays you have to search for it and that’s part of the fun…at least it is to an old b-boy like myself.