In Oxford UK last week, a group of audiophiles gathered around musician Neil C. Smith, and watched him make music. Not exactly unusual behavior, but the circumstances were. This wasn’t a concert, or a busking, or even an impromptu street jam, but a well coordinated event celebrating the tool that made the music possible at all. It was also an event that was being replicated, more or less, in 160 locations around the world.
SoundCloud’s Global Meetup Day on May 17th stretched from Boston to Berlin, and everywhere in between, with over 1,300 registered attendees. It’s the kind of event that’s becoming more common in the age of Twitter and Facebook--they encourage well executed and often unexpected uses of a tool that drive that tool’s innovation further. In other words, they’re like massive hackathons, meant to stretch the boundaries of the tool, inspire people to use it to innovate, while also testing the adaptability and usability of the tool to guide internal future innovations.
The Global Meetup Day was organized internally, socially, and by a handful of designated "SoundCloud Heroes," ambassadors chosen to help organize events at the local level. Fans of the music sharing site connected over their shared love of sound, made collaborative recordings, and tested the limits of what’s possible with the private beta version of the more social Next SoundCloud. By doing so in person, they also proved that these sounds have echoes that reach beyond the web.
"The biggest surprise was how large of a movement Global Meetup Day has become. It all started two and half years ago with approximately 4-5 meetups, but SoundCloud now has one of the top 10 local communities on Meetup.com," says David Noël, Community Evangelist for SoundCloud.
The social aspect of the event extended into the sounds accumulated during it and curated for it. At the Oxford meetup, after composer Malcolm Atkins spoke about his experience scoring films, Neil C. Smith used his own music software called Praxis, which can be downloaded and used for free on Google Code, to mix various shared tracks stored on the SoundCloud group dropbox. These tracks included birdsong, footsteps, actual beats, and other ambient noises. Eventually Malcolm joined Smith with some live improvisation too.
Elsewhere in the world, Jeremy Johnston gave the Syracuse group a tour of SubCat Music Studios, a world-class recording studio in downtown Syracuse, and home to all manner of top-dollar vintage gear. Chicago SoundCloud Hero Jaime Black recorded his meetup as a podcast and livestreamed the event.
In Berlin, the over 200 attendees glommed onto a surprise demonstration of Next SoundCloud by CEO Alexander Ljung. Although all participants were given passwords to try out the beta version of Next SoundCloud, they didn’t have to wait until they got home to use the new version, which can record anything and is instantly shareable.
"The feedback from our first Community private beta users has been amazing," says Noël. "Even with this being only a first step of the next phase, SoundClouders have been excited about the repost and sets feature, as well as, the continuous playback and keyboard shortcuts. We’ve also seen a lot of positive response about the new user interface and design. We can’t wait to roll out more features and updates."
Although it’s always interesting to see what sort of neat results materialize from an event like this--or, rather, hear those results--perhaps the most important thing is to simply put the people who love a tool the most in a room together and watch what happens. Eventually, they’ll show the creators how their tool is even more useful than they imagined.