When you’re a musician, you’re constantly passing between the private and the public spheres. Practicing by yourself in a soundproof room is a private activity. Playing an audition is a public act. Reading a score silently is private; releasing a CD is public.
Some people are quiet and private by nature and abhor the stage, even though they’re professional musicians. Others are extroverted and gregarious; for them life on the stage is a party, and the torture is to be alone with their thoughts and feelings. In brief, both the timid and the gregarious need to work on their passing from private to public and back again.
For the past couple of years I’ve been posting recordings to SoundCloud, an online platform for sharing sounds. It’s been productive and enjoyable. Among other things, SoundCloud allows me to make the passage from the private to the public sphere in safety, so to speak.
SoundCloud is inherently flexible with a clean, attractive, uncluttered look. Every artist is welcome to use it; every song is welcome; every listener is welcome. You can use it under a pseudonym if you wish. Or you can post your sounds without hiding your pretty face, if you prefer. You can consider it part of your professional profile (therefore turning it into a public arena). Or you can consider it a tool for exploring your creativity (therefore making it a more private experience). You can use it for free, or you can pay a monthly fee to unlock extra features. Uploading and editing tracks is very easy and requires just a click or two.
I’ve uploaded tracks from my professionally recorded CDs, tracks recorded on my iPad Mini, tracks recorded on a handheld device with decent mikes (a Zoom HD3, which only costs a couple hundred dollars), and tracks recorded in an inexpensive neighborhood studio. If you have no equipment and no access to a studio, you can record yourself well enough with a smartphone. I’ve posted unedited tracks, but also tracks that I’ve souped up in some way. (I use a free audio-editing program called Audacity. It’s easy to use — a click here, a click there, and you have shortened a track or an added reverb.) SoundCloud forgives everything.
What I like most about SoundCloud is how much it has inspired my creativity. Some of my tracks are from the mainstream repertory, like the sonata for cello and piano by Claude Debussy. Others are compositions of mine—for solo cello, for cello and whistling, for piano and voice, and many other combinations. A friend of sent me a spoken poem, for which I improvised a piano accompaniment. Some of my tracks are shorter than a minute; we might call them “sonic snapshots.” Others are more elaborate, involving (for instance) cascading harmonics with echoing effects.
On several occasions, the desire to feed my SoundCloud page, as it were, spurred me to musical action. Because I had a sort of professional pride in keeping up a steady stream of fresh postings, I’d get active in the practice room and prepare sketches and songs. What crazy thing can I do with the cello, just so that I share it on SoundCloud? How about tuning the cello in a completely unorthodox way? Sure. I’ll lower the G string to a D, raise the C string to the same D, and have a sort of “D Major cello” with incredible harmonics and resonances. It’s nothing but pure joy.
I’ve long believed that it’s useful for everyone to juggle two or more projects, instead of concentrating on a single one. Turning your attention from one project to another, and then back again, allows you to stay fresh and energized. Musical ideas sometimes need to sit in the backburner for a while and simmer without your paying conscious attention to them.
Although SoundCloud won’t bring you material riches, it allows you to develop your musicianship and professionalism. It allows you to do things you wouldn’t do on stage or in auditions and competitions. It allows you to test the waters when you’re working on something new. It allows you “to be yourself.”
Featured image courtesy of Pedro de Alcantara.