The ongoing media revolution remains a fascinating thing to watch as it unfolds. Not only have we seen revolutions in video (YouTube), but also books (Amazon), shopping (eBay) and even shoes (Zappos)! Today though, we’re going to focus in on music, and specifically soundtracks to animated films and how SoundCloud could be a valuable tool for distributing them.
The Current Situation
Audio and music has been one of the areas that has undergone more upheaval than most. First Napster illustrated that tracks were preferable to albums (for most acts) and secondly the iPod illustrated that people wanted to take a lot of music with them, or at least have access to their entire collection. Lately, the shift has been towards streaming services; essentially ones where instead of buying the music, you subscribe to a service which lets you access it.
Both Spotify and Rdio provide streaming access to their vast libraries (this blogger has opted for the latter given its album-oriented approach as opposed to Spotify’s mass track listings) for about $5/month. Other services such as iTunes and Amazon allow you to buy tracks or albums rather than stream them, although Amazon is facing competition from Google in that regard.
Why Soundtracks Are Important
Soundtracks and scores are enjoyed by many animation fans. Indeed they have formed a significant part of many anime series and films for decades, with a pop song seemingly mandatory for any series or OVA.
Here in the west, that isn’t really the case, Sure, we’ve all seen the novelty albums put out (The Simpsons Sing the Blues seems to come immediately to mind) but actual soundtracks albums and scores seem to be the preserve of feature films only.
That’s unfortunate, because as the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra series indicate, animated TV shows are perfectly capable of containing significant soundtracks and scores that are enjoyed by fans. The various petitions for an official release of both, perfectly illustrate that demand is out there.
Where SoundCloud Comes In
What is essentially the bone of contention, is that studios often don’t see the benefit to releasing an animated soundtrack officially. Even in Korra’s case, the cost of an official release could be well above what they could ever hope to make back in profit. Distribution isn’t necessarily the problem either. Disney have their soundtracks on both Spotify and Rdio.
SoundCloud is a similar service in so far as it allows listeners to stream music, but where it excels over Spotify and Rdio is in its social features. It permits embedding, sharing and following on a near-seamless level. The key here is that not only can users easily listen to music, they can discover new stuff too!
Not only that, SoundCloud promotes a collaborative community that encourages creators to release their material on the site and to remix others’ work. Even legendary producer Giorgio Moroder has a SoundCloud page where he has posted a sample of Donna Summers’ seminal song “I Need Love” for others to use.
A Theoretical Scenario
The distribution benefits are easy to see, but how could the other benefits play into an animated series or film? Well, simply posting tracks would allow fans to share the ones they like with their friends and followers; that’s simple exposure. That could easily draw in fans who hear the music before they see the animation. Although some would argue that that could never happen, consider the fact that people listen to far more media than watch during the average day; the reason being, naturally enough, that they are working or travelling when viewing isn’t possible.
So exposure is a plus. What else? Well, if you encourage remixing, then that opens up a whole host of new avenues. Theme tunes are an evergreen source of remixes that continually pop up despite most TV shows never releasing tracks at all! There are even remixes of remixes out there, proving that music is not a once-and-done form of artwork. SoundCloud doesn’t discriminate between tracks either, so it’s possible to put things like sound effects and voice tracks up as well. Just imagine if the legendary Hanna-Barbera library was available for all to listen to and play with!
Exposure? Great! Remixes? Superb. Now what? Well, it’s what underpins everything, that is, the connection with fans! The ability to directly communicate and interact with fans will be the engine that drives future content. Until now, it has been a one-way relationship. Sites like YouTube are instigating a two-way model, but too often, studios simply post the content and let the fans discuss it amongst themselves.
For a site like SoundCloud to work properly, interaction between the studio and fans will be necessary. Consider a fan who’s made a kick-ass remix of a track from a studio’s animated show or movie. The studio could easily endorse it somehow or even utilise it in a future episode. The goodwill cost to them would be nothing, but the payoff would do wonders for the creator and other fans.
Its Already In Practice!
As usual, Frederator is ahead of the pack. Their Cartoon Hangover channel already has a SoundCloud page where lots of music has already been posted. Theme tunes, FX tracks and instrumentals are all available for SoundCloud users to listen to, remix and share as they please.
In the non-musical sense, both Skwigly and Cartoon Brew upload podcasts for the animation community to enjoy and share.
Soundtracks unfortunately occupy the fringes of animation production in terms of revenue. They’re a necessary part of production but far too often cannot be officially sold in a profitable manner (unless of course it’s a large Hollywood production). Lots of TV shows and smaller films have had their soundtracks languish in obscurity when they could be proliferating creativity.