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Alexander Ljung

SoundCloud founder and CEO Alexander Ljung set out to create a better way for musicians to collaborate online, but is revolutionizing the way we consume music and spoken word content.

After losing its position as the world’s most popular social media network to Facebook, MySpace found a successful second life in the niche music market. The growing popularity of the German start-up SoundCloud, however, is now threatening its position as the de facto online platform for musicians. Since its launch in 2007, the company has quickly become the web’s largest online audio distribution platform with some 30 million registered users and content that reaches more than 180 million people every month.

Creating the YouTube for audio

SoundCloud’s founder and CEO, Alexander Ljung, had a much different vision for the service when he launched it with friend Eric Wahlforss. It was originally conceived to help music industry types share recordings with each other. “It was just really, really annoying for us to collaborate with people on music…just sending tracks to other people in a private setting, getting some feedback from them, and having a conversation about that piece of music,” remembered Ljung in an early interview with the American magazine Wired.

Their idea, however, quickly took off and morphed into a full-fledged publishing tool. Unlike MySpace songs, which are confined to the site itself, SoundCloud audio files have a distinct URL and can be embedded anywhere, including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They also have no file-size limit, so a local DJ can upload an hour-long set, and the platform allows fans to comment on specific parts of a recording. Musicians can also share songs publicly or only with certain contacts.

All these features, which were readily available with widely-used photo and video sharing sites, were not available to musicians before SoundCloud. Artists and labels find SoundCloud attractive because it finally provides a much better fit for the fast-paced world of Twitter and Facebook that has emerged over the last few years than a static MySpace page. It makes the process of creating and distributing audio content and connecting with fans much easier and more accessible, much like WordPress, Flickr and Youtube have done with blogging, photos and videos.

Beyond music, SoundCloud also sees itself become the central hub for all podcasts and spoken word content on the Internet. The cumbersome delivery model for this content, Ljung thinks, has, “made the transition slower into having it embeddable, interactive, social, sharable to Facebook and all that stuff.” It has also frozen the format of spoken word content in a paradigm of “one hour shows.” A platform like SoundCloud will lead the transition to more digestible and sharable content, much like YouTube has done with videos. Earlier this month, SoundCloud was banned in Turkey due to uploaded audio files of phone conversations of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan implicating him in a corruption scandal.

Going with the flow

As a teenager, Ljung was not the entrepreneurial type. The Swedish native became interested in technology and music from early on and hoped to combine his two passion by pursuing a career as a sound engineer. After high school, he landed a job in a post-productions studio, thanks in large part to an album he had produced himself in his bedroom. Working as a producer, Ljung found himself with his head in the clouds all day and quickly realized he had much bigger ambitions.  Soon after, he enrolled in a university to study human-computer interaction with the intention of becoming a researcher.

It was during an online sociology research project with long-time friend and SoundCloud cofounder Eric Wahlforss that the two realized their true calling. The pair was conducting interviews with social media entrepreneurs when they realized that, while the Internet revolution had delivered ground-breaking solutions for consumers and creators of videos, text and pictures, sound creators had no medium to do the same things. “We suddenly realized something was missing and…we just had to do it. It wasn’t a choice or anything,” Ljung remembered in an interview with Forbes.

It is this passion to “do something” that has proven to be Ljung’s greatest strength throughout his career. While his passion for what he is doing has remained unchanged, he has always allowed himself to evolve to changing circumstances as his project grew from a way to help musicians collaborate into a veritable revolution in the way we consume music and spoken word content.

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