I use the word ‘market’, incidentally, since even though a hosting service might be free at base level, it will often upsell paid services, and/or make money from third party advertising. Some file hosts, indeed, set up their businesses to cater predominantly for content pirates. People who get hold of a commercial track, upload it to the file host, and then share it with their friends. Completely illegal, obviously, but let’s be honest – this is what’s driven all of the massive file hosts to prominence… Or in some cases (most recently Megaupload), to ruin.
So, why can’t a musician use any old MP3 host – the ones people use to upload and download commercial content? Well, they can, of course. But the big problem is, most of the regular file hosts don’t offer live streaming of tracks. The streaming function allows people who discover your track on your blog, on your website, on a forum or wherever, to play it straight away, in a single mouse click, without downloading.
If you’re an unsigned artist, this is essential. Let’s face facts: virtually no one who knows little or nothing about you or your music, is going to download your songs on spec. People just haven’t got the time to spare, so being able to present an MP3 as an instant audio stream is going to be, for most of us more obscure musicians, the difference between someone listening to our tracks, or skipping past our links never to cross our paths again.
This is not a problem with commercial MP3s. People know what the song sounds like, and they either want it or they don’t. If they want it, they’ll go to the trouble of downloading it. Plus, there’s also the added impetus of the downloader getting something which they know should cost them money, without charge.
Okay, so which hosts offer free MP3 streaming? Well, there are actually quite a few, but most have highly restrictive limits on bandwidth and upload capacity. For example, filefreak offers MP3 streaming, but it’s not designed for widespread sharing, and it limits free users to 250MB of upload space, along with a streaming bandwidth limit of 250MB per day. The bandwidth governs how many people can stream your files in a given space of time. With just 250MB per day, only 25 people could stream a 10MB file before it became unavailable. That’s not many within a 24 hour period if one of your songs was to get a little viral buzz. As I say, though, filefreak isn’t really designed for that – it’s a personal fileserver rather than a third party host.
Other hosts include Soundclick, which is predominantly a networking site aimed at forging relationships between musicians and listeners who want legitimately free music. The site also encourages the music industry to involve itself, and the whole project seems to be built around the hope of being a ‘hopeful’. To be honest, I got a bit glazed over with Soundclick, such is the intensity of the networking – which has no appeal to me. I just want to upload tracks, and stream them to various pages on the web, for a variety of purposes – not all of which constitute entertainment (if indeed any of them do), and none of which constitute a bid to start a career as a musician. Anyway, there’s quite a bit of coverage elsewhere relating to Soundclick, so I don’t feel too guilty missing it out of the main reviews.
For similar reasons I won’t be looking at Myspace, which also apparently offers free MP3 streaming options. Tumblr offers free mp3 streaming too - with a restriction of one MP3 file per day, 10MB maximum file size. However, for reasons given in my Things You Should Know Before Using Tumbr epic, I'd advise some serious consideration before uploading any media content directly to Tumblr. If you want to post tracks on Tumblr without uploading them directly, you can use Kiwi6 as a host and hotlink your songs to Tumblr's Audio posting facility. That way you retain a more reliable degree of control over your original music.
Typically, the MP3 streaming hosts have very strict original music only policies, and some of them look like they take piracy very seriously indeed. Essentially, if you’re someone who genuinely does create, or have the legitimate rights to original content, and you need to stream it around the web, these hosts should suit. If you want to stream Michael Jackson albums, I’d expect you to get banned pretty swiftly from most of the sites mentioned in this piece. Here are the three I feel will be most worthy of attention for those looking to stream original audio content for its own sake...
SoundCloud is almost certainly the best known streaming host for MP3s. You can open a free account very straightforwardly, and the utility is undeniably great to use, with a very professional feel.
However, there are some significant drawbacks. Firstly, with a free account, you’re allotted two hours of upload time, and when you’ve used that up, you either have to pay for a subscription, or accept that you won’t be uploading anything else. The upload time is simply the amount of time it takes SoundCloud to upload your tracks – not the actual play length of the material you upload. So if you have a track that’s four minutes long, and SoundCloud takes a minute and a half to upload it, then you use up a minute and a half of your upload time – not four minutes.
If you compress your MP3s down to 128kbps, you should be able to upload more material than if you only compress them down to 192kbps, because you’ll be uploading physically smaller files. Be warned, though, SoundCloud definitely doesn’t rush itself when uploading. As a guide, I’ve now got 14 songs on SoundCloud, and I’ve used about 40 minutes of my upload time – a third of my free quota. You can’t get upload time back by deleting tracks. Once you’ve used it, you’ve used it.
The next drawback, which affects even those who pay for their accounts, is that SoundCloud’s stream player won’t work on any forums which have not taken the special step of enabling their system to take SoundCloud. It works on Blogger, Wordpress, the big social networking sites, etc. But if you want to stream SoundCloud to a forum, you’ll almost certainly have to contact the administrator, and hope he or she gives enough of a stuff to look into it. If it’s only you who’s asked, the probability is that the forum won’t bother.
If you have a free account, SoundCloud doesn’t permit downloading. People can listen to your tracks, but not technically download them. In reality, of course, listening to your track is downloading it, so the more tech-aware listeners can use a cache capture program to save your song once they’ve played it. Freebies like VideoCacheView will record SoundCloud tracks and allow you to save them – even when downloading is disabled. But most of your listeners won’t know that, so if they’re likely to be put off by the fact that they can’t download, either you’ll have to pay SoundCloud for an upgrade, or face the fact that people could be disappointed.
To be honest, though, I deliberately disable downloading on streams with other hosts. If you have a blog, the lack of a download facility means some people will bookmark a page and return to your site if they really like a track. It’s very unlikely they’ll bookmark a song page if they can simply download, so in theory, if your songs are good enough, disabling downloads can get your blog more traffic. Here's how the SoundCloud stream player looks when you post it onto a web page. It resizes itself to fit, and appears here as a straight copy and paste of the default code. Clicking the orange button starts your track playing...
There are plenty of tools within SoundCloud to set up the system exactly as you want it. You can make any individual track private or public. Private tracks are hidden so no one can find them on your SoundCloud ‘page’. But the hotlinked streams will still work when you post them elsewhere. If you have a blog or website, and want to keep traffic on your site rather than merely having visitors go onto SoundCloud and bookmark your entire repertoire, setting the tracks to private can make a lot of sense.
SoundCloud also has social networking features. Personally, I’m not into the “I like yours, do you like mine?” charade, but it’s there if you want to ‘follow’ people, have them follow you, etc. Just to mention, though, if you’re like me and you’re not bothered about the social networking side of things, change your email preferences. By default, SoundCloud will email you every time someone follows you, and if you find yourself getting a lot of follows (SoundCloud has a lot of users), you’ll have yet another plentiful source of unwanted email.
On the whole, SoundCloud is a very effective, reliable and professional service, and if you’re selective about what you upload, you can probably make available a very good representation of what you do, on idiot-proof, single-click audio streaming, without paying a penny. Soundcloud's tracking measures are aggressive though, so if you don't want LSOs dumped on your drive, etc, you may need to take preventative measures.
Kiwi6 is a bare-bones, no messing utility. It looks a bit of a small-timer at first glance, but in fact, there’s no strict limit on uploads or streaming bandwidth (unless, as the blurb puts it, you’re the sort of user who gets 100 downloads a minute – if only!…). So if you’re a regular musician with a fairly obscure band, I really can’t see Kiwi6 capping your needs unless it starts to get a lot more widespread use and changes its policy.
With Kiwi6, you can more easily post to forums, courtesy of its non-Flash direct hotlink feature. Rather than try to post a stream player, you simply post the hotlink direct to the forum's editor. It shows as a link on the forum, but when the link is clicked, a stream-player opens in its own window and plays the track. It’s still a single-click operation and it’s just as easy for the listener as clicking a play button on a stream-player.
However, the very fact that the stream appears as a link rather than a player on the forum page, could deter listeners. I find the presence of a stream-player on a web page creates an instant perception in the visitor that he or she can immediately play your track, and encourages him/her to click the play button. A link doesn’t in itself do that. But one way round this is to take a screen capture of the Kiwi6 stream-player, post it on the forum page, then link the photo of the stream player to your actual Kiwi6 track hotlink. Below, you can see the two versions. As you’ll find if you click them, they both stream the track in exactly the same way, but the top one looks like a download link, whereas the bottom one looks like a playable stream to any forum visitor/user...
|PLANET BOTCH - Change the Laws|
If you're posting to your own website or blog, you can simply use Kiwi6's stream player, which will reproduce as below...
Tindeck, and it took me quite some time to work out whether it was for real, whether it did what I wanted, and whether it was even compliant with some of the basic privacy and copyright standards which owners of original material have a right to expect. There really is a lot of stuff potential users would want to know about Tindeck, which isn’t covered at all in any size of print on the Tindeck site, before you join. Can you delete a file, for example? No idea. Does it tell you anywhere on the Internet whether or not you can delete a file on Tindeck? Not that I could find in fifteen minutes searching Google. Tindeck may regard stuff like this as immaterial (some people come from the “why would anyone want to delete a file?” school of thinking), but it’s actually a major privacy issue. You can delete a file, just to clarify (and to finally reference the fact in print on the web), but why on earth Tindeck can’t post their own guide to how the service works and what you can and can’t do I really don’t know. They've built a forum, and a blog on Tumblr, and yet they haven't taken the obvious step of putting up a simple set of FAQs on a link from the homepage? There’s also the issue of the sharing rights over your tracks which isn’t made clear before you sign up. In fact I was unnecessarily worried by Tindeck’s small page of blurb, which actually makes it appear that you can’t stop people from downloading once you’ve uploaded a track. Had it been the case that you couldn’t delete files (which I still couldn’t find out), then potentially, once you uploaded a track you’d be making it permanently downloadable, for free, without any means of retraction. For this reason, and because I didn’t in other respects have what I considered enough information to sign up, I nearly didn’t. In one of my more privacy-conscious moods I wouldn’t have bothered, and would have ended up missing out on what looks like a really good streaming host. But on the day I was feeling adventurous, so I registered with a username which could not be linked to any of my other web stuff, and uploaded a ‘nothing’ file as a test – just in case it couldn’t be deleted. Only then did I realise I could delete files, and that in fact, contrary to what Tindeck’s blurb says, you can block downloads for any given track after uploading. What you can’t do, is make your tracks private. They’re always visible within your Tindeck account. Not the best arrangement for me, but free streaming hosts are hard to find, and in every other way (apart from not being able to change your username to something less cryptic once you've established that the service is okay) Tindeck looks great. Here's a straight copy and paste of hotlink code from Tindeck onto this page… Upload MP3s using free MP3 hosting from Tindeck. As demonstrated above, Tindeck does enable you to post a proper stream-player to a web page, very easily, by clicking and copying a block of code on Tindeck, and pasting it straight into your HTML editor. There appear to be no strict limitations as regards uploads or bandwidth either – other than the fact that individual files can’t exceed 10MB. That’s tracks of up to nearly ten minutes in length, at good quality. Your MP3 files will get additionally compressed for streaming (which means the quality is reduced in comparison to your original upload), but downloaders will get the original file you uploaded. Downloaders will see stupid ads. I’ve just seen the immortal: “This is no joke!! You are our 100,000th visitor!!!”. Does any visitor who isn’t basically a bot ever take those seriously? Anyway, like all of the streaming hosts I’ve given full reviews here, Tindeck looks like a valuable and extremely welcome service. I haven’t been using it for long, so I can’t base my thoughts on the sort of longer term experience I’ve had with other hosts. However, if I do find any problems with Tindeck, I’ll update this page. I don’t expect to, by the way. If I did, I wouldn’t have given the service this much time and space. Ultimately, I do think Tindeck are shooting themselves in the foot in putting up such a wall of silence, because in so many respects, before you join you think there are going to be problems. Behind that wall of silence, however, is essentially SoundCloud, without the limitations, and with the added option of downloads, but sadly, without the option to make individual files private. If Tindeck allowed private files, and actually gave the potential user some information, it would very probably be the best MP3 host for musicians wanting a free and uncomplicated streaming service for their original work. If you’re the kind of person who’d always want his/her files to have public status, the free Tindeck account definitely looks better than the SoundCloud equivalent. [UPDATE - Novemnber 2015: Just to confirm, I've had no problems at all with Tindeck, other than the fact that currently, the site is not HTTPS compatible. That means if you're posting Tindeck streams to HTTPS web pages, and users visit the secure version of your page, they're probably not going to be able to see or use the Tindeck stream. With more and more of the web moving to HTTPS, the problem with this is likely to worsen unless Tindeck implements HTTPS. For this reason I reverted to using Soundcloud streams on this site. I stress, though, in every other respect, Tindeck has easily been my favourite MP3 streaming host.]