Reflections on music, gratitude and vulnerability
Wall of memories at SoundCloud HQ in Berlin.
Today is my last day at SoundCloud. I’ll be returning home to LA after dedicating five years at SoundCloud and spending 10 transformative years in the Bay Area. I debated writing and publicly sharing this post but decided that in my current transitional state, now felt like the right time to share my reflections in my own words.
I met some incredible people through SoundCloud. I got to support independent artists in my role. I was at the intersection of music and tech where I could see the progress that so many talented sound creators were making over time–recording in their bedrooms, uploading their first tracks, playing their first live shows, collaborating with their musical heroes, and taking on any challenge and opportunity with gusto.
During my time at SoundCloud, I deepened my appreciation for music. Music has been the cornerstone of my relationship with my family, particularly my older brother Paul.
Growing up, he had a huge amount of influence on me; he was also the primary person who introduced me to music. My parents would drop us off at shows together throughout middle school and high school all over venues in LA because that was the only way we were allowed to enjoy live music at a young age–if we stuck together. My brother opened the gateways for me to explore music and get in touch with it on an even deeper level by writing about it, too. I would sometimes interview musicians before shows with my old school mini cassette tape recorder and notepad.
Fast-forward to many years later and now I’m the younger sister plugging my brother into what’s up-and-coming. Having my brother’s influence growing up translated into my being the friend who would also naturally introduce my friends to new music. I‘m the aux cord hog; I love introducing new ears to a sound I’m digging and supporting the people who push music culture and create from their hearts.
For all these reasons, I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to embed myself completely into a community of people creating and sharing their music on SoundCloud. Doing what they love has been inspiring and has given me the courage to discover things about myself that I might have otherwise shrugged off out of fear.
With my time at SoundCloud coming to a close, I wanted to share a glimpse of my journey and what I learned about practicing gratitude and embracing vulnerability.
2011 SoundCloud Community Team in Berlin: Jami, Ed, Marie, Natalie and me / The “Fish Bowl” All Hands meeting room at the first Berlin office
I joined SoundCloud in November 2011 as the platform’s first US community manager at a time when the company had about 60 employees across Berlin, London and the newly established office in SF.
It took some time for me to land the job. When I applied in June 2011, I was initially rejected because they were looking for someone more senior with community management experience. At the time, I was an account manager at a digital web agency, liaising between clients across the entertainment industry (everyone from The Killers to UFC) and our Design and Engineering teams to help get their websites, online fan clubs and stores off the ground.
Even after the initial sting of rejection, SoundCloud was magnetic, and I didn’t want to give up. Knowing SoundCloud was on its way to becoming a staple for creators looking to pursue careers in music, I wanted to help play a role in making that happen. After 5 months of consistent follow-up and two sets of interviews later, I got the golden ticket to join the ‘Cloud.
Community: Building blocks
With no prior community management experience, my first instinct was to reach out to as many individuals as possible across different subcategories of communities within the SoundCloud ecosystem–emerging rappers and instrumental hip hop producers, binaural audio recorders, classical composers, singer-songwriters and more. I would go down the rabbit hole, reaching out to creators of all kinds to say hello, learn who they were and why they had joined the community, and what their aspirations were.
I thought about the old music forums I would participate in and applied the same criteria to SoundCloud in that I was a peer, diving into the community headfirst. Along the way, I found the courage to share sounds too — as one example, I recorded random bits of noise like this back when the record button existed.
All it took to make a connection was a comment on a track or a private message, to say “Hey, it’s Jane from SoundCloud…” and spark an interaction and connection.
These interactions also fueled the community engagement activities we ran back in the day:
Community engagement activities and programs throughout the years: Fellowship, Heroes, Global Meetup Day
- SoundClouder of the Day, a series in which a random SoundClouder was selected and featured daily in an effort to encourage positive community engagement. The Community team would congratulate them via audio messages for being selected, like this one I sent to Cologne-based instrumental hip hop producer [Flitz&Suppe].
- SoundCloud Heroes, a community ambassador program where community members would organize meetups and online collaborations and activities like Audiobiography. We held a weekend summit in SF for the first 10 Heroes who flew in from all over the US.
- SoundCloud Community Fellowship, a program in which 15 sound creators received a grant from SoundCloud to use towards the creation of a sound project across a 3-month period. Some of these projects got their start through the fellowship and went on to become award-winning podcasts like DecodeDC and Here Be Monsters.
- SoundCloud meetups and Global Meetup Day to promote offline connections within local communities
For me, a simple hello goes a long way, and the little things matter. That’s been the crux of my community management experience: taking the time to connect with people and to be personable and open. Letter-writing was something that also flowed from my time on the Community team when I would write letters to community members, stuffing them into swag packages.
Taking the time to compose from the heart and write messages by hand is a personal touch that I’ve wanted to impart as a way to say a) I’m a real person, b) real people work at SoundCloud, and c) thank you for being part of the community. I have an affinity for writing, having always journaled since childhood and having a former life as a journalist and news writer throughout high school and college. Plus, I’m a card-writing aficionado on the side.
These relationships I built throughout the variety of Community Engagement activities and programs ended up building toward the next phase of my time at SoundCloud on the Content team.
Artist Relations: Growing and maturing
In 2014, I moved into the Content team as an Artist Relations manager to primarily support independent artists. This built on the experience I had working largely with independent creators while on the Community team. Over the past two years, my role has been to support the independent artist community through the On SoundCloud Premier program and continue to make connections with new artists to figure out how to best support them on SoundCloud and contribute to their growth.
One of my favorite, definitive memories was the collision of my work on Community and Content at SXSW in 2014. In order to foster as much of the community vibe as possible, I helped build out the daytime showcase lineup, adding everyone from former SoundCloud Heroes like acoustic singer-songwriter Cyra Morgan to people that were on the come-up like hip hop collective AGO and electronic producer Mark Redito.
SoundCloud Clubhouse at SXSW 2014
Independent artists are a massive part of what makes SoundCloud unique. I admire their strength, courage and creativity to continually push forward in the face of obstacles and unpredictable challenges as they try to navigate their way through the music industry.
I have learned a lot from them and am humbled by their stories and the passion and grit they have to carry forth and continue creating.
Practicing gratitude is key not only in building individual mindfulness, but also strengthening relationships with others. By sharing support and love with one another, only good things can blossom. Research also shows that practicing gratitude leads to experiencing more positive emotions, better sleep and even stronger immune systems.
Our journeys are our own to define. But there are people along the way who help us get to different places in our journey, who encourage and teach us something, whether in small or large ways.
I’m grateful for the many people–family, friends, colleagues, community members–who have devoted their time to support and encourage me to continue powering through despite challenges that inevitably happen.
I have gratitude for this experience in doubly identifying that music is a beautiful thing that brings people together. At the end of the day, after all the things are counted and the product pushes are out, we are here for the music.
Thank you to all the former SoundClouders of the Day for showing love and fostering community since the beginning.
Thank you to the SoundCloud Heroes across the world who dedicated their time and energy to lead community activities and be beacons of inspiration to those in their network and beyond.
Thank you to the 2012 Community Fellowship members I had the honor to help shepherd to create sound projects and express their creativity.
Thank you to all the SoundClouders who attended Global Meetup Day in the early days to meet fellow SoundClouders in person.
Thank you to all the creators on SoundCloud I’ve had the pleasure to support and connect with in any small or big way.
Thank you to all the creators on SoundCloud I didn’t have the opportunity to directly support but are continuously pushing their sound and building their audience. I hope to connect with you soon.
Thank you to independent artists like Chance the Rapper and Little Simz who are redefining what it means to be successful and are grinding away for their present and future, for the community and for the culture.
Thank you to all the producers and engineers like JRich who have connected me to a growing community of producers and engineers. You all deserve so much love and spotlight. On this note, if you are a producer and you’re interested in sharing your story with more people, get in touch with me on SoundCloud.
Thank you to collectives like The House who stay true to their Chattanooga roots and push hip hop forward.
Thank you to online collectives and labels like Soulection that are embodying the spirit of community and creating a movement on SoundCloud and beyond.
Thank you to all the artists who have broken out like GoldLink that I had a chance to support at the beginning of their careers.
Thank you to all the leaders in A&R like Tunji Balogun who have a close ear to the ground and are helping develop the next emerging artists.
Thank you to all the booking agency reps, promoters and festival throwers like Trillectro who are digging on SoundCloud to give artists a live platform and fans a chance to vibe.
Thank you to special individuals in music that I randomly met on this SoundCloud journey who have become supportive, inspiring friends and mentors to me, especially Mark Redito, Josh Bloom, Jacq Schneider, Jordan Caldwell, Vatana Shaw, Amir Abbassy, Rikki Blu and Free P.
Thank you to the SoundCloud team for the opportunity to be resilient and work hard through changes and ultimately hone in on the passion I have for music and connecting with people.
Thank you to my family and friends for being there for both emotional support through trying times and physical support in the form of helping me transport boxes and material for events like the Artist Forum (shoutout 아빠) and building out swag bags (shoutout Ry).
I missed a lot more folks to shout out here, but know that I’m grateful for your support and connection in whatever path we shared.
Vulnerability is courage. As author and research professor Brené Brown defines it, vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
Sometimes, we need to stand in the discomfort of uncertainty. Creativity, belonging, authenticity and love are uncertain, but they’re worth doing and showing up for. If we didn’t, great ideas and creations would not exist.
Vulnerability is everywhere on SoundCloud — through people having the courage to upload their work for the world to hear, whether first uploads, works in progress, final tracks, or whether in pursuit of a hobby or a career.
Trusting your process is a way to embrace vulnerability. I’ve learned this from the leaps taken by artists I’ve seen emerge on SoundCloud, particularly independent artists. Riding the wave and finding the good in unexpected changes all fuel our growth to nurture what’s important, nix things that don’t work, and ultimately, strive to elevate us closer to being our authentic selves.
Self-care and self-love are the backbone of trusting your process and who you are, whatever it is that your goals are. We don’t have to have everything figured out right away, but we can start somewhere.
I’ve learned to embrace my own vulnerabilities and take chances on me, to remind myself that it starts with doing this for me and to be authentically myself. I am grateful to have absorbed this learning in particular as I move forward in my own journey outside of these SoundCloud walls.
What’s next? Keep in touch
I’m moving back down to LA and getting back to the blank page of writing for now.
If you’d like to keep in touch and follow my experience riding out the post-SoundCloud wave, I hope you’ll subscribe to my newsletter. Every now and then, I’ll share some words, tunes and random bits and pieces across the Internet that inspire me and/or spark vulnerability, courage and self-love.
In October, I’ll be attending the 2016 A3C Festival & Conference in Atlanta to participate in a mentor session for artists and producers. Subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter where I’ll share more information soon.
I’m also on SoundCloud all the time so if you’re an artist, producer, any kind of sound creator really, feel free to drop me a private message there if you want to get in touch.
Be kind to yourself and celebrate how far you’ve come. You are destined for greatness.
p.s. *Bonus* if you got all the way down here: The SoundCloud San Francisco office mailbox.