Ever wondered what kind of music people are making right now in Rio De Janeiro? What about Paris, Berlin, or Istanbul? Think about what it would be like to descend upon a city and immerse yourself in the musical styles, energy, and ideas of its inhabitants… you guessed it, without leaving your computer or Apple iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad).
That’s the defining sentiment of CitySounds, a nearly two-year-old app founded by Henrik Berggren and David Kjelkerud over a 16-hour period at the London 2009 installment of Music Hack Day. The CitySounds.fm web app and its $1 iPhone companion (Berggren says they’re discussing an Android version), dovetail with the popular SoundCloud music-uploading site to deliver the music scenes of over 25,000 locations to the rest of the globe — including “soca” (defined below).
Because it categorizes music by location rather than, say, genre, CitySounds presents a different view of the world — and the world of music — than one finds in other services, and it’s all just a tap, click, or shake away.
This app takes a curated approach: If a song is not happening, popular, or local to you, you won’t hear it.
You can browse by the latest uploads from everywhere for a sense of the current zeitgeist, check out the most popular cities, or see what’s playing from your current location. One might pine for a “city search” feature, but you won’t find that here, although you can scroll through the Latest and Most Popular lists to navigate the globe quite extensively –or, in the iPhone version, just shake the phone to play a song from a random place.
In terms of the catalog, you’ll find plenty of fresh and surprisingly high-quality songs on CitySounds. Its music source, SoundCloud, was originally designed to help musicians and “their people” zing around music to each other, and now hosts a wide range of both local and higher-profile music.
Evolver.fm spoke with Berggren from his native Berlin about CitySounds, its effect on local music communities, and what you can learn by listening to a city’s scene.
Chase Hoffberger, Evolver.fm: Why did you build CitySounds?
Henrik Berggren, founder of CitySounds.fm: David and I had always been super into cities and music discovery and how that works out. At the moment, I was working for SoundCloud in Berlin. There was an intern there who had done an overlay of tracks on a map. You could click on a city and see which tracks were popular in that city. What David and I were talking about was making some kind of preview channel that allowed you to check out a city and see what kind of music vibe that city had.
Evolver.fm: There’s no test or approval process for starting a city on CitySounds. You just have to launch it?
Berggren: What you need to do is basically just upload your tracks onto SoundCloud and set your location in your profile. Five minutes later we get all the new tracks from SoundCloud. We’ll place them on a map so we know that it’s a real city. If we don’t have your city in our database yet, we’ll create it for you.
Evolver.fm: Do you have an active business relationship with SoundCloud, or do you simply scrape their data in a friendly way?
Berggren: We scrape their data, yes, but they also have an awesome API that we can tune into. The artists on SoundCloud can explicitly say on their profiles whether or not they want their songs to be used on third party sites like ours.
Evolver.fm: Why did you design CitySounds the way that you did?
Berggren: David is a genius when it comes to design and making sites look visually stimulating. The idea we had was to create screens like you have at an airport, the ones that show you when flights are arriving and departing. Cities have a lot to do with travel, and we thought that look would convey the exploration that we’re trying to provide on the site.
Evolver.fm: What I’ve noticed about CitySounds is that because there’s no filter or categorization within cities, each city can produce a variety of sounds. You can have techno next to hip-hop next to pop music. Do you have any intentions of classifying sounds or niching things together so that you’re not jumping across the map?
Berggren: We are actually classifying now. If you go into the details page of each city [like Brighton's, for example], you’ll see that we show the most popular genres available within the city at the top of the playlist. So you can click on each genre and listen to a more specific type of music. In terms of more classifying, it’s hard to analyze every track manually — there are just too many.
The cool thing is this: The bigger cities in the world have an eclectic sound with a lot of different styles — techno, hip-hop, blues, pop-rock. But if you go into the smaller cities, like Trinidad and Tobago’s San Fernando, the sound is pure soca music.
Evolver.fm: So you can click on these cities and get the pulse of what everybody’s listening to.
Berggren: What we wanted to do first was tap into the vibe of each city. What music is popular right now, and where? That was our intention. What we’re doing now is actually searching in Flickr for pictures tagged with a particular cities name and putting them on our site. Then we’ll switch the pictures every other day or so, so when you click on a city, you also get an image of what the city looks like right now, which we like.