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It’s a (Sound)Trap!

Soundtrap, a Swedish online music collaboration startup that was acquired by Spotify in December 2017, is launching a tool today aimed at podcasters called “Soundtrap for Storytellers”. The software itself includes a remote, multitrack interviewing system, interactive transcripts and text-to-audio editing, and access to a sound effects library. Of course, all of these products already exist in all sorts of forms, but Soundtrap is betting on the attraction of uniting these different aspects of podcast production in a single place and, since they’re operating on a freemium model, under a single $14.99 monthly subscription. (Which is, of course, separate from the Spotify Premium subscription, because listeners and creators are two different monetizable buckets, I suppose.)

I spoke to Per Emanuelsson, Soundtrap co-founder and CEO Per Emanuelsson, last week to learn more about this expansion into spoken word audio after years focusing on music. (Soundtrap also has an education version of its music tool aimed at schools).

The intention, Emanuelsson said, was to create “a full production environment where you can do professional-sounding podcasts, collaboratively done on the web.” He’s confident that they will get people switching from their separate solutions for remote interviewing, transcription and so on, to the combined service. “We’re catering for the semi-professionals, I would say, who would like to have something that’s simple to use in a browser that doesn’t require big hardware investment.”

(Sidenote: how sought-after a feature is the kind of text-to-audio feature that Soundtrap is offering? As a producer, I’m instinctively wary of it, since I’d never want to cut tape without being able to see the waveform. I do use transcripts for story edits, of course, but via a tool that timestamps, rather than actually cuts, the original audio file. But I’m aware that I might be in a minority here, and that it could be a big time saver for some. Let me know.)

Soundtrap is also taking advantage of its position as a Spotify-owned company to promote that platform; anything made with Soundtrap can be published directly to Spotify or downloaded for hosting and distribution elsewhere. It’s this aspect that interests me most: a one stop shop podcasting software? Isn’t that supposed to be Anchor? How does Soundtrap sit within the wider Spotify family, then?

Soundtrap, Emanuelsson tells me, is “run basically as a separate brand within [Spotify].” When I asked him about how this new Soundtrap product works alongside Spotify’s other podcasting businesses, he made several distinctions between what Anchor his new tool. “Anchor is a creation tool focusing on mobile first — a little bit more like simple and fast creations that you do on the fly, on the mobile,” he said. “And then there’s the other part of Anchor which is hosting and monetisation for any podcast.”

The company has no intention of offering those publishing options at the moment, and they’re looking to attract podcasters working at the more advanced, production-heavy end of the market. “What Soundtrap is focusing on is the ability to create professional-sounding podcasts with all the different aspects of that — sound design, effects, remote interviews, music and all that.” It’s a fine distinction, and Soundtrap is openly acknowledging that there is some overlap, since users who don’t want to publish solely on Spotify and want to host their Soundtrap creations somewhere are recommended that they use Anchor.

So there’s some attempt at synergy and cross-pollination here between the two Spotify-owned businesses. I’d also see this as experimentation — Spotify wants to see what works and, on the creation side, which part of the market is most likely to pay for what. There’s a bit of a “throw different things at the wall and see what sticks” feel to this, for sure. Judging by the software demo I was shown, I’m not sure that audio professionals at big publishers will be switching away from their current systems to use Soundtrap, but I can see the attraction of the price point for what I would loosely call serious hobbyists and part time podcasters.

The other aspect of their tool that Soundtrap is keen to push is the transcription (which at launch is only available in English), and its potential for discoverability. It’s possible to transcribe audio on the platform and then use a text editing interface to cut the tape, but also to publish the finished transcript alongside the audio to “improve SEO.” Soundtrap includes the ability to publish transcripts as well as audio to Spotify, Emanuelsson said, which is a feature the platform is adding in the near future. “For now. when [Soundtrap for Storytellers] is first released, it’s available for search engines so it will be indexed by Google. Later on obviously it will also be available by for clients to consume it.”

Some tantalising hints, then, about what’s to come from Spotify with podcasts in the next few months. Maybe.