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Dutch producer CESQEAUX described the best example of “when SoundCloud ads go bad” in a tweet earlier this week, and his situation was far more invasive than any issues I’ve personally experienced.

Hilarious, but so true and so sad! Nothing is going to drive people away from a platform quicker than continual vibe killing.

As of this week, on NEST’s SoundCloud Pro account (which historically has been ad-free), I’m getting ads even before my first play and on average between every five songs. There was no warning or opportunity to upgrade our account — when I tried to figure out what was going on, it was extremely confusing, but eventually I figured out we’re supposed to now pay for SoundCloud Pro AND SoundCloud Go. Could there be a less intuitive business model?

This double-dipping – splitting subscriptions between listeners and uploaders – is a typical move of Kerry Trainor, the new CEO of SoundCloud, who previously made similar moves at Vimeo. But shouldn’t being an artist or uploader who provides an excess of content on your platform, drives traffic on it (you know, maintaining the crux of the company’s entire value proposition?!) and even pays for that storage space, not have to deal with advertisements when accessing that data?

It seems like they’ve been testing the waters for a while now – over summer I can remember getting ads on our NEST Pro account here and there, but never consistently the way they’re coming through now. The message board is an endless thread of frustrated and confused users asking each other for answers, which are usually bolstered by a SoundCloud-employed moderator who needs three paragraphs to explain their subscription model — see below:

Hey so I have paid for 12 months subscription and get ads hitting me all day. Sick of it not being resolved. Check my payment history, Soundcloud Pro still current. Sort it for me pls.
Hi there,

Sorry about the confusion here – SoundCloud Pro will not provide you with an ad free listening experience. It’s important to note that the two subscriptions we now offer are completely separate from each other.

The SoundCloud Pro and Pro Unlimited subscriptions are there for users who want to have more upload time on their accounts, as well as other features such as extended stats information, and the ability to replace files on already uploaded tracks.

The SoundCloud Go subscription is for users who want access to our newly expanded catalog—everything from chart-toppers to underground artists— available offline and ad-free. If you already have a Pro Unlimited subscription, you have the opportunity to purchase SoundCloud Go at a discounted price through our SoundCloud Go page: Learn more details about the SoundCloud Go discount for Pro Unlimited users:

I hope that helps to shed some light on how our subscription plans work.


This post is from eight months ago, around the time they started testing the waters with ads on Pro accounts over summer, but it’s interesting to me that they noted the Go and Pro accounts are now “completely separate” and then continued to allow Pro accounts to operate relatively ad-free. If you’ve ever heard the old saying about how to boil a frog, it’s by turning up the heat a little at a time – if you turn the boiler on all at once the frog will jump out immediately, but if you do it incrementally, it will likely go unnoticed as the water slowly heats up.

For better or worse, this platform is the birthplace of the independent creator music culture I’ve devoted my life to, and its algorithm continues to feed me better songs than Apple and Spotify by a longshot, so I want to be solution-oriented here because I don’t want it to die. But these people are really trying my patience, so I’m going to come in hot here with a radical suggestion for you, SoundCloud – are you ready?

Abandon the listener subscription-based model; take it out back, kill it, and forget this hideous embarrassment ever crossed anyone’s mind. You’re panning for chump change while you’re sitting in the middle of a music consumer-data goldmine. There are areas of the music industry still ripe for disruption, but distribution is not one of them. That territory has already been settled by Spotify and Apple, and it’s too late to get in. Plus, the money isn’t that great anyway, so get over it. If the data can be monetized rather than relying on subscriptions, keeping the platform free will mean there are more users and thus the dataset will be more robust and thus more valuable. This concept seems pretty common sense to me.

Pollstar, on the other hand, is an antiquated model begging for disruption. For the last few decades, Pollstar has been the standard, subscription-based data hub for the concert industry. The information on which it relies is provided mostly by agents, managers, and promoters, all of whom have their own unique motivation to fudge their numbers to make it look like they’re earning and selling more than they are – if a show sells badly, there’s zero motivation to report that because it makes all parties involved look bad and could negatively impact future business. As a result, a promoter in a secondary market will look at Pollstar’s data, which they paid to access, and think an act is worth $15k on a weeknight and needs a 1000-capacity venue because that’s what their manager, agent, and other local promoters reported. Then they sell less than 300 tickets, lose their ass, and continue the vicious cycle by misreporting sales because they don’t wasn’t to report a total failure.

So SoundCloud, let me break it down for y’all, it’s insanely simple – replace Pollstar. That’s it! Someone probably should’ve thought of this back when you guys had a billion dollar valuation based on hundreds of millions of users, but I personally believe it’s never too late to do the right thing. How well an artist is doing on SoundCloud broken down by region and demographics, along with their touring history, which you don’t need Pollstar to obtain (we know how to Google stuff!), I think is way more predictive of how well an artist is likely to sell and what is an appropriate performance guarantee. So why not make that information available to not only Pollstar’s existing user base, but also brands who want to know what artists they should invest in as sponsors?

And you could tier the living shit out of it! Imagine if a promoter in Denver only wanted to pay for information about that region — they could pay a minimal monthly fee. But if a massive brand wanted to access information about what artists or genre Millennials are hyped on in an entire country, they could pay astronomically more. I know it’s easy for me to say that because I’m just some asshole with no knowledge of the inner-workings of the company, but based on what monetization efforts look like from the outside, it feels like you guys could use some outside-the-box thinking.

SoundCloud is the most important platform on the internet for DIY music creators and, as I mentioned previously, extremely dear to my heart so I want it to bounce back and I don’t see how that’s possible with a user subscription model. So I end this op-ed with a simple, why not? I truly believe that by comparing touring history to both real-time and historical SoundCloud activity at the granular demographic level, provided that the platform were as active as it was in back in the billion dollar valuation days, y’all could disrupt the music industry again in a really great way that would generate boatloads of cash. This is just like, my opinion, man, but it comes from my heart and even if it’s totally in vain, I genuinely hope you consider a business model pivot of this magnitude.