Spoiler alert: this love story is going to end like every other, it’ll be til-death-do-us-part or a collapse into a heart-wrenching breakup. Although the outcome of SoundCloud’s story has yet to be determined, the script is being written in real-time and every move they make adds weight to their fate in the end. But what about moves we the users are making to support our beloved platform? As a blogger I use it every day, and even using it purely as a fan, it continues to be the source of my most frequent a-ha moments in music discovery. As of the last 30-45 days, though, nearly half the songs I’ve written about have been made non-embeddable on SoundCloud — that’s a huge shift from the status quo of the last several years and if this trend continues, for me at least, the platform will become increasingly obsolete.
For most tried and true electronic music junkies it’s impossible to imagine what the last decade would have been like without SoundCloud. Founded in September of 2007, it became a music-blog staple by late 2009 and what seemed like the go-to platform for musical creators by 2012. There are no barriers to entry, it’s easy to use, discovery on the platform is unparalleled, and their embeddable player continues to look the best and have the most options aesthetically and for metadata. They waited a long time to monetize, too long many would argue, and since the announcement of SoundCloud Go last year have been rolling out a new subscription tier or feature every three months it feels like.
For the record, here are SoundCloud’s subscription tiers so we don’t get confused.
Go – Access to 120M+ tracks, offline listening + no ads
Go+ – Full access to 150M+ tracks, offline listening + no ads or previews
Pro – Up to 1,000 downloads per track uploaded to their account
Pro-Unlimited – Unlimited downloads available on all of their tracks for their fans
Premier Partner – Content uploaded to SoundCloud can be monetized in certain territories.
Each of these tiers was rolled out separately with very little continuity between them, creating a great deal of confusion among both consumers and creators. It was confusing just trying to aggregate this information; nowhere on their website (that I could find) is their subscription information laid out simply and completely. Here’s another kicker – although SoundCloud separates their subscription tiers by whether they’re consumer or creator-facing, in order for a creator using a Pro or Pro-Unlimited account to avoid ads or previews, they have to add a consumer-facing Go+ account at a discounted rate! Does that not seem completely counterintuitive? The creators who are creating the content which generates SoundCloud’s value have to pay an additional fee to avoid ads while the majority of their listeners continue to use the site for free. This business model seems fundamentally flawed.
When SoundCloud Go was first launched in March of last year, dissent was palpable, not because of outright objections to monetization but because the creators were caught up in an unexpected bureaucratic snafu when suddenly their music was unavailable in certain territories or only allowed a preview to be played. The shift was jarring, packed full of gross oversights, and made SoundCloud look like they didn’t have their shit together. As a consumer, I was immediately turned off and figured I’d let them iron out all the kinks before I started giving them any money. Over a year later and I haven’t given them a dime, but I’m about to because I’m completely reliant on SoundCloud both as a blogger and avid electronic music consumer, and they’re offering a special right now where I can get 30 days of Go+ for free!
Earlier this week they introduced a new feature called The Upload, which to me basically serves the same function as cruising through my feed, except curated and minus the hassle of endless scrolling and wading through shit I don’t like. And to SoundCloud’s credit, their algorithm for the most part really gets me and if they’re going to save me the trouble of cruising the feed for new heat then I just found a reason to get excited. It’s far too soon to tell how good The Upload is going to be, but so far in the first few days of using it I feel like the algorithm is curating the sort of artists I like to listen to, but the song choices seem random and overall pretty lame. Once again it feels like SoundCloud rolled out a feature before it was fully ready and lost my attention in the process.
But as consumers participating in the digital marketplace in 2017, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the concept of getting what we pay for. I just canceled my Hulu subscription so I’ve got $9.99 a month burning a hole in my pocket, and I’m about to put my money where my ears, heart, and mouth are to bite the bullet and get SoundCloud Go+. Before I take the plunge I decided to test the waters by taking the temperature of a sample group of artists and label managers to find out what they think about the future of the platform. We’ve got artists who came up in all different stages of the SoundCloud revolution but all share the common denominator of heavy reliance on the platform during the formative stages of their careers for exposure and growth. We heard recurring themes about the evolution of the SoundCloud community, shortcomings of the mobile app, the impact of repost networks, and some consumer-psychology theories behind their monetization struggles from Mat Zo, Mija, SAN HOLO, Jai Wolf, Borgore, Getter, Omniboi, label heads from Play Me and Monstercat and many, many more: these are their stories *Law & Order sound*, and their latest reposts.
“A lot of what made SoundCloud great no longer exists. However, it still remains the easiest place to release a track without having to use a digital distributor and still be able to get it directly to your fans, and to the ears of potential new fans. If you’re a producer/artist, you must pay a monthly/annual fee to be able to upload as many tracks as you want and give your audience free downloads without a cap, and it wasn’t until very recently that they added an option to monetize your streams… meanwhile, listeners have to sit through endless ads, and unless you opt to monetize your music, you won’t see a dime of the revenue, and even if you DO opt to monetize, the money you see is very little compared to other streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music). So, what are we paying for?? and why should users be forced to listen to ads on songs that the artists haven’t monetized?? Where is that money going??
“The reach on SoundCloud isn’t the same ever since the repost game started happening. People buying other SoundCloud accounts for plays, bots, etc. The mobile platform is basically unusable. You can’t even track how many plays you’re getting or read insights on your own songs from your phone, and you can’t even check messages or see/respond to comments on the mobile app, which limits your ability to interact with fans. So what have we all been paying for all this time? Artists and producers drive users to the site, and we pay for it to barely be kept usable. You can’t even post a remix or a bootleg without it being flagged and taken down within hours (if you’re lucky). SoundCloud used to be a place where a song, or a remix, could organically go viral because everyone loved it and shared it. If the mobile app was usable, that would be a huge improvement. I mainly use Dropbox to share songs when I’m not in the studio because it’s more dependable, SO much faster, and easier to use than the SoundCloud mobile app. As far as the actual platform goes, I really have no idea what could make it better but I do hope it does get better because it’s been so instrumental in letting the world find talented artists that would have otherwise gone undiscovered.”
“It’s the easiest way to share music and find inspiration for producers. SoundCloud is an incubator for electronic music and is such an important outlet for producers both big and small. Despite being an open platform, SoundCloud is definitely biased towards specific genres and sounds. I wish the community was more diverse and supported other styles of music outside of producer-oriented electronic music. Also, the huge amount of spam and the copyright infringement system have really made SoundCloud a lot less appealing to me.”
“The discovery factor, for sure [in response to SoundCloud’s primary value]. You can find the smallest to the biggest artists just by sifting through other people’s likes, followers, and top charts. The biggest flaws are its region blocking and that shared accounts can only be used by one person, which makes it difficult being a duo! Region blocking is hard because it closes doors to listeners anywhere else but the US. SoundCloud and labels need to be on the same page.”
“When SC peaked, it gave all the artists the opportunity to blow up without the help of the label. There was a direct line built between musicians and people who wanted to search for new music. Its flaws were forced on it by the major labels. SC used to be the wild west, now there are a lot of restrictions.”
“If Mr. Carmack‘s still on SoundCloud, I’m still on SoundCloud. If there were a new platform I wouldn’t go there unless I knew I could be recognized by the people I’m influenced by. Waking up and checking your notifications to see your music got reposted by a producer you look up to is so validating. Basketball used to just be a sport people played for fun, now it’s an entire industry. When you take a free platform that potentially offers stardom, that’s where the mad scramble begins to capitalize; now being a producer and coming up on SoundCloud has become a viable career path. Plus, producers never really had their own brands and faces attached to their work before. You had big, well-known producers like Timbaland, but now there’s a whole persona and social element to it that SoundCloud created.
“We started out doing it just for fun as a hobby, I would never have met other producers or come to LA without SoundCloud. But now people are coming to the platform with this reality-TV attitude of ‘I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win.’ The nature of our community can be attributed to SoundCloud but I’m not sure it lives on SoundCloud anymore. It’s a great springboard.”
“SoundCloud in its current state offers pretty much nothing — I think it’s dying a slow death. I think it serves as promo and that’s about it. There is basically no payment from it and the repost system has completely ruined it. I think they need to get rid of reposts to improve it; either that or limit them. I don’t know, all I know is these new repost groups that are springing up are meaning artists who have enough reposts outplay artists who have more talent and that new songs disappear to the bottom of people’s feeds under the waves of reposts and never get any exposure. I am 100% focused on Spotify and YouTube now due to this. SoundCloud is over for me.”
“Well it used to be sick, but now it sucks. They used to have really dope opportunities for up and comers to share and critique each other’s work, but now they’re going very corporate. It’s not nearly as efficient for the artist; every page now is run by companies that make you jump through hoops just to experience art. So my answer is I used to really mess with SoundCloud. If there were any other outlets that were as simple as it used to be, I would switch in an instant.”
“SoundCloud’s greatest value in the electronic music community has been its ability to supersede the overall selectivity of decision-makers or gatekeepers of the music industry. Trying to get a record out through a big label ends up being a lot of money and politics, a lot of bullshit. But SoundCloud has been able to give, like any social media platform, the power to make their voice heard – it’s just another form of social media. Unfortunately, like all social media, creating an even playing field means there’s a lot of noise. At the moment, I don’t use it as much because there’s so much shit I don’t want I have to go through to get to the shit I do want. The only way to fix that is to filter it, then you start getting away from the reason SoundCloud was great in the first place.”
“I think the best thing that SoundCloud has, and it’s what I think has separated it from all the other similar services, is its sense of community and the ability find actual new artists on the service. It really feels like an even playing ground. It’s where everyone starts. Being on that platform enables visibility that you wouldn’t necessarily get if you were to start on a platform like Spotify or YouTube or even Bandcamp. SoundCloud is its own tier. Yeah, there are leagues of boring Flume, Carmack, etc. clones, but there’s also good, inventive, forward-thinking music. As someone that uses the app obsessively, I’d really, really love for them to redesign their mobile app to be good. There’s so much necessary functionality that’s missing. Features like being able to share a private link or comment on a track would be great to have on the mobile app.”
“I think SoundClouds biggest value was when it had a community of new producers flocking to it to build the platform up. You could upload your music, it was easy to stream, easy to search for artists, easy to embed into other sites and send out links. Now, unfortunately, all of those things have become increasingly difficult. Repost groups and people buying plays made it more difficult to weed out the music being paid to be promoted versus the music that was actually getting streamed based on its quality. More and more people are crossing over to Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music, etc as their main source of streaming because that’s where the audiences are going. Personally, I’m working on transitioning all my followers from SoundCloud over to Spotify over the course of the next six months. An industry-wide shift is happening and at this point for SoundCloud, I think it’s a case of too little too late. It will still be around in some form for a while but I see a lot of artists and users jumping ship.”
“I think one of the strengths of SoundCloud is that it provides a platform for anyone in the world to share their music. There is no barrier to entry. You can achieve success off of SoundCloud by pure democracy. The power of the listener has pushed so many unknown artists to the forefront of not only the electronic music scene but the entire music world. It’s been incredible to see artists like Kygo, Cashmere Cat, and even an act like The Chainsmokers go from SoundCloud acts to global phenomenon.
“Certain functions like the repost button or download options such as ‘like-to-download’ have been abused. Over the years, the bubble for electronic music had effectively churned out hundreds of copycats of trailblazing electronic artists like Flume or Wave Racer. It’s really easy to get stuck inside the bubble and forget that there’s an entire world of music beyond. A lot of young producers are looking for an easy path to success, so they emulate their idols. Even though it’s amazing that there are thousands of young producers being influenced by the SoundCloud giants, the bubble generates copycats of these giants. And I think the bubble sometimes makes it hard to be self-aware.”
“SoundCloud liberates the content creator from the traditional confines that might impede or completely inhibit someone from getting their music out into the world. I’ve always found it to be something akin to the wild west for electronic and hip-hop music; an independent artist pushing sounds that might never make it past the desk of a major label’s A&R can be propelled into the mainstream without paying for radio play but through the will of the community itself. SoundCloud’s community aspect is the strength and yet most artists will use Twitter to communicate with their audience and each other. Overhauling the messaging and notification system and avoiding the idea that there needs to be constant unnecessary updates to the user interface would be a step in the right direction.”
“SoundCloud is a great place to discover new talent and reach new people. The fact that it’s all in one place and it’s accessible to anyone who wants to upload their music makes it the perfect channel for both artists and fans. It’s the accessibility part that really makes SoundCloud stand out. The app is terrible, and the messages system has been broken for years. They always appear out of order so I see messages I got years ago at the top of my inbox.”
“It allowed people to put out music freely, as an up and comer or established artist. You can find some gold from unknown artists if you dig a little bit. Personally, I think SoundCloud died when the repost mafias took over. Toneden, Hive, Artist Intelligence, etc were good ideas but got taken advantage of and everything turned into a numbers game, but the numbers aren’t even organic – they are traded or paid. They just need to go back to their roots, get rid of outsourced repost companies, stop blogs from getting small artists to pay for reposts, and also figure out how to eliminate all the random sex bot spam.”
“SoundCloud allows creators to share not only their own work instantaneously with their fans but the work of others they’ve discovered from all depths of the site as well. It’s a bit of a hassle to monetize your work on their platform. More artists would do it if it was streamlined. Also, if you pay for SoundCloud Go, you’re still stuck with low audio quality. That fact alone prevents me from purchasing it.”
“To me, SoundCloud serves as a ladder to get up to the next level. It’s been the wild west for so long I don’t know how they can get their business straightened up. It seems like they keep aiding their own demise, the subscription tiers are so confusing. And SoundCloud was never seen in the same light as a Spotify or Apple Music, it was like social media for producers. You put up your work and get feedback, like Deviant Art except for music people. There’s a difference between people in a space where they’re just looking to share art and collaborate vs. being serious about trying to sell your work. One of the reasons, maybe the reason they’re having trouble monetizing is because the platform was seen as being there for conversations, not commerce.”
Orri Sachar – Monstercat Label Manager
“I feel like the biggest value that SoundCloud adds to the creator/fan community is the lack of distinction between the two, which as a result allows the user to transition from consumer to creator very naturally. Not only can fans easily become creators, but I’d hedge a bet that most of the creators finding success on the platform today started using SoundCloud as fans. The lack of a barrier of entry is the foundation of any healthy community, and it’s something that SoundCloud does so well. The most common answer [to what changes SoundCloud could make] to this would be to reexamine the “repost culture” that has become the key to success on SoundCloud. As much as I’d like to jump on that low hanging fruit, you cannot blame people for taking advantage of platform mechanics for their own personal gain.
“If I had to change anything, it would be in the way users discover content. The reason why I fell out of love with SoundCloud as a discovery mechanism was that after years of usage, my feed became this clusterf*%k of content I didn’t care about. Because the artists I wanted to follow were furiously reposting content that didn’t pertain to my interests, there was no real way to filter out the good from the bad. The user community is the foundation of SoundCloud, but at the end of the day honest/natural discovery is its purpose as a platform.”
Reid Speed – Artist/Play Me Records label head
“The value of SoundCloud IS its unique reach of hardcore dance music fans who want new content from artists they already love but also love to discover new artists and sounds. When fans go looking for content specifically outside the mainstream, may it be underground sounds, bootlegs, or DJ mixes, SoundCloud is there providing fans with this content and producers with a convenient, free distribution avenue straight to the fans. It’s also still a decent platform for certain kinds of underground DJ mixes, which many EDM fans enjoy there because they can’t get this stuff on Spotify or other convenient streaming services.
“Its flaws include serving ads to creators who pay for premium accounts, the entire concept of 30-second “preview” songs they have flooded the site with, and their ham–fisted takedown approach to certain content, be it bootlegs or “offending” parts of DJ mixes. Also, the practice of creators themselves needing to be whitelisted to have their own music which has been released by labels also live on their own page really goes counter to what the site originally seemed to want to manifest, before all the trouble with major labels and EDM becoming big business.”
“The fact that people can make a career out of a free platform is [a big value]. For example, when I first started making music SoundCloud was a platform for me to upload my content and eventually an audience was built over time. Now that reposts became a new feature of the platform I think it made it a lot simpler to get your music heard because all it takes is one person to share it and eventually spread like wildfire if the music is good. I haven’t had any flaws in all of the years I’ve used SoundCloud (going on my 7th year), I do hear a lot of criticism about the copyright infringement that is giving people’s account strikes for uploading a lot of unofficial remixes and bootlegs and I think it’s important for upcoming producers to have the freedom to upload unofficial remixes cause that’s a part of the culture of Electronic dance music.
“Majority of the time the music is given away for free and not being monetized at all so I don’t see a reason why those types of songs should be taken off the accounts and given strikes. I’m glad I did my fair share of unofficial remixes back in my day so now I’m uploading original content and haven’t had an issue but would like for SoundCloud to allow less strict rules about unofficial remixes and such. It helped me better myself as an artist to be able to flip someone else work into your own.”
“You used to hear ALL the new stuff first on SoundCloud. It’s where the underground was based. There were many tracks that were on SoundCloud that were not available on Spotify, such as remixes… There were no contracts, no complicated distribution chains, it was literally just the upload button and you could literally throw anything you wanted on there. I used to search SoundCloud for days trying to find that great new producer no one had ever heard of. I discovered great artists on there that I would have never found on Spotify or anywhere else on the Internet.”
“I feel like the casual SoundCloud listener is a dying population, the community and peer-to-peer feedback elements don’t happen on platforms like Spotify where you’re just going to listen. All the SoundCloud Go exclusive content [mostly major label releases] isn’t what listeners on the platform are there for anyway, for the most part. Also, the creators don’t see a penny of the ad revenue unless they go thru third party networks then maybe, and the sound quality sucks more and more.”
“SoundCloud changed the game in making it possible for anyone to put themselves out there. The profile/social aspect of it is really what separates it from other platforms; being able to connect with other creators, the notification system, and the stream/repost features are all unique to SoundCloud and make it possible for anyone to be heard. The old mobile app was a lot easier to use and had more features, I was confused as to why it kind of got downgraded over time, notifications and messaging are necessary on mobile and being able to have all the same online features on mobile would be great.
“Having a better homepage, charts, more specific playlists, and playlists you can follow like Spotify has. Even personally curated playlists for each user, it seems like what SC really needs to do to stand out at this point is make it easier to discover new artists; the stream is something no other platform has, so combining that with more playlists and better charts etc. would be huge.”
“In my opinion, SoundCloud was and still is a great platform for people without labels to present their music. That’s how I started, I just uploaded whatever I wanted to my page until Section Z hit me up where I released my first album. I still find new and undervalued artists on SoundCloud, love going through their profiles and recommending them to friends. Personally, I do not like the audio resolution, 192kbps like YouTube should be possible at least. Furthermore, I think the overall design is a little old by now, something with the exact same functionality and with the same features as SoundCloud, but in the design of Spotify, for example, would be amazing!”
Editor’s Note: The first published draft mentions that Chuck Sutton moved to Los Angeles, but he still lives in New Jersey with his family.