Recently, there were rumours of Spotify being interested in buying SoundCloud. The deal was abandoned and Spotify is rather preparing for an IPO. Since I’m amazed by both companies’ product lines, I was inspired by the possibility of such an acquisition. Spotify and SoundCloud bring joy to their users in their own special ways. Music streaming is a highly crowded market, competition is getting even more serious since the emergence of Apple Music. Let me guide you through how I imagine a winner combination of SoundCloud’s and Spotify’s services.
SoundCloud defines itself as the world’s leading social sound platform. This is quite important and reveals the company’s unique value proposition right away. SoundCloud is heavily relying on its users, both consumers and producers. As the company’s name suggests, its service is focused on sounds. Songs, samples, remixes, podcasts, anything that can be transferred and listened to.
SoundCloud has an open, free community. Its paid streaming service, SoundCloud Go (No, you don’t have to throw balls on anything with this) launched 7 months ago. Go seems to have an awkward gap in its business strategy. Long story short, you can get pretty much all of SoundCloud’s offerings for free already.
Some issues to content architecture and navigation make the streaming interface less desirable to its competitors. The music library isn’t quite as elegantly organised as it should be. There’s no way to view albums, just a list of individual tracks. User onboarding is extremely unexciting as the home screen welcomes the user with an odd, empty state. Design aims to be super clean at the expense of functionality. No bueno.
Most importantly, SoundCloud’s algorithm is a few steps behind Spotify’s. This is crucial, as the algorithm improves the overall experience significantly. Your new favourite song is way more valuable to you than another thousand you don’t care about. The more you explore, the better the algorithm gets.
After being the bad cop, let’s play good cops for a bit. SoundCloud is the gateway to 125 million pieces of user-generated content including countless remixes, samples, covers and unique content, mostly for free. This is a catalog that differentiates the service from its competitors, in a very good sense.
SoundCloud’s platform is a vibrant community of consumers and producers built around a much more human relationship. We’re talking about an incredible user base of more than 175 million monthly listeners. You can’t ignore such a large crowd. SoundCloud focuses less on monetisation and more on the community, which might raise your sympathy. SoundCloud’s brand essence is young and cool while also friendly and human.
Spotify’s brand statement is pretty short and obvious. Music for everyone means they use a more traditional, commercial approach in the music industry. They are a reseller of music content owned by record labels and publishers. Thus, this gives them limitations when it comes to adaptability. Contracts tie their hands.
Despite the fact that I personally love Spotify’s divisive design, I have to admit, it’s a bit cold and dark. The interface is nothing like your young, innocent and endlessly happy sister blowing bubbles. It’s rather your big brother who’s having a hard time fighting his depression and harmful addictions. He loves dark stuff. On the other hand, dark colours drive attention to the content, which is great.
Spotify has an undoubtedly well thought-out, polished layout both for mobile and desktop. Users have working tools for simple tasks as organising content or searching music. Moreover, Spotify is a pleasure to use across multiple platforms, having dedicated apps for game consoles and even Windows Phone.
In terms of functionality, it covers way more than SoundCloud. Spotify has a wide range of features, including On Tour which means you’ll know if an artist you’ve searched for is playing a concert in your proximity. The most recent design updates are steps toward a simpler, easier, more consistent interface. Game changer features like Discover Weekly, Release Radar and Daily Mixes take the show from others.
Not to mention the holy grail of Spotify’s service, its algorithm. Spotify has a large user base of more than 140 million monthly listeners. Around 50 million of those are paid subscribers. These users want perfect content on their table, and they’re getting it.
People usually compare these companies through their streaming service. It’s like comparing a car to a house. One is a definite better choice for travel, however, the other one would be way more suitable for a good sleep.
SoundCloud’s power comes from its huge, self-supporting circle of consumer and producer base growth. A business model where its content is created by the users, not acquired through licensing deals. The more producers join the platform, the more consumers will join. This increase in users, in turn makes more artists to post their content on SoundCloud. The network effects continue to build from there.
Spotify’s power comes from it’s continuously growing paid user base and the overall quality of its streaming service. By overall quality I’m referring to a usable, user-centred experience with good streaming quality, being accessible on multiple platforms.
So, how would the combined product look like?
When I thought about my concept, the merge of SoundCloud an Spotify seemed to produce an ideal solution. It would be built around a connected community where user experience would be seamless. My visual aim was to make a balance between dark and light tones on the interface. Screens that include a list of elements have light colours while screens that have a clear focus on one element have dark colours that capture the user’s attention. Content would be selected and organised in a way that satisfies both producers and of course, consumers.
In the next few lines, I’ll guide you through the four pillars that would serve as the groundwork for this music streaming product.
Content needs to be complete and diverse, representing value for as many users as possible. Accessibility across multiple platforms is key. Information needs to be structured in a delightful way. Albums, singles, individual songs, playlists, everything.
Imagine a catalog with all the tracks produced by the big fish, and also the creative pieces, covers and remixes added by the community.
The more, the higher quality, the more diverse, the better. In spite of SoundCloud not having signed with all labels and missing songs from Drake, Kanye West, Taylor Swift and many more, it has exciting, unique content. The winner of this category is still Spotify due to its comprehensive catalog including almost everything that’s worth including.
An algorithm works as an invisible hand that feeds you when you’re starving. It does its job without asking whether you like broccoli or don’t. It already knows that you hate broccoli. You’ll get your mama’s meal in no time.
The benefits of such an algorithm could get the whole experience to the next level. Or even further. Imagine a service that changes based on weather, the news, day of the week, your calendar events and even more.
The system gets to know you, your listening habits, your mood changes and preferences. A winner catalog is almost worthless without a working algorithm. Spotify wins this category.
You can’t build a community. Users can. Producers and consumers can. You need to support their needs and maintain a good relationship amongst them by giving the right tools in the right hands.
Imagine a platform where consumers and producers could talk to each other. A place where comments, feedback and listening builds relationships and trust.
Music is a form of self-expression, speaking for us, shaping our identities. Being social in music streaming is not a choice, it’s a must. SoundCloud is capitalising more on the fact that music brings people together, and that our relationships with music is deeply personal and intimate.
Products tend to be fundamentally similar. Therefore, user experience is becoming one of the most significant differentiators. It needs to serve both consumers and producers while they interact with the product. As Steve Krug’s famous quote goes: Don’t make them think.
Tasks as searching for music, viewing playlists, editing or organising content make me think less when using Spotify. Algorithm dependent features are also playing an important role when it comes to a final judgement on user experience. The winner of this category is Spotify.
Holding a different opinion? Let me know your thoughts about the possible acquisition or music streaming in general. They’re more than welcome.
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