Make Soundcloud Great Again

From a small developmental idea in Sweden to a worldwide staple in sound, Soundcloud has become a prime platform when it comes to discovering new music and artists. With over 175 million current users on the service, Soundcloud allows users and artists to upload and share original music for free, which can be accessed across the globe. Developed in Sweden by sound designer Alexander Ljung and artist Eric Wahlforss in 2007, Soundcloud’s original focus was aimed on providing a platform that could help different artists from different parts of the world collaborate. Instead, something greater occurred. Soundcloud became not just a hub for collaboration, but for music sharing in general. Artists could now post and promote their own curated music for free consumption, as well as keep track of plays and follower count. A company by the name of Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures saw the bigger picture, put funding into Soundcloud, and helped finally establish it in Berlin. Within a year, Soundcloud’s subscriber base reached over one million (www.successstory.com). Today, Soundcloud has established itself as the go-to platform when it comes to finding out about a new artist before they reach mainstream success. Soundcloud works similar to other major digital streaming platforms and self-managed music retailers. One big perk of Soundcloud, is that it is generally free. This works in the favor of many subscribers that are on the search for new artists and music that may be undiscovered. The free subscription also allows subscribers that are artists to upload up to two hours of audio, as well as track plays, comments, and follower count. The free subscription also comes with vague analytic information, so artists can get a sense of where their music is being played, who is playing it, and what is being played the most daily. Upgrading to the Soundcloud Pro plan comes with two options. The first option is the Pro Premium plan. Premium lets subscribers upload up to six hours of audio, as well as steps up the analytic information. The second option, is the Pro Unlimited plan. Unlimited gives subscribers an unlimited upload time, as well as very detailed analytic information. No matter what plan, any audio uploaded comes with its own custom URL code that can conveniently be embedded into other websites. This makes the audio much easier to share. The audio that is uploaded is displayed as a giant wavelength, which users can comment on in specific times and points. These comments become displayed when that point of the wavelength is reached during the play of the audio (www.successstory.com). These features are amazing for up-and-coming artists, but what about general listeners? “Soundcloud Go” is a streaming option that subscribers can pay for to access music on the website from established artists that one would find on popular digital streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify. Due to its strict copyright laws, Soundcloud forbids the posting of any copyrighted music without consent, so the songs that are copyrighted are accessed with the Go feature. The feature is about eight dollars a month, and works similar to YouTube when it comes to the process of paying out royalties. Soundcloud Go is ad based. Usually on copyrighted music, and advertisement will play before the song is started. Every time that ad is played, the artist gets paid. There is a way for unsigned artists to receive compensation through Soundcloud, but it comes with specifics. The On Soundcloud partner program allows for specific artists to generate income off of audio streams through the Premier program, but that artist has to be invited by Soundcloud to participate in the feature. If an artist is a Pro Unlimited user, is in good standing with the Soundcloud community, and generates a large number of streams and traffic, they will receive an invitation via email to access the Premier feature. Soundcloud will then place advertisements on their music before it plays, which they will generate money off of (www.ids.uni.edu). It is currently unknown how much Soundcloud pays out per stream. Artists can also take the route of using a company such as IND Music to get paid through Soundcloud streams, but the payouts vary for each company. What makes Soundcloud stand out so boldly from other digital streaming platforms, is its great track record for breaking artists into mainstream status. Soundcloud acts as a hub for undiscovered talent and music, so many artists utilize the platform to their advantage. Up-and-comers give out music for free, making it accessible to anyone. Through this, artists build a great amount of plays, and an even greater fan base. Artists with enough fans and plays can easily have one of their singles go viral and become and internet sensation. Plus, the data that the artist receives works wonderfully when trying to reach out to independent or major labels. There are many success stories. Hip-Hop artist Russ released a new song on Soundcloud every week for two years straight, steadily building up his platform and social media appearance. Today, he has over one million followers, two multi-platinum singles, and a major label deal. Music artist Xxxtentacion, known for his versatile emo-style and media controversy, built up a cult-like fan base on Soundcloud. Pulling in at least one million streams per song alone, one song titled “Look At Me!” eventually found its way to the Billboard Hot 100 charts and earned him a six million dollar major record deal. Unlike other digital streaming platforms, Soundcloud offers one of the strongest opportunities for artists to become stars. While this plays a major role in terms of music streaming, it also creates a major downfall. While Soundcloud is a popular source for undiscovered talent, it does not come with many features that make it more enjoyable for listening to artists that are already established. Frankly, major digital streaming providers have the advantage when it comes to attracting more users. Soundcloud lacks a few stand-out features that make other platforms much more enjoyable, one example being the use of playlists. Spotify is notorious for their vast amount of enjoyable music playlists, almost as if Spotify has it down to a science. Usually, the company itself curates multiple playlists covering multiple genres, giving users a “hidden gem” feeling when it comes to discovering new music, as well as music that is already popular. The use of playlists have grown rapidly, even helping lower-tier artists reach a much higher platform. While Soundcloud does have playlists, they are usually user created. Also, if the subscriber does not have the pro plan, accessing the mix of already known music with undiscovered is virtually impossible. This creates a harder time drawing users in, for they will not see recognizable tracks and become hesitant to tune in. Another feature that Soundcloud lacks, is building artist-curated radio stations. Apple Music dominates this lane, featuring multiple commercial-free radio shows that play what they want. The artist-curated stations are some of the biggest. Artist Drake is already over fifty episodes deep into his OVO Sound Radio show, while artist Frank Ocean makes a subtle appearance with new music every blue moon with his Blonded Radio show. Soundcloud users can technically rip radio shows and upload them to the platform if they wanted to, but the platform itself does not have any specific radio features or shows that are artist-curated. One major digital streaming platform that Soundcloud does have a slight similarity to is Tidal, and it is strictly because of exclusivity. How Soundcloud is very exclusive to unknown artists, Tidal is to specific video and audio content. Beyoncé’s Lemonade album was only available to Tidal users in the first two weeks of its release. Soundcloud works its exclusivity with unestablished artists, hosting music that cannot be heard on a major streaming platform. This similarity is only slight, for Tidal simply holds a general mix of newer and established content from artists, leaving Soundcloud at a lower level. While Soundcloud does not necessarily live up to major digital streaming platforms, it goes hand and hand with other self-managed music retailers such as itself. Bandcamp, which is similar to Soundcloud, allows artists to post music and albums of their own, as well as discover new artists. Bandcamp differs from Soundcloud, with the main reason being it gives artists the opportunity to directly sell off of the website. Singles, albums, and even merchandise can all be sold for consumption of that artist’s fan base. Although this option is a great way for artists to sell their music, Bandcamp does take fifteen percent of digital sales. Bandcamp also takes ten percent for any merchandise sold. Bandcamp also does not hold the general popularity that Soundcloud is notable for. Soundcloud is so easily accessible and known for breaking artists, that most up-and-comers choose it over other self-managed music retailers. Another popular self-managed retailer that works similar to Bandcamp, is Topspin. Topspin not only lets artists sell music, but merchandise and tickets directly to fans of the artist. It can be integrated with the artist’s website, and comes in handy with general promotion. These are all features that Soundcloud cannot do. While Topspin has the advantage, pricing can get steep. It is a total of ninety-nine dollars a month do get the websites full access, with prices ranging in lower prices for specific subscription plans. Also, Soundcloud once again reigns higher in terms of popularity, and website accessibility. A five-question survey was conducted with five college students, pertaining to digital music consumption habits and the platforms they utilized. The first question asked: What site or platform do you usually use to listen to music? All five students responded with Apple Music, with two of those five students adding Soundcloud into their answers as well. The second question asked: How do you discover new music? Word of mouth, on your own, social media, etc…? Two students responded that they discovered new music by word of mouth, which usually involved conversations with close friends. The other three students responded with social media, one specific response being www.hypebeast.com. The third question asked: Do you take satisfaction in discovering new artists that others are not aware of? Four of the five students responded with yes, with the main reasoning being exclusivity and the confidence of showing off a good taste in music when referring the artist to others. The one student that responded no explained that the exclusivity was not a worry, and that good music is what really mattered at the end of the day. The fourth question asked: Do you often listen to or check out playlists that are curated by your favorite listening platform? One student responded with yes, two students responded with no, and the last two students responded with sometimes. A fairly mixed review. The final question asked: How often do you purchase music? All five students responded with never. All of the students pay for streaming via Apple Music. It goes to show how dominant streaming has really become. While most of the results were well expected, some of them were fairly interesting. All students used Apple Music, but two of the five students included Soundcloud as well. It is interesting that even though Soundcloud lacks most of what Apple Music delivers, almost more than half of the students surveyed used it mainly. It is interesting to think about that with a few major adjustments and a huge remodel, Soundcloud could possibly hold the strength to compete against major digital service platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify. Question three was also an interesting response. Four of the five students stated that they enjoy discovering a new artist that others are not aware of. Having the upper hand, the ability to pass a good music taste on to others, and to simply state that one heard it first are all examples of exclusivity, which Soundcloud eagerly demonstrates. With every popular streaming and audio sharing website that exists today, Soundcloud stands out as being the most notable for launching the careers of many new artists, though it is hard to say where the company will end up. In July of 2017, the company was battling bankrupt rumors and fears of being shut down. Soundcloud reportedly laid off 173 employees, and shut down two offices. Through what seemed to be an existential crisis, CEO Alexander Ljung later reported that the company was not going anywhere (Resnikoff). Being a company that is based heavily on free use and monetizing off advertisements, it is important for the company to save and invest its money correctly to avoid similar situations in the future. The ever-growing popularity of streaming and an overall internet presence makes Soundcloud not just a service, but a trend. The term “Soundcloud Rapper” has grown and targeted new-school hip-hop artists pertaining to a certain image. The stereotypes include face tattoos, colored hair, odd clothing, and dramatic jewelry. Though humorous, these “Soundcloud rappers” are using the platform to grow incredible audiences, and establish a strong presence that ultimately propels them into the music industry. Surprisingly enough, Soundcloud has yet to partner with a popular digital streaming platform. Such a move could change Soundcloud’s whole foundation, possibly for the better. Less worry would be on bankruptcy, and more focus could be on innovating ways to create specific Soundcloud playlists containing hits from popular users, which could be accessed and played on platforms such Apple Music and Spotify. Whether or not the company chooses to partner or stay on its own, it has solidified its mark as one of the best ways to discover new artists.