Souncloud’s first ad move goes way deeper than you may think

And we can’t do anything about it

We could argue for ages but if I had to choose between all my current social platforms, this is the one I would keep. For almost 6 years now, it’s been rewriting the way I listen, discover and most of all connect with amazing -and most of the time absolutely off the grid- talents.

With the announcement of their first real monetization move, the one any user could be exposed to without a choice, we’ve seen a large panel of reactions, here’s mine.


The first Ninety Seven Seconds

We hardly expected anything when my friend Quentin and I launched our music blog 97seconds.com in the cold 2010 Parisian winter. The thing was (and still is) entirely build around Souncloud’s embed players - yeah even the old mini one in f***ing Flash - and we only had this modest goal : find and share those incredible sound gems coming from nowhere, try to expose producers we liked, spread the love.

We do publish less now, but we still try to, 4 years later. And even if the blog remained niche and didn’t break audience records, we met and found many awesome people from all over the place, few of them we now call friends.

Seeing a bedroom producer ending up launching his own Deep House label in Istanbul -this one’s for you Eren- or witness the rise of a Berlin suburbs’s multitask-auto-produced genius making his way to the top -go on Thomas- is a small sample of what we experienced, and we loved every single aspect of it.

This is my Soundcloud, the one I cherish.

Now we’re done with the emotional part, let’s move on.


Don’t act like you’re surprised

Let’s make things straight, Soundcloud is a company. It invested, hired and even got pretty amazing offices in the most desirables cities. They have a product, a critical mass, and after seven years of existence and five rounds of funding it’s time they make some bucks. The missing part wasn’t the “when”, but the “how”, and this piece of information is finally available.

Basically, the the old freemium model (details in note) has been replaced by a freemium/revenue sharing model. By entering the partner tier, content creators can decide to diffuse ads on their content and share the income.

This twist will first impact the overall platform in two ways :

  • From now on, any user could be exposed to advertising on the platform as soon as he plays content from a partner
  • The platform main feed being built as common “people I follow” structure, the biggest revenue share will naturally go to the partners having the biggest audience, either on the platform or elsewhere on the web as the embed player can work almost everywhere

Only with these two statements, the numbers of questions about the model is imploding, and this is where things get way more complicated.


Such blur, WOW

It’s almost impossible the predict how the future of the platform will actually sound like, and that’s not an exciting thing.

  • Previous? during? after a song?
  • Music linked advertising ? Larger spectrum ? How large ?
  • Any skip button? How long after start?
  • Will the ad length be proportional to the sound its attached to?
  • How about embed behavior?
  • how about playlists behavior?
  • Will there be a global licence for users ready to pay to avoid audio ads?

These questions are all the more crucial when you realize that Soundcloud is a very specific type of content platform, it’s not something you stare at like a Youtube or Twitch channel, and mostly runs in the background, 99% of the time as a web tab or a mobile multitask. Spotify also does, yes, but for $8 a month you’re done with audio ads (even if they’re trying to sneak visual banners in for premium users, yes I saw you).

How do you think people will react when they’ll have to quit what they’re doing, switch back to the site and click a skip button just to avoid one ad? I think it includes tears and blood, anyway my UX brain is already melting.

I’m pretty sure SC’s people will sort this through tough, as they promised a seamless and progressive ad integration. But even if they do well, the upcoming shining gold they’re about to make will awake this ancien and desctructive legend whom the shadow will endlessly fly over the Internet, the copyright Dragon.

If copyright was a game, Sound would be its “impossible hardcore mode”

Youtube struggled for years with official copyrighted stuff, and it actually still does when you see the state of the things from a Berlin based web connection. Then came the UGC era where creators using copyrighted songs as a part of their creation got muted. As simple as that.

But don’t think this was the past. In its recent purchase discussions of the Twitch streaming platform for one little billion, the same good ol’ policy was pushed, ripping users creation appart in a perfect overnight-ninja move. Twitch then emitted a twitter friendly apology but things were now clean & lobby compatible, ready for the buyout.

With past and current lessons learned the hard way by other platform and their users, here are the three real changes I think Soundcloud will have to face, and it goes much deeper than “some tiny ads”.

1. Say goodbye to unofficial awesomeness

Let me introduce you to Neus, a french based electronic producer who took the ride of Pharrell Williams’ Happy with a perfect but unofficial remix.

The thing hit almost 8M views, he didn’t make any money out of it but the exposure helped him to redirect new people to his original tracks. Viral success like that have been turn down for less, so why should happen to it when all the copyright shark gang will come around, and what if the guy happens to be a partner trying to monetize his other original songs on the same channel ? i’m pretty sure he’s not winning.

2. Say hello to VEVO without images

As monetization will be all about audience, reach, let’s say followers, how are the small artists supposed to make something with it? They’ll have to turn to bigger networks. What cool people like xlr8r have been doing there for free for years will soon become a proper business model.

If you take the VEVO model out of Youtube, now that Soundcloud will be strictly copyright hunted, a diamond-paved highway just openned for this platformless-media buldozer.

3. Prepare the salad bowl

The result of this clear professionnalisation won’t kill the platform, of course not, but it’ll split it, replacing this unknown hand cooked irregular cake by a massive industrial pre-swallowed donut in your newsfeed.
If you happen to like these donuts, your feed will give you more and more, if you don’t and unfollow advertised channels, you’ll find yourself within this new named dead zone, where music remained free and unadvertised, mostly because artists chose not to, also because they preferred to be heard by thousands than being paid by dozens. Small producers / labels will have to pick one, that’s for sure


In the end, the orange cloud may just lose a tiny bit of its flashy shade, and behind the blinking show business lights, from the darkness of our inbox, we’ll continue to receive these innocent tracks from this 16 years old Seattle based producer that could be the next James Blake. He actually could, he’d just have to beat out Nikki Minaj last shit first.

Picture : Benga’s soundculpture now exposed at Soundcloud’s Berlin HQ (https://vimeo.com/39760586)