When SoundCloud, an audio platform and now streaming site, stepped onto the streaming scene in 2007 --one year before Spotify-- it was a cool hipster site that gave an opportunity for no-name DJs to rebel against The Man (in this case, major record labels). SoundCloud was created as a platform devoted to artists: to empower them and enable them to connect more easily to audiences, and in return the site serves as an influential source for new music.
But like all things that are too-good-to-be-free, SoundCloud’s flaws are inevitably beginning to show. With the recent momentum building behind other music streaming services, it has become clear that SoundCloud may no longer be able to compete. The site has never turned a profit. Originally, a user could upload tracks and listen to any song posted on the site for free, and up until a year ago the site featured no ads. And unlike YouTube and Spotify, which pay artists royalties for the number of views and plays they rake in, SoundCloud has never paid artists for drawing traffic to the site.
SoundCloud offers services to improve its function as a platform for artists which use the site. "Pro” and “Pro Unlimited” accounts offer artists a range of services and support, including analytics, more upload time, and no ads, all for $7 or $15 per month. Unlike many streaming services which charge users, these subscription-based services are geared towards those whom SoundCloud was built to serve: artists.
After numerous copyright lawsuits and years of operating on potentially-bankrupting losses, SoundCloud has found it hard to maintain their tense position between major record labels like Sony and Warner and independent artists.
On March 29, 2016, SoundCloud released their latest attempt to remedy their battle with major record labels and financial woes: a subscription streaming service called SoundCloud Go. For $9.99 per month, users now have ad-free access to big-label artists like Kanye West and Rihanna, among numerous others. Users can also download songs for offline listening too. Sound familiar? An article on Wired by David Pierce commented, “SoundCloud’s hoping to become the only place you need to go for all the music you want to listen to – at least the stuff that’s not exclusive to Tidal.” But the task of replacing other subscription-based streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music is a bit of a lofty goal for a site that is years behind on the streaming curve.
When it launched at the end of last month, SoundCloud Go released the arsenal of tracks that Spotify has boasted about for years. However, when searching the site for big names, The Life of Pablo by Kanye West was available, but Fetty Wap had no tracks listed and Drake didn’t even have a profile. On SoundCloud, Ariana Grande has just 408 followers and her top track, “Dangerous Woman,” only has 5,762 plays, numbers which pale in comparison to the over 11 million plays the song has on Spotify.
SoundCloud is also aesthetically less-pleasing for a user who wants to scroll through tracks quickly or easily access a full album. It offers no option to queue songs and the search feature is surprisingly disjointed and awkward to use. SoundCloud Pro and Pro Unlimited users do not automatically receive the perks of SoundCloud Go either - they must buy a separate subscription. The inconsistencies between Spotify and SoundCloud reveal that SoundCloud was largely unprepared to take on the task of becoming the next big streaming service and has, so far, not been successful in gaining enough subscribers to compete with Spotify and Apple Music, which boast 30 million and 11 million subscribers, respectively, according to Billboard reports.
The most unsuccessful part of SoundCloud Go, however, is the way it fundamentally alters the image and purpose of SoundCloud. While SoundCloud Go gives a user access to big name artists and a few other advantages, free access to the work of smaller artists and DJs is clearly the main attraction of SoundCloud over its competitors. A DJ named Bearson has 64,500 followers on SoundCloud, and while his original songs are featured on Spotify and Apple Music, his remixes – such as his remix of James Bay’s “Let It Go” – are exclusively on SoundCloud and YouTube, and they’re free.
“SoundCloud became popular for its rebel status,” an article published on Consequence of Sound notes. By making deals with major labels and allowing them to police the site, the article argues that “the company has made huge moves that have alienated its loyal core contributors. For example: in 2014, SoundCloud gave Universal Music Group full access to its users, allowing the label to flag accounts and individual tracks without oversight. Now, with SoundCloud Go, that power has spread to the entire music business.”
SoundCloud should reconsider trying to imitate and replace Spotify and instead come up with a more innovative service that offers different benefits because right now, SoundCloud Go may be an unfortunate reality to keeping the site afloat. SoundCloud has a long road ahead if it intends to achieve the subscribers, arsenal, and aesthetic of Spotify and Apple Music, but it still has something no one else does. At its core, SoundCloud is more unique than other streaming sites in the way that it is easily accessible to artists and DJs, creates a community of sharing among users, and offers easy access to tracks unavailable on any other platform. And for curious audiophiles and no-name artists, that might just be worth supporting.