There seems to be an extraordinary amount of resentment, in my social media feed, at least, directed at SoundCloud. That may be because the service as originally launched was aimed mainly at small-scale file sharing, and bears little resemblance to the much larger, more public-facing service that evolved after round upon round of investment.

Or maybe it came from the confusion generated by takedown notices. There, the motivation is easy to understand, if misplaced. It’s the same logic that causes people to yell angrily at an airline desk clerk, even if what’s to blame is a complex logistical structure that’s outside that individual’s control. So, yeah, you can try to tell people that SoundCloud is obligated to a complex structure of rights owners and legal obligations. But they’d rather just turn to Twitter to gripe that their DJ mix was taken down.

And certainly I know that SoundCloud, juggling expanding listening audience with serving a dedicated base of users, hasn’t always treated its loyal customers in such a way that makes them feel good about that relationship.

But leaving that aside, I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what SoundCloud, right now, presents to the community of music producers, artists, labels, and DJs.

SoundCloud gives us control, data, and above all, an audience.

Control and data matter – and here’s why I can’t fathom why many people will gripe loudly about SoundCloud but ignore Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and the like. SoundCloud is the only major unlimited streaming service that gives individual artists real-time control over the audio that appears. (The closest equivalent is, indeed, Bandcamp, but it’s a stretch to view Bandcamp as a streaming site, so much as a store that lets you optionally stream your collection.)

On top of that control, SoundCloud is also the least expensive service that allows collecting widespread data on listeners. I can right now look back at my data back to 2008, and see not only who listened, but where – essential if I want to think about promotion and touring. Mere mortals don’t have anything like this data on Spotify or Apple Music.

Now, to either of those points, you could certainly run your own server, and have all the control and data you want. And indeed, in the midst of this conversation, we should absolutely be talking about that course – especially as the readers of CDM tend to be more technically adept at such things than average musicians. (Running servers and making websites is the day job for a whole lot of people here.)

But that brings us to audience.

The very things people criticize about SoundCloud’s growth trajectory – that it invested huge amounts of money to expand – are exactly what makes it so useful to a lot of us.

I can watch this in my own statistics. While a popular embedded player does indeed generate enormous amount of plays, a lot more do come from SoundCloud itself.

That’s fairly easy to understand. What SoundCloud has done since 2008 is to build a set of tools that increase engagement on its site. That engagement turns out to be good for musicians, because unlike on sites like Facebook, more engagement leads people to listen to more music – our music. So whereas engagement on social media would otherwise stocking up on fake news, posting pictures of cats and babies, and getting into endless arguments with trolls (or arguing about the value of SoundCloud), people heavily using SoundCloud are listening to music.

And a lot of that music – an enormous part – comes from independent artists. Even with major artists, it often includes material outside record releases. People listening to those major artists are also exposed to independent artists.

SoundCloud have been making this argument for some time, but of course, they’re biased. The thing is, you can actually see all of these tools when you use the site.

SoundCloud exposes you to new music in the feed you see when you log in – allowing friends’ tastes to propagate. And it has uncommonly clever algorithms for finding and playing related music when you’re listening, now on both mobile and desktop.

I’ve found an extraordinary number of DJs, for instance, who say they find new music they wouldn’t have found otherwise by listening to those related tracks.

Anecdotally, I can say this is what continues to draw so many users to SoundCloud. People upload music there because otherwise it doesn’t get heard.

Now, does this mean all this consolidation is a good thing? No, not necessarily. But if you’re going to talk about alternatives, those alternatives have got to serve some of the same functions.

But there seems to be two fundamentally different questions to ask. One goes something like this:

1. “Artists deserve to get paid. How do we pay them?”

2. “How do I get people to find and listen to my music?”

The problem is, question 1 makes an enormous leap. It assumes that because artists ethically, theoretically, ought to be paid, then the question is simply how to disperse money. That’s absurdly simplistic and, frankly, naive. Poets also might ethically deserve to be paid, but almost no one who sits down and starts writing poetry finds money suddenly flooding in their door. And if they don’t, it isn’t necessarily because some greedy capitalists stole the money before it arrived. If they didn’t have an audience of people paying for their work, there was no money to begin with.

Always-on subscriptions have indeed depleted the value of music, but it’s hard to imagine SoundCloud, with its catalog of mostly independent music, as the source of the problem. The low perceived value of a monthly subscription is clearly the work of services like Spotify, in their ad-supported and cut-rate subscription fees. (Spotify wasn’t first, but most successful – and Apple effectively dismantled their download store in order to compete.)

So people are fond of saying the “blockchain” is a solution. It’s not. Using blockchain technology to decentralize payment collection could be the basis of new solutions for music, but the technology itself only solves the problem of how artists get paid for plays in a decentralized context. The question of how to then make music available around the Web and on mobile, and how people can then share that music, and how listeners can discover music, are all important questions that aren’t answered simply by talking about how to track plays and collect money.

The reality is, a lot more of an artist’s life is spent solving question #2, to the point that invariably it involves investing money, not collecting it. Artists will spend upwards of hundreds of bucks at a fairly low level just to pay for a PR agency, potentially spend thousands of dollars pressing vinyl at a loss, spend money on press photos and, these days, buy ads on Facebook just to get attention.

SoundCloud, meanwhile, gives you some tools to significantly increase audience for free, adding additional features for a few bucks a month. And you retain control of your music and data all the while. SoundCloud even promises that soon you will see some share of their revenue earned on subscriptions and advertising, though we’ve yet to see that in reality.

The loss of SoundCloud could cost a great deal more than that in lost attention. Now, indeed, that itself might be the best possible argument for decentralization. Our dependence on SoundCloud is also its worst liability.

But whatever some trolls online say, let’s be honest with ourselves about what it is we’re dependent on. SoundCloud created an enormous centralized place for people to listen to music. They build a large scale audience for us. And at this point, the one thing independent music can’t lose afford to lose is more audience. Talking about how artists get paid is important. But if no one’s listening to our music, that discussion is purely academic.

And my concern remains: if costs of running a centralized services outpace revenue, we could lose this relatively recent audience – one that has produced a lot of value for artists. That revenue and cost expectation wasn’t set by SoundCloud in the first place: it’s a combination of rates the industry has set and the amount people want to pay for monthly listener subscriptions. Advertising could offset that, but listeners and producers have indicated they don’t like obvious advertising.

For their part, SoundCloud continue to say they can solve all this. In absence of an alternative of significant scale that serves musicians, I continue to hope they’re right.

  • Elekb

    “Always-on subscriptions have indeed depleted the value of music, but it’s hard to imagine SoundCloud, with its catalog of mostly independent music, as the source of the problem. The low perceived value of a monthly subscription is clearly the work of services like Spotify, in their ad-supported and cut-rate subscription fees. (Spotify wasn’t first, but most successful – and Apple effectively dismantled their
    download store in order to compete.)”

    Very much true. My only gripe is that the situation degraded for such a long period of time and only now bloggers and music industry pundits are recognising there is an elephant in the room: Spotify is merely a less unethical form of piracy (it *was* founded by a Bioelorussia-based copyright criminal after all), and as a company, their behaviour is shady to say the least.

    Another thing you might want to mention is that Spotify’s “business” model is actually a market dumping operation fueled by hedge funds and unsavoury partners such as Goldman Sachs.

    Easy to do business when you can raise endless amounts of money to cover your losses and put the competition out of business.

    Soundcloud have made some mistakes that will probably destroy the company in the near future, but they are certainly not to blame for the devaluing of music and they, along with Bandcamp, have been filling a gap in services for independent / amateur musicians (you always need a third party company to put your music into Spotify – a content distribution platform or a major record label, for instance – Soundcloud and Bandcamp have a direct relationship with you).

    So yeah, in short: people who are taking shots at Soundcloud are a bit clueless and missing the point.

    • chaircrusher

      Spotify’s shadiness is open for debate. It is as shady as the whole music industry is shady, whereby large music companies cut a deal with streaming services whereby they make a lot of money and artists make next to nothing. To single out Spotify is shady is unfair, because it isn’t uniquely (or more) shady.

      I also have friends who work on the algorithms that drive their playlists and recommendations, and they’re quality people, doing really interesting work.

      • Elekb

        In my book, Spotify’s shadiness is not open for debate.

        You are right when you say that it isn’t more shady than major music industry players in general. Not gonna argue that.

        Having said that, we are talking about an enterprise founded by someone who began making his fortune by stealing from artists and creative professionals, and who managed to escape arrest by establishing his piracy enterprise in a corrupt ex-Soviet country. He than came up with a streaming platform that is ethically better than a torrent site only because artists get a few cents a month instead of zero cents.

        They are financed and supported Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola, Facebook and several assorted hedge funds and use that leverage to blow up the market because they can absorb losses while other services die a slow death. They also consistently rip off artists and consistently obscure their statistics and methods of distributing income, while signing backdoor deals with the same major players that monopolised the international music market in the pre-Internet era.

        I singled out Spotify because, for the reasons stated above, they dominate what little market exists for music streaming – and also because it was the article’s focus.

        But obviously you can add Apple and Youtube to the equation.

        Particularly Youtube / Google also have shady questionable practices, i.e. shaking down independent music makers – if you don’t subscribe to their music service and agree to terrible terms, they simply won’t take down pirated copies of your work.
        I know people who work for major labels and they confirmed this to me: majors have agreements with Google and for them, takedown notices magically work. Indie labels and self-published artists… well, tough luck.

        As for algorithms: my favourite algorithms are usually curated radio shows and podcasts, as well as word-of-mouth. I don’t need computer programs scavenging through my personal and private habits and telling me what I should listen to. But to each his/her own.

    • B.C. Thunderthud

      I think the bottom line is that I don’t believe there was one individual on the planet who thought that becoming the eighth player in the streaming the property of multinationals business had any hope of succeeding. They flushed whatever value they had to their independent users for no good reason, it’s basically all over again. I might feel bad for them if it weren’t every bit as predictable as the sunrise. RIP, you utter morons.

  • I was talking to a few people about this the other day and we came to pretty similar conclusions. SoundCloud is flawed but extremely important because there isn’t a real alternative. Bandcamp has a different focus and Clyp doesn’t seem interested in being more than, well, a place to share clips.

    I think there’s potential for either a startup or an established player (Google or Amazon come to mind) to come in and do what SoundCloud does but the central problem of actually making money on it is still there. That’s less important if one of the big technology companies does it, but then it risks being neglected in the way that companies like that tend to neglect smaller parts of the business. No one wants to use the next product that goes the way of Google Reader.

    That said, I would happily switch to a real alternative overnight if it didn’t have the spam problems that SoundCloud either can’t or won’t deal with.

  • chaircrusher

    You just made the case for Soundcloud, and done a good job on it. It took you 1429 words, in a world where people stop reading tweets before 140 characters.

    Spotify needs to do that, and do it with a much shorter pitch, both to musicians and to customers.

    I know loads of musicians who use Soundcloud a lot, both to share their music and to discover the music of others. Penetration into the listener market is spottier; people may click on Soundcloud links on Fader or Resident Advisor, but most of them don’t have their own account or nose around on the site itself.

    The recent layoffs can be seen as a positive. As Soundcloud has claimed, lowering their burn rate can put them closer to profitability, and they seem committed to becoming a sustainable venture without being bought by a much larger company. That is all to the good.

    The real issue is communicating what Soundcloud is for. I’ve had an account on Soundcloud since the beginning, and I’m still not 100% clear what it wants to be.

    The second issue is making the site more attractive to music consumers, and working out how to monetize those eyeballs & earholes. Without, y’know, being evil.

    • Elekb

      “The real issue is communicating what Soundcloud is for. I’ve had an
      account on Soundcloud since the beginning, and I’m still not 100% clear
      what it wants to be.”

      Spot on. I think the apparent aimlessness of SC in the past few years might spell their doom.

      It’s a shame to see the way things are going because SC has been incredibly useful for many indie labels and musicians.

      Off my head, I would say to them: keep occasional ads in songs for non-paying-subscribers, get proper connections to online stores (or make your own online store), bring back useful social networking features for all accounts, define a business model once and for all. Also, try to stick to the plan for more than a few months, for crying out loud!

  • characterstudios

    I pretty much agree with all of this, especially the need for discovery.

    However, the opportunity for discovery with SoundCloud has gone down significantly (> 95%) since the groups functionality was disabled. Groups allowed me (and many others) to market my music pro-actively within the platform, and since the functionality was removed, my plays from new listeners are down about 96%… For sure I market outside of SoundCloud, but for my case, that has been far less effective than the groups functionality was!

    If I hear any negativity in my circle of colleague musicians about SoundCloud, it’s most often related to the groups thing!

    • Those are numbers from your side?

      That does make it sound like you were uncommonly successful with groups – but that’s a real concern. And I agree that even on SC, there aren’t enough options here for sharing/community.

      • For smaller genres the ability to carve out groups was incredibly helpful for centralizing a very decentralized community. I ran one for contemporary composition that was very useful for all involved. There’s also Disquiet which is probably the poster child of well-run Soundcloud group.

        Removing groups forced the long-tail of Soundcloud creators to compete vs everything else for attention, removing some of the interesting corners and charm.

        As I think about all of this I think, strange as it may seem, that tumblr may be a good platform to examine. They get niche-community like no other platform. For those who have tons of plays/downloads/streams then they should be alright with Spotify etc. But for niche, the community building features are essential. When Soundcloud deprecated that stuff they became less relevant to me.

    • I would agree that groups were very cool while at the same time incredibly susceptible to spamming. I liked them for finding new mixes, but sooooo many times they were unmoderated and you would get tons of garbage to sift through. That’s a user problem, of course, but a real problem nonetheless.

  • Soundcloud Marketing

    This advert was bought to you by Soundcloud

    • Well, no, you missed one of the most important lines.

      “The loss of SoundCloud could cost a great deal more than that in lost attention. Now, indeed, that itself might be the best possible argument for decentralization. Our dependence on SoundCloud is also its worst liability.”

      The problem is, the decentralized options don’t answer the very real needs I outlined in this article – and they’re not my needs, they’re the needs of a *lot* of artists and labels.

      • What do labels do that is valuable? What do platforms do that is valuable? These are the questions to answer.

        Agreed that decentralization is not inherently good. But neither is centralization in services that are not doing anything useful. For me, Soundcloud hasn’t been useful for a long time now.

        • Elekb

          Here is an attempt to answer your questions (my two cents, take it for what it’s worth)

          “What do labels do that is valuable?”
          They sometimes rip you off. Also, they book you gigs and tours, take care of album production and logistics and promote you (traditional press, blogs, social networks, advertisments) in ways you would not be able to do by yourself. At least that has been my experience whenever I worked with projects backed by professional record labels – bands that would have not gotten so far without this sort of support.

          ” What do platforms do that is valuable?”
          They sometimes rip you off. Also, they work as file repositories, online stores and allow you to (literally) make a few cents through streaming. And you might get discovered (1 in a million chance, but still). Potentially, you an reach a wider audience faster, but it’s not nearly enough for a sustainable career.

          I don’t think either is a solution by itself, but a combination of both plus other factors (word of mouth, etc.) are currently what seems to work. Sometimes.

          Also, of course, you (or your band) need to be really, really good musicians, that goes without saying 😉

          As for Soundcloud – in short, they have been shooting themselves in the foot for the past couple of years for reasons this article (and other commenters like yourself) have already explained.

  • Pop

    I love the fundamental idea behind Soundcloud. But heres 2 reasons why I quit it.

    1, Way too many spam accounts. Soundcloud didn’t do nearly enough in my opinion to address that issue.
    2, When I was on there, tags never worked properly, making them largely pointless. How can you discover anything new when they don’t work properly?

    • Both fair points. And yeah, with staff getting cut, I’m nervous about anything getting fixed.

      • Pop

        Exactly.. That along with Jared Whites excellent points above, and you can see that SoundCloud has no one to blame but themselves.
        But hey, the place isn’t dead, so there is still a glimmer of hope that they can turn things around. Somehow.. Right?

  • Stiksi

    Discoverability on Soundcloud means the top 1% get discovered by new users and the rest are drowned in the noise of thousands of random reposts nobody wants to listen to. All the useful community features have gone, the statistics have never actually worked reliably and it’s harder than ever to find stuff you like. It’s a huge wasted opportunity that needed to be rebuilt from the ground up five years ago.

    • What are you basing this on?

      The reality is, you’ve got various channels and users who over those years have built up audiences. And you can bet this impacts their listen counts.

      • Stiksi

        Soundcloud went from being a paid communal service with great upward mobility (moderated groups, competitions, excellent commenting system, feeds focused on individual artists) to just another file repository with feeds that mainly contain reposts, no communal features and auto-suggestions based on popularity. This removed pretty much all upward mobility and now it’s just something to link to.

        As to what I am basing this on: my experience and the experience of my friends, just like you do with your opinion piece. The statistics not working part is based on my extensive conversations with Soundcloud’s support.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    Excellent article and i certainly have pointed out that i do favor soundcloud simply for the fact that gives me instant control over my releases.

  • Piet Ooth

    Your article is symptomatic of why artists fail.

    The number of people who listen to your music doesn’t matter. The number of likes doesn’t matter. Neither does the number of comments. Or shares. Or hearts and hashtags. Those are all bullshit metrics. Good for satisfying the childish need for an ego stroke — which, let’s face it, is the real reason most people are artists (so from that perspective, SoundCloud is fulfilling its function) — but not much else.

    Here’s my simple bullshit test: how much money do you make as a result of SoundCloud activity (or any other service or business action)? Does investing $1 give you $8 in return? Maybe even just $4? If you can’t answer that question (“yes, it gives me money, and it give me X for investing Y — routinely, predictably”), then you are bullshitting yourself.

    You can’t outsource customer acquisition, pricing schemes, and even basic offers, yet somehow expect that you’re going to come out on the other end with cash in the bank. Especially when it’s done thoughtlessly (which, currently, it is).

    Artists and labels need to spend less time thinking about being “discovered” and “number of listens” (means to an end, not the end itself) and more time thinking about how they are going to make money. I guarantee, new, interesting and PROFITABLE business models would be developed if even a shred of thought was aimed in the right direction.

    • Agree – to a point.

      There is a real and legitimate business case for exposing music for those who depend on *gigs* as the source of income. There’s also measurable sell-through stats on SoundCloud via its buy button. I’m not just talking ego stroking here.

  • There are plenty of lofty ideas and well-meaning thinkers, but, in the final analysis, can one build a business that generates enough income to stay afloat? I, as always, Peter appreciate the care of professionalism of your writing and the passion you have for this subject. Don’t stop caring.

  • I’m surprised this article doesn’t even mention YouTube. Bandcamp + YouTube renders SoundCloud basically irrelevant. If you want to get “discovered” as an artist, or as a listener find free music to check out or artists to subscribe to, YouTube has become the place to do it. Despite the fact that its sweet spot is video not audio, nevertheless it pretty much provides everything needed for putting new tracks out there. And whatever YouTube doesn’t provide, such as selling album downloads and physical merchandise, Bandcamp does better than anyone. I’ve bought tons of stuff off of Bandcamp and can’t imagine life without it now. Every indie artist (and even some bigger names now) is on Bandcamp.

    SoundCloud *could* have taken steps to shore up their discovery features to fend off YouTube and commercial features to fend off Bandcamp, but instead it seems they’ve been spending all their time in lawyers’ offices. The mobile SoundCloud app (at least on iOS) has always been a total joke, and the way they hijack the web on mobile to force you to use their lousy app is inexcusable.

    Basically, SoundCloud destroyed SoundCloud. After their initial massive burst of popularity and mindshare, they executed terribly. They have no-one to blame but themselves.

    • meisterjaan

      I also was just about to mention youtube. All of my tracks (even the obscure ones) are getting a lot more plays on youtube than on soundcloud, even though on the socialmmedia I usually share my soundcloud links, not youtube. BTW, youtube has 192 kb/s audio vs soundcloud’s 128 kb/s.

    • No, that’s definitely a good point (and my omission). I’m not sure that I’d trust YouTube’s suggestion algorithm to expose new music in the way SoundCloud’s does – that to me is really the killer feature. And YouTube presents a similar quandary to Facebook – sure, your content is there, but now music is dumped in with a whole mess of non-music stuff as distraction.

      I don’t follow the “total joke” comment about SoundCloud. As a mobile player, to me it seems fine. I think the reasonable complaint about it is the absence of management features as an uploader, no? (Pulse added some of this back, but… I agree, not in a terribly useful way.)

      Anyway, your comments here are especially incongruent. YouTube doesn’t work for mobile listening *at all*.

      And then there are a ton of other missing features that you have in SC but not YouTube.

      “Initial massive burst of popularity” also ignores the fact that usage and uploads continue to grow. I realize from the perspective of an early adopter, things may look different – and don’t get me wrong, I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of the criticisms of early adopters. But those of us still actively using the service are still seeing a lot of plays.

      So to me, I’d flip this comment around – if SoundCloud fails, we’re stuck with YouTube, and we’re in a worse position as producers.

      The most compelling argument I see remains: whatever SoundCloud’s future, we need more robust decentralized options.

    • liamriley

      You miss Peter’s key point: YouTube’s related music algorithm is absolutely awful for exploration. Pretty much the only things it recommends are songs by the same artist or more popular artists doing similar genres. The model is oligopolistic and should be shunned by smaller artists. Soundcloud always pushes me to something I haven’t heard before – and it’s often interesting – whereas I genuinely cannot remember a time that I discovered something I liked via YouTube.

  • Matt Jackson

    What do you think of

    • I think it’s probably superior to SC in terms of hosting and embeds.

      But right now, people count on SC to also attract audience, and octave doesn’t do that.

  • Tones

    Great post Peter, thanks for the thoughts.

    I’m curious about ‘So people are fond of saying the “blockchain” is a solution….’ Which people? Can you point us to threads or blogs or communities grappling with this idea? It sounds like an interesting conversation (even if it’s ignoring the discoverability problem) 🙂

    • Ha, not the best part of this writing … “people are saying…”

      Better, let’s do a follow up story there, as I do know some of the individuals involved. Imogen Heap was one early advocate, and she’d be great to talk to. She did focus on this revenue collection thing … but I think it makes sense to press anyone on discovery / sharing / etc.

  • Joe Farr

    I’d have to disagree about soundcloud giving the user full control of their music. I signed in one day to find a bunch of tracks uploaded to my account on behalf of a label I released with a while back. I could not edit or remove them, on further investigation I found out it was some auto ingestion via a distributor whom I could not get a response from.. soundcloud not the label could help.. this meant all my followers 7500+ were shown all these old tracks I didn’t want them to hear. The other event that made me delete my abound was all my private tracks went public for days without me knowing on 3 separate occasions.

    Yes soundcloud is, or was, a fantastic tool for new and upcoming artists – but they fucked it.

    I know many small labels and artists that want the tools and functionally of soundcloud (and are happy to pay) but don’t want to sign up because of the fundamental issues it has developed.

    There is a huge gap in the market here.

    • Joe Farr

      *nor the label

    • Well, that’s a distributor problem you’re describing.

      You know, it’s amazing to me *how much SoundCloud is taking heat* for a complex structure of industry mechanisms and technology. It’s just that because SC is the touch point, everyone is blaming SoundCloud. (It really is the airport desk clear metaphor.)

      • Joe Farr

        It’s soundsclouds problem when it doesn’t let the user delete or edit the tracks, that’s their rule not the distributor, however the tracks get to the profile.. And the other point you ignored was private tracks going public. You can’t expect people not to blame soundcloud when their system doesn’t work in the way it is supposed to, no matter how magnificent its history.

        • No – it really is still a distributor problem, because of the way the rights propagate. When you uploaded to that distributor, you signed away your rights. And you’ll see this unwanted usage happen with or without the existence of SoundCloud. You have to fix this at your distributor, period.

          To be honest, this surprised me when it started happening … I need to do some separate story on distributors (with some additional research).

      • Will

        This is a fair point, particularly about the heat, but what is SoundCloud if not a self-service distributor? They literally distribute audio to consumers, uploaded by makers. They charge the makers up front as insurance instead of the traditional label/distro vetting-as-form-of-insurance.

        Of course, they’re also trying to play the role of retailer and broker and… complex model indeed.

  • It won’t be much of a loss. Their embeds have been completely obnoxious lately. Your stats on how much traffic is generated by Soundcloud itself is much greater than mine (which is probably fair as I occupy a much smaller genre). I would suspect that the vast long tail of Soundcloud gets about zilch benefit from Soundcloud as a platform. Similarly, I get almost no platform from Bandcamp but I do get revenue from them so I’m cool with it (and their embed is humane).

    Discovery with data can happen on a variety of platforms. And setting up a site and installing analytics isn’t too terrible. Though I certainly get that this is an issue for many. Maybe CDM should launch a one-page-website tool that handles this for those who can’t. It really isn’t hard for those of us that do these things. And the data is better, cleaner, and we have the option to make money, get real email lists, etc.

    Soundcloud has been lacking vision for some time, the tools have been major drag, the embeds have been desperate to get people to the app/site instead of leaving them where we embed them, and there’s no revenue in it for the creator.

    I am certain the people let go will find work and I wish them well. But there’s so little of value in Soundcloud for those not in the ranks of the highly promoted or otherwise in small genres. When they killed off groups, forcing Disquiet and others to relocate, that was pretty much when I gave up caring about Soundcloud.

    • What was the problem you had with the embeds? (Sorry, there’s a lot of this “this thing sucks!” without an explanation… not to suggest there isn’t a problem there, but each use case is different – we need some specifics.)

      If it’s just embeds you want, then yeah, Octave I think is the more robust option. At the very least, SoundCloud’s embed tools haven’t continued to evolve… though I think Bandcamp’s are even worse.

      Backing up a bit, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if we got beyond iframe embeds in the first place; it’s not great technology. 😉

      • For the sake of closing a loop, here’s TechCrunch on their all hands.

        My assessment of it based on this is very poor leadership/vision at Soundcloud. In particular, note the conundrum of a business model requiring the majors/big artists in order to get eyeballs, but trying to monetize on smaller artists. That’s a model that pulled the company apart, leadership failed to recognize and, according to the Techcrunch article, failed to act even when they saw what was going down.

        The good news in all of this is that poor leadership is a problem that can be fixed. Someone could examine the wreckage of Soundcloud, identify a better model and provide the right leadership.

        In other words, the product might still be viable.

  • David Svrjcek

    Great discussion, really appreciate it.

    I fear we have not addressed the elephant in the room which is that a lot of the music being posted on SC is average or just slightly above average and is not ready for prime time. As artists, I feel we need to rebuild our network of small labels and let them pick the best music to market. No more DIY. And cut out the free streaming of entire releases. Plus the artists need to get out and support their labels by performing live.

    • Ha, yes, that’s worth addressing. Actually, I think a lot of this “there’s too much music / it’s not that good” perception about the universe stems from this issue. This may also be an argument for decentralization … and even returning to labels as the purveyors of stuff you care about. (Actually, has no label offered its own streaming service?)

      • JLT

        Isn’t Bandcamp’s recent “subscription” possibility the closest you could get to a label offering its own streaming service? Other than that I think at the very least, independant labels should even start to aggregate and offer centralized subscription methods for 2 or more labels, and build up on that to create an alternative to the big players of the industry that would remain humane, but make it easier for them to reach a broader audience.

      • David Svrjcek

        I think the tech world tries to solve every problem through scale, and SC seems to have faltered by the same way of thinking. I believe in decentralization for art in particular. I like SC a way to share musical ideas, and the Groups function was valuable. I have found artists I enjoy on SC for what it is worth.

  • Will

    Thoughtful take. As always, it seems.

    Arm chair analyst me says: I’d like to see SC quadruple down on making money for small publishers. “If they’re making me money, I’m giving them money”. It seems that they went for that but for the top 1% only. My Hindsight Model 2017 armchair is telling me that that was the wrong bet.

    I love Bandcamp but SC could devour them in 6 months. And, frankly, do a much better job for creators and consumers alike. Competing with Spotify and Apple Music without the catalog (and pockets) seems a fools errand.

    • You raise a good point – SoundCloud can win more revenue for its uploaders and itself. That’s the win. It’s what they’ve been trying to do, to be fair, but… uh, yeah, so far, it’s not working; revenue has to outpace costs, not the other way round. (Wow, the Internet has created a weird business climate!)

  • R__W

    This is a weird article. The title implies Soundcloud is used for discovery, but the article doesn’t even contain the word “discovery.”

    I’d argue that Soundcloud is bad for discovery. It was ok when it first came out, but it hasn’t been good for quite some time. Listeners rarely use Soundcloud for discovery. It is used by artists mainly as a hosting service with an embedable player. Listeners use Soundcloud because that’s where the music is hosted, but they are “discovering” the music elsewhere.

  • jhonlagos

    The image above is a Soundcloud “player.” The scarequotes are required because, as you can see, the play functionality is not immediately available from the Soundcloud “player.”

    Weird, I browse dozens of pages daily w/ an embedded soundcloud player (mostly audio software demos), they ALL play just fine.

    They do show that message if you click trying to skip the audio, which IS annoying and didn’t happen some time ago.

    • Cool, add “inconsistent user interface” to the list of issues with the Soundcloud “player.”

    • Cool, add “inconsistent user interface” to the list of issues with the Soundcloud “player.”

  • praveensharma

    I frequently have had to request people send me their work / demo on a non SoundCloud platform due to the absolutely sub standard app required to listen to soundcloud while mobile. Listening to music shouldn’t be frustrating. 🤕

    Apart from that though I agree about the importance of discoverability. I also constantly marvel at how soundcloud is helping lower the barrier for new artists to get there music out there. That’s always a good thing.

  • Gunboat_Diplo

    I subscribed to the mid level tier acct for about 3 years. I love SC. but as it tried to turn into a service for content-consumers, they lost the focus on content-creators. the revamp of the personal feed was a “miss” for me. it reminded me a little of’s scrobbling feature which basically told other people what you were listening to instead of telling them what you were *making*.

    right now i have some friends saying ” you have to join spotify so i can send you the new music i’m listening to!” but again, i’m interested in developing my “storefront” and my channel to send out music. A lot of people ask me if i’m on youtube, but i don’t have time to make music AND edit video. SC really is the best host site for creators, IMO. but were the profitable before they switched to being primarily a “Listener’s Site”?