Public Enemy No. 1: SoundCloud


The dreading confirmation arrived a few weeks ago that SoundCloud is planning to have a subscription-based service running by the end of the year. It was no surprise with rumors and document leaks in the past making this known earlier this year. The feeling of betrayal has begun to sink in, and all of the independent artists who have made SoundCloud their home and created networks on there do not want to have the streaming service’s back.

Since it’s inception in 2007, artists have been able to upload their music onto SoundCloud and have followers enjoy, share and critique it at ease. Anyone can do it and in a matter of seconds. It was a vast upgrade from making a music page on MySpace and with the focus being solely music, it was a playground for musicians from bedroom producers to touring bands.

Now we’re in 2015. Artists have gained worldwide popularity through SoundCloud, labels base themselves out of the network and 12 hours of music are uploaded a minute as of last month. After eight years, SoundCloud has focused on its uploader subscription plans to fuel their income — which is only required if you’re uploading large amounts of music and want to keep it there. Not only does this cause a short stream of revenue and SoundCloud running out of cash, its investors are growing impatient with SoundCloud’s slow-moving talks with majors. While Sony is staying out of the talks and just stripping down their content, Universal (very) recently is nearing in on agreements that SoundCloud isn’t happy with. But it doesn’t matter because with the tension caused by investors, SoundCloud is being forced into a corner to take action which will cost an equity stake of SoundCloud handed over to UMG (rumors say the number is already at 5% and heading up).

That brings us to the subscription plan and the hammer that is about to come down on all of us who love the platform.

Founders Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss

Founders Eric Wahlforss and Alexander Ljung

It makes sense at this point. SoundCloud is in the direction of having an empty bank by the end of this year, and it doesn’t help having the pressure from major labels. It’s easy to throw them into the basket of streaming companies like Spotify, TIDAL and, now, Apple Music — all of which have figured out a way to mesh with the majors. SoundCloud’s user base is in a completely different realm, though, and SoundCloud knows this. The company knows its user base is mostly aspiring musicians, producers, bands, you-name-it. The two founders, Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss (both involved in music production prior to founding SoundCloud), created the site for musicians to have a place to easily upload, share and their music because it had become a necessity. Eric Wahlforss said in an interview with WhiteBoardMag, “We both felt that there was a clear deficiency in the tools that were available – a gap in the market for getting a piece of audio from point A to point B to any number of recipients.”  They may be empathetic in the music production realm, but there’s only a certain point that they can be influenced by these artists uploading music from their bedroom. They made a business, and a business doesn’t let millions of users daily use its shop for free while money is depleting and corporate suits are waving lawsuits in the company’s face.

It’s not SoundCloud’s fault major labels run the music industry, but you can throw blame at SoundCloud and the way the company has handled this situation. I started typing up a few things for this article a few weeks ago when the solidified news of the subscription plan had dropped down, but put it aside due to work and all that life stuff. Since then, producers have their remixes taken down and accounts have been suspended for using unlicensed content. SoundCloud hasn’t given explanations to why accounts were taken down and what users can do to fix it, but it only makes sense with the recent UMG news that SoundCloud’s puppet strings have a new hand at work.

While we (everydejavu) haven’t had our account suspended (yet), we’ve had mixes taken down a couple times almost immediately after uploading them, and we were given a reason why. Usually, it was because the mix started with a relatively known song that was picked up by SoundCloud’s copyright detection and it was a minuscule, unharming violation. We haven’t made any money off our mixes, radio shows or even our songs through Soundcloud and that’s not our aim. We’re fine with not having a golden ticket into On SoundCloud, but for artists, DJs, labels and others to have their accounts suspended with no explanation for having a similar outlook, it just doesn’t make sense.

Greyhat, a producer I found through SoundCloud last year, has based his entire music output through the platform. He has just under 70,000 followers and recently released a single called “Glider” through producer duo ODESZA’s label called Foreign Family Collective that just tipped over 200,000 plays. He gave me an “ugh” when I introduced the topic to him over Twitter. He goes on to agree with the points above. “They’ve evolved from being the a true powerhouse of a platform to being a sentinel riding on the coattails of the major labels.” His SoundCloud carries a handful of remixes, and he finds that SoundCloud should find some sort of compromise before taking a song down: “I think that if these infringing tunes are being posted on [SoundCloud], they shouldn’t be removed, but instead stripped of their download ability.” But that brings in responsibility and more conflict with majors, and at this point, it doesn’t seem like SoundCloud wants anything to do with that.

Greyhat’s response ended with the question everyone who’s been affected by this is thinking: “What will take over?”

People have begun to see the trust being broken between SoundCloud and its users. If you believe trust is like glass, it’s time to find another platform. There’s currently nothing like SoundCloud in its accessibility and ease at which artists can interactive with each other. A SoundCloud user has the ability to share content among its followers with reposts and comment on the exact minute they think has great drums or an unique melody. There are platforms like Audiomack that have features like playlists, reposting and trending tracks, but the community isn’t built for up-and-comers without a fan base. Bandcamp is in another realm, but unlike Audiomack, they have their revenue stream built outside advertisements by taking a cut of sales from artists selling their product through them, which is understood and agreed upon. With Bandcamp, though, there is no interactivity and profiles are solely meant to showcase their releases. While these are the two in the lead as a new home for music networking, they don’t have what it takes to match the simplicity and power of SoundCloud.

By the time the subscription plan is implemented (looks to be at Q4 of this year), if no new platform rises or the existing ones do not appeal to artists, SoundCloud still has a chance to save its relationships. Ideally, it could have a few tiers that target listeners over artists in terms of music on-the-go. (Think streaming services.) The bottom tier would be free and still allow for unlimited listening, but the occasional advertisement will come in and interrupt your experience. That’s already happening through On SoundCloud, but that’s through major label’s permissions and is moving at too slow of a rate to allow SoundCloud to keep its bank on its feet. (SoundCloud was reported to be paying out $166,000/month in artist payouts as of March) The difference from now and then, though, would have to be that artists not making money, should not be taking a hit on copyright infringement. If they find some sort of middle ground like this (think Greyhat’s proposal), then maybe SoundCloud can glue together some broken trust glass and keep its user base. SoundCloud was never about making money for the artist , it was and hopefully still will be about sharing music. Work with that, SoundCloud. I’ll be sticking around with SoundCloud for the time being, but it would be a shame to see them go down before it let me leave a comment or respond to message from the app on my phone.

If not, #teamBandcamp.