The Coming SoundCloud Apocalypse (And How Artists Will Survive)
From money problems to streaming battles, SoundCloud's demise is almost inevitable. For artists, it's not too early to start looking elsewhere.
Over the past few years, SoundCloud has been a platform for many things: professional and amateur DJ Mixes, DIY podcasts, and lastly (but most importantly), free music from musicians around the world.
The best part for musicians, of course, has been that it doesn't cost a dime, unless you want to pay extra money to have more upload space. Listeners have benefitted from the free service as well — there’s no monthly cost for streaming, and no obligation to sign up for an email newsletter you don’t want. But as of late, there have been signs that SoundCloud is dying a slow, painful death.
Let’s focus on just two.
#1. SoundCloud vs. Everybody (Spotify, Apple Music & Tidal)
Probably the biggest sign of all is SoundCloud’s total inability to compete with the other major streaming services available to the masses: Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music. Their only response has been the creation of SoundCloud Go – a streaming service that allows you to listen to mainstream artists who have deals with SoundCloud for $4.99/month. In 2016, the company launched the streaming option after developing deals with the major record labels (and some slightly smaller ones) so that the artists under those labels could get compensated for their SoundCloud streams. SoundCloud would provide snippets of the songs to non-SoundCloud Go subscribers in order to push them to subscribe to the service.
The big problem is that SoundCloud has been free for the listener since inception and most listeners already have a streaming service they pay a monthly fee to. In addition, the bigger streaming services offer so much more to the user via playlists, “new and noteworthy” front page banners and other means of highlighting the latest content. By comparison, SoundCloud’s home feed is a scattered mixture of amateur, obscure, expert and low-quality content to scour through. For those who take the time to dig, there are pretty good gems of tracks and accounts to follow, but most listeners don’t have that kind of patience. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the average consumer wants easy access and convenience.
#2. Less Money, More Problems
In early 2017, SoundCloud’s CEO, Alexander Ljung, stated:
“SoundCloud may run out of cash earlier than December 31, 2017… These matters give rise to a material uncertainty about the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
But this wasn’t the first time SoundCloud had shown signs of shutting down. In 2016, there were reports of the company losing more than $70 million over the two prior years.
This of course is what pushed the development and rollout of SoundCloud Go and the introduction of ads you now hear during streaming. SoundCloud even laid off about 40% of their staff in order to keep the company afloat. Nevertheless, in the late summer of 2017, the company landed a $169 million investment that would keep the company alive. But it’s still unclear how the company will generate consistent income and survive against the competition.
Despite the challenges SoundCloud has faced over the years, it is still a beautiful place. It has birthed a plethora of careers, created a space for newer artists to create dialogue on completed tracks and demos, and has been the go-to place to discover new “underground” artists from all genres across the world.
However, with the end of SoundCloud in sight, it’s probably a good idea for artists to look for a solid alternative for their music release needs. Bandcamp isn’t the only alternative available to musicians, but is is the best out right now for a multitude of reasons.
For Free or Not For Free, It’s Up To You
Similar to artists on SoundCloud, artists on Bandcamp have the ability to upload their music for free and make it available to the public for free as well. However, there’s also the option of making listeners give their email in exchange for your “free” music. This is very valuable and can be used by the artists to keep in contact with the listener about any future releases. The consumer has the ability to stream entire songs from the site before downloading any and/or all of your content.
However, if you wish to put a price tag on your music, you can put any value on it you want. In addition you can price individual tracks and the whole release or put one price tag on the full release with no option to download individual tracks. The artists can also offer his or her full discography on Bandcamp for a discounted price. Most importantly, the commission splits with Bandcamp are very reasonable, with the artist retaining most of the user’s purchase.
Exclusive Content FTW
Not only do artists have the ability to offer their music for a set price and/or for free, they also have to ability to include exclusive content embedded within the download files.
This content can range from unreleased music videos, to mini-documentaries, to artwork sketches, to variant covers of the final artwork, and whatever else you can fit in the download. The most common use is for artists to include the back cover of their projects with the track listing, along with any other thank you letters and credits they want to include. It’s almost as if you’re buying a physical CD without the physical copy – you get all the inserts, pictures and everything else.
Merch on Merch on Merch
The most exciting option on Bandcamp is the ability to sell merchandise along with your music content. This opens a new plane for creativity, as the artist can offer merchandise that’s exclusive to each release, making the overall experience of the release more compelling. You can offer anything from t-shirts and physical CDs to hats and cassette tapes.
Bandcamp leaves it up to the artist to ship his or her merch to those who purchased the music, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it creates a more personable experience between the fan and the artist. It also makes life easy for the consumer, who can purchase the digital download along with and any available merchandise all in one place.
With SoundCloud possibly in its last few years of existence, I would personally encourage artists to explore other outlets such as Bandcamp that give you more liberty to not only share you music for free (or for profit), but enable you to create complete packages and rollouts for your future music releases.
None of this should take away from the impact, influence and creative freedom that SoundCloud has contributed to artists and fans over the years it has been available. Let’s just hope they find some way of financially surviving this dog-eat-dog, streaming-service-eat-streaming-service kind of world in the years to come.