Written by: TRES.8
The Greying of SoundCloud
Circulating rumors regarding the demise of SoundCloud have risen amidst confirmed reports of the company behind the popular music service unexpectedly laying off forty percent of its staff without intentions of replacing them as a manner of cutting costs. Alongside these rumors, news of the failure of negotiations regarding the selling of SoundCloud itself to competitive streaming services Spotify and Apple Music served to inspire a panic amongst underground music enthusiasts and professional artists alike, with some analysts proposing that the service would crash under its own weight by the fourth quarter of 2017. Despite SoundCloud claiming that their service is not under any stress that might force them to collapse and all adjustments to staff are merely a “shift in culture”, fans are understandably worried for what has been one of the main staples of the online music community for years.
It’s not very difficult to see how an independently owned service such as SoundCloud could be struggling to stay afloat in this tumultuous business; the music streaming industry has massively risen in competitiveness and sheer volume over the past few years amidst the decline of the traditional record sale. With the offering of streaming services from technology juggernauts such as Google’s Google Play Music and Apple Music, to Spotify, a humbly grown and now incredibly influential platform, to even Jay Z’s own venture, Tidal, it seems that everyone is attempting to get a slice of the pie that is the modern day music distribution industry. Unfortunately for SoundCloud, this means that their previously spacious niche has been targeted many times over by both larger and more powerful corporations and other homegrown small businesses.
While SoundCloud wasn’t the first service to utilize streaming at a high level, what with Napster and Spotify being established well before it and thriving with user bases of thousands, it capitalized on the opportunities offered by the method to great success and single-handedly pushed the previously established limits for online music distribution. The adoration behind SoundCloud isn’t necessarily all due to how themusic was presented, but additionally what music is available. Not only is the service free to listen to, it’s also free to upload, providing an easy way for anybody to have their work put up and enjoyed by potentially large amounts of people. At a higher level, this ease of access has led to the career advancement of many modern young artists to a level previously unattainable by those without a label cosign, with one example being native New Yorker Post Malone – he released his breakout track, “White Iverson”, on SoundCloud in February of 2015. Within a month, the song had racked over a million plays and led to Malone gaining massive attention from labels, eventually leading to him signing with Republic Records, all without ever even as much as contacting an agent prior to his SoundCloud endeavor.
So why has such an influential and powerful tool for aspiring musicians and artists alike reached this warning zone in terms of business? The top reasons for the struggles the provider is going through right now are all related to the same general topic: streaming has grown to become an incredibly tough business, and the fact that SoundCloud has been almost consistently lagging behind its competitors in terms of innovation post its release hasn’t helped at all. It was the last of its generation of top tier streaming services to implement a premium feature for paid users, doing so in 2016 with the critically lukewarm SoundCloud Pro in comparison to Spotify’s Premium launched in 2011. Moreso, contrary to casual listeners, artists searching for a more lucrative path are dissatisfied with the amount of profit SoundCloud dishes out per stream, leading them to seek other options; rapper 21 Savage regularly only posts snippets of his projects on SoundCloud, while choosing to offer entire albums for free on Spotify. In a lane that is now occupied by several different ventures, SoundCloud’s inability to modernize at a rapid rate is a major red flag, as is now clear.
SoundCloud influence in the music industry has been undeniable thus far, but its relevance for the future is up for debate despite claims by the company that it isn’t going anywhere. While still suitable for basement musicians just searching for a platform to get their sound outside of their own speakers and the hardcore listener constantly on the search for a new and innovative genre, the usability of the service in such a dire time will be determined solely by how quickly SoundCloud is able to adjust and gain its footing.