Every time an online service like Facebook introduces some kind of change, the community immediately reacts by throwing a 2.0 hissy fit. People don’t like changes – especially changes they’re powerless against. So now, Soundcloud has just announced the introduction of a new “Premier” account which will include various new promotion and monetisation options for uploaders – in human terms, that means we’re going to see (hear) ads on Soundcloud in the future. Already, my news feed is flooded with people yelling “ZOMG SOUNDCLOUD U R T3H SUCK!!1! I’M MOVING ALL MY STUFF TO HEARTHIS.AT”, and I’m sitting here wondering… really?
I’M SO ANGRY, I MADE A POST
Of course, this move seems highly controversial at first. Soundcloud has been around for six years, its usage statistics completely dwarf the likes of Spotify – it just dominates. Besides the fact that you can publish things on Soundcloud, however, the difference between them and Spotify is that once you decide you want to choose specific things to listen to, Spotify isn’t free. It’s actually more expensive than a Soundcloud Pro Unlimited account, which not only allows you to listen to everything you want (you can do that without an account), but also upload more than you probably could – unless you plan to release more than 30 hours of music per week. Naturally, when people can distribute music for free, the content mafia is losing revenue and they’ll go on the offense sooner or later. That’s why we’ve got algorithms constantly crawling through exabytes of uploaded content, blocking everything that even resembles copyrighted material. Youtube does it, Soundcloud does it – they have to.
Yes, this sucks for consumers. It sucks double for DJs whom Soundcloud promised a straightforward self-promotion platform. If your mixes or bastard-pop mashups are too recognizable, your uploads are likely to be taken down. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because algorithms aren’t really intelligent – all they’re doing is pattern matching. That’s why things get taken down wrongfully all the time. Maybe you wrote a hook that’s a little too similar to something from a pop song by pure accident (which is increasingly likely with pop desperately trying to sound “underground”) – or maybe you were too bold with your sample choices? Poof, it’s gone. A lot of artists have even had their own music taken down from their official accounts. Computers are stupid, there are things you can’t (yet) automate, and sometimes users have to pay the price.
Because of the almighty Googletubes, we’ve become accustomed to getting basically everything on demand. The content mafia took way too long to react to that development, and now they’re fighting for a lost cause – because once you’ve made something available, it’s hard to justify taking it back. But remember, Soundcloud is not a charity. They’re a business – and the purpose of a business is to grow. You can’t do that if your legal department is tied up with content licensing issues all the time.
Now let’s assume that, instead of taking one of your mixes offline, they just place a related ad in front of it – it plays once, you’ll be able to skip it after a few seconds and afterwards the content will still be accessible. Is that really such a big price to pay? I don’t think so – it seems like a fair deal, actually. It’s also reasonable to expect an additional listener-only subscription plan which will allow you to skip ads entirely (we already know Pro accounts won’t see ads), making Soundcloud a direct competitor to Spotify. Is that so bad, and did we really not see it coming? Running and maintaining a service of this magnitude is expensive, and it’s constantly expanding. With most users opting for the free basic account, the costs grow exponentially over time, so eventually the money has to come from somewhere.
The new service is called “On Soundcloud“, and as of now, it’s only being rolled out in the United States. “Premier” account owners will have the opportunity to have ads placed in front of their content and participate in revenue sharing, plus added geographical controls, detailed stats and even account management support. While this is currently limited to “Premier” accounts, the fact that even the free basic account has been renamed to “Partner” suggests that ads may become something all Soundcloud users will have to accept sometime in the future.
OKAY – REAL TALK
Remember when Youtube used to have a 10 minute upload limit and you needed a verified director’s account to go beyond that? Yup, neither does the rest of the internet. Today, everyone can upload whatever they want, and you don’t even need a video that performs exceptionally well in order to become a “Youtube Partner”. They’ve made a lot of changes along the way. There have been public outcries, there have been sabotage attempts and I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of death threats in there somewhere (Youtube has some truly dark, sad corners). Now, does it seem like a crumbling service to you? Is Google at the edge of bankruptcy? Nope. Because reality looks like this:
You probably won’t quit Soundcloud, because it’s not just incredibly useful – it’s also a virtually endless source of musical inspiration, giving you access to sounds you won’t hear anywhere else. Like every other online service, it has its fair share of problems, but let’s be honest: most of the time, it works just fine. And it will continue to work without you, because with more than 175 million other users nobody will really mind you leaving.