Ever since the MP3 file format gained traction as the medium of choice for music listeners, sharing music has become so easy and intuitive that it’s quite literally turned the industry inside out. From the early days of sites like Audiogalaxy (remember that?) and Napster, to the inevitable legitimising of music streaming and downloads through iTunes, SoundCloud and the like, digital music was far more convenient than physical media. Now that digital DJing is the norm and not the exception, recording and sharing your mixes online has become an essential part of self-promotion, as well as a great way to keep them stored and accessible.
With all the copyright drama surrounding SoundCloud, there’s no shortage of people screaming “try this site!”, “try that site!”. It’s all well and good taking anecdotal suggestions from the internet, but how about a good old-fashioned group test from your favourite DJ technology site (that’s us, by the way)?
We DJs need somewhere to stick our music, whether it be mashups mixes or regular podcasts. But apart from the tried and tested SoundCloud, are the other services worth using?
But what do we measure?
There are a lot of things we all judge websites on that are personal preferences, but there are plenty of real, quantifiable points we can look at. This group test takes a mixture of both and take a pragmatic, practical look at how useful each service will generally be to DJs, whether bedroom or professional.
I’m going to use SoundCloud as a sort of baseline to compare from, as that’s been the service in the spotlight the most, for better or worst. That said, each service will be looked at individually, offering up information on the following criteria:
Cost – is there a free version? What do you get when you pay?
Limitations (if any) – what can and can’t you do with the service?
Interface/brandability – How much can you make your account your own?
Audio quality – Are you files transcoded before they can be streamed? Are downloadable files the same as uploaded?
The bottom line – How do I feel about the site? What are the takeaways?
UK-based site Mixcloud differed itself from Soundcloud when it launched by aiming squarely at the radio/DJ mix market, with only a streaming option. You can tag music in your mix by uploading a playlist and let users know if it’s a talk show or just a mix.
Basic account is free, with as many uploads (and of any size) as you want. This version has ads and site take-overs. They can sometimes be a little intrusive, but the site is still easily useable.
US users can’t scrub backwards, no timeline. There is a maximum number of tracks from an artist you can have in your mix.
Cover image and profile picture. You can also add a picture to your uploads. The site has a very clean and simple look, marred slightly by the ads shown on the free version. There’s a mobile site and a decent app that focuses on getting you to your content quickly. There’s also a player you can embed in webpages quickly and easily.
Audio playback quality
Although there is nothing on the support site to suggest what the audio bitrate might be for streaming, there’s talk it is around 192kbps.
Mixcloud — the bottom line
I’ll be honest. This is a site I’ve been using for a long time, and never had any problems with it. I’ve watched it evolve, and use it to both host and listen. I am completely stumped by the limitations imposed on US users, though. And as such, it’s a big strike against the site.
96, 128, 192, 256, 320 kbit/s or original play quality
Preferred Music transcoding
+200 Peaks (credit points)
Templates for Music page
Disable automatic playlist tagging
Free version is limited to only 5,000 plays or 2,000 downloads of your entire collection before it stops you uploading any new content.
Header banner, profile picture, image gallery. The interface can seem a bit cluttered compared to Mixcloud, but it’s fast and responsive, including on mobile devices. There’s also a mobile app which I’d talk about if it let me log in. Take of that what you will. A nice feature is that you get an email notification when you’re mix is uploaded and ready to publish. Hearthis also has an easily embeddable music player for websites. The interface uses a layer technique as you move through pages.
Audio playback quality
128 kbit/s, CBR, joint stereo. With a Premium Account upgrade, you can define the bitrate on your own.
Hearthis — the bottom line
Hearthis has crept into the hearts and minds of DJs and producers over the last year or so and with good reason. I wasn’t too enamoured with the way the interface layers the pages as you navigate, but it’s a slick and easy site with cost-effective pricing and plenty to offer.
“Mixcrate is the premier platform to enable DJ’s to share their talent with a worldwide audience while connecting with their peers and fans.”
A bare-bones hosting site that aims squarely at the DJ mix market.
Currently only a free version available.
190MB file size limit
must be mp3.
Requires at least 10 tracks in your tracklist
finicky tracklist auto-generate
With a simple design, reminiscent of something like Beatport, it’s easy enough to navigate the Mixcrate site. The only thing you can change are your profile picture and the mix cover picture. No mobile app.
Audio playback quality
There’s no specific mention of bitrate transcoding.
Mixcrate — the bottom line
I quite liked using Mixcrate, if only because it’s so simple, like Mixcloud. It’s certainly one to watch, as it currently doesn’t charge users at all, but will have to monetise somehow in the future.
French startup mix.dj aims to be a hub for everything a DJ needs, from audio to video, to social and promotional interaction, profiles and more. While mix hosting isn’t the focus of the site, it’s a core part of what they offer.
The site also offers various paid services for its users, from custom profile designs to audio mastering.
The service is seriously limited by the 100MB upload for free users.
You can change your profile picture, and that’s about it.
The site content seems to have been written by a non-native speaker. This makes it a pain to work through, and usability suffers as a result. It’s a shame, as the site has a bright and airy interface
There’s also an Android and iOS apps for premium users.
Audio playback quality
No information available.
Mix.dj — the bottom line
What mix.dj gains from the decent interface, it loses hugely from the very stingy offering for new users trying it out, and the painfully bad site copy. There’s a lot of potential here, and a lot of work needed, which is a damn shame.
A site that’s designed more for the traditional podcast concept, DJPod is useful for those with a regularly released show. The site requires you to have a name for your podcast (like John Digweed‘s Transitions radio show, for example).
Unlimited storage for your files if you need to upload many episodes each week on your podcast, you’ll never need to count: it is unlimited.
Live statistics Upload an episode on your podcast and immediately see the reactions of your audience. Your download counter is incremented in real time before your eyes.
Care iTunes registration When you subscribe to PRO plan, our team submits your podcast on iTunes. You can concentrate on the essential: your music. We do the rest.
Under the spotlights of Djpod Your podcast under the spotlights of Djpod for a week, exceptional visibility! Only possible with an annual payment.
Dedicated support with guaranteed response 1h Our support will answer in 1 hour maximum, and may even call you back if you wish. Monday to Friday from 9am to 18pm.
Google SEO optimized Our SEO experts have driven optimization to its fullest, for you to be in the best position in search engines.
Dedicated section You will be present in the « PRO Podcasts » section in the main menu of Djpod. An additional visibility, what is more normal for a PRO?
Since DJPod is a podcast service, the system is geared towards regular shows that are disseminated through mainstream channels.
Unfortunately, the site suffers from broken English
Limited to 100MB per file for free users
Customisation is limited to premium users only: you can change background, colours etc. to give your landing page a unique feel. The site has a Facebook app to embed your playlist in your page, as well as an app for iPhone.
Audio playback quality
DJPod — the bottom line
An approachable and usable podcast hosting service. The PRO level is a pretty steep ask, but they try to make up for it by offering you a lot for the money. If you’ve got ambitions to run a regular music podcast, try this site first.
“Over half a million people use House-Mixes.com, join them today.”
This is a DJ mix and track hosting service. It’s established, but not huge. It’s not the prettiest of sites, but does what it says on the tin. The site runs regular mix competitions, featuring different genres, with prizes ranging from branded hoodies to Pioneer DJ controllers.
Advertising, paid mix promotions and donations.
“As this website is a free service for anyone to use, we rely on donations and advertising to contribute to the demanding running costs each month. The donated money goes towards our server costs which keep your downloads & uploading facilities available 24/7.”
It’s worth noting that although there are quite a few ads on the page, they don’t seem to be too intrusive. You can pay a little money to get a promotion boost for mixes within the search results or in the monthly newsletter.
50MB for tracks and 500MB for mixes, must be MP3. No mobile apps, but the site is fairly responsive to different screen sizes. Apparently, one is in the works, though.
You can change your avatar and some of the layout colours. The site is meant to have an embeddable player, but I unfortunately kept getting an error.
Audio playback quality
No mention of transcoding, so upload quality should determine the streaming quality. Download quality is transparent.
House-mixes — the bottom line
Not an altogether unpleasant experience, the site knows what it wants. You get a place to host your music, and their approach to funding is to be commended. They aren’t out there to make obscene profits, just give you a decent service.
And what do you get for upgrading to PRO on top of the extra space? Here’s a list:
PRO DESIGN TOOLS Make your page pop with our drag-and-drop design interface and custom CSS.
PRO CUSTOMER SUPPORT Access to priority email support and our exclusive PRO Care hotline.
FEATURED PLACEMENT Your podcast will rotate into our Feature Podcast area.
STORAGE, PRODUCTION Never run out again! Get massive storage and bandwidth capacity.
AD-FREE PODCASTING Remove ads from the top of your podcast page.
HIGH QUALITY DOWNLOADS Serve up media in its original, high-fidelity format.
PRO STATS Get detailed historical data and audience mapping for your podcast.
EARN MONEY WITH GOOGLE Put AdSense ads on your podcast page and generate income
Maximum file size of 350MB
Only pro members can keep the original file format. 192 kbps MP3 for free users
Podomatic looks a bit like LinkedIn and suffers from being quite cluttered. Having uploaded a mix, the site seems less intuitive than some of the others. There’s a decent app for Android and iOS.
Audio playback quality
192kbps for free, original for PRO.
Podomatic — the bottom line
I wasn’t as enamoured by the interface and user experience on this one. There’s a lot happening on the page and it takes some time to figure out what’s what and get the most out of it. Like I mentioned: this is for hardcore radio show producers/DJs.
Not your first choice to host your mixes and music, but there’s certainly plenty of precedent to show it’s worth it. Bonus points if you want to work in some video of your mixes. Give Boiler Room a run for their money.
Free, if you don’t mind signing your online life away to Google (which I don’t). There are programs in place for “creators”, but they are high level and usually entail working with video networks and such.
Youtube is not a platform dedicated to mix hosting per se, but just as handy, really.
Heavy copyright policing, working with major labels.
Your channel page can be branded with a logo, theme colours and cover image. You can also easily embed YouTube videos pretty much anywhere bar your fridge (so far). There is, of course the excellent mobile apps, which are Chromecast capable.
Audio playback quality
Up to 384kbps
Youtube — the bottom line
A surprising contender with a slightly higher barrier for entry, but if you fancy challenging yourself with a new skill, creating videos could open up a new world. YouTube is tried and tested, has a huge audience and is pretty easy to use.
The free version you sign up for only has 49MB/month storage, which isn’t even enough for a one hour radio show at a worthwhile bitrate. The advanced version is still pretty stingy on storage and bandwidth, with on 100MB/month.
The PodBean service aimed squarely at DJs that produce a regular show. It’s a podcast site!
There’s an issue with m4a files streaming: You have to wait for the whole file to download before playing.
Your profile is fully themeable, with premium themes you can buy in the store. PodBean treats each user’s account as it’s own sub-domain, similar to wordpress.com, treating your content much like a blog site. The service works with regular podcast apps. Paid users can have an Android app for their feed created as part of the service. For other mobile devices, the web app works.
Upload-determined. There are limitations on what file formats you can use, but it’s a big list!
PodBean — the bottom line
Like the other podcast sites, PodBean almost requires you to upload content regularly. The most intriguing feature is the powerful theme engine for your ‘site’. This is definitely for power-users that aren’t worried about sinking some money into their setup. I really hope other music hosting services “borrow” that feature as it’s very clever.
This is the grand-daddy of music hosting sites. Recent changes in the copyright enforcement policy and site design have caused ripples in the music community, but is it still worth using if you’re a DJ?
Very strict copyright which might make it hard for you as a DJ. The site is actively working with labels to police and license their music, raising concerns of falsely flagged takedowns.
Pretty rigid look and feel based around the company’s recognisable orange, white and black branding. There’s the mobile apps, which annoyingly don’t let you download music, only stream, and the embeddable player is already everywhere.
Audio playback quality
Original upload quality for downloads.
128kbps joint stereo MP3 for streaming.
Soundcloud — the bottom line
For all the recent bluster, SoundCloud is still an excellent option for hosting your music. It’s easy to use, easy on the eye and easy to share. Although the copyright issues can still affect DJs that play underground music, unless you’re really worried about your content getting flagged, you could do a lot worse.
With self-hosted content, you’re in complete control of pretty much all aspects of your music and promotion. Dance culture satire website Wunderground Music has written a tongue-in-cheek (but actually quite helpful) article on setting up your own music blog. Although it’s meant as a dig at how “everyone’s a DJ” and we’re all bloggers, the story has some serious advice on how to get started with the insanely popular WordPress blogging platform. Literally anyone can get that far, but design, branding/marketing and content are what separates great sites from the rest.
And that’s the problem. Without the momentum other platforms already have, it’s hard to get your stuff in people’s ears. Music hosting services have teams of people working on getting their name out, not to mention every other user on the site listening, uploading and sharing. If you’ve got further promotional ambitions than just somewhere to store your mixtapes, then this might be your best option.
Domain and hosting around £40/yr
None, you should comply with the laws of the land you’re hosting in, but that’s your decision.
2.5GB with TSOhost (who I happen to use), but they tend to be flexible if you ask nicely.
WordPress/Drupal/whatever is your oyster. Learn CSS and JS and you can do anything (almost). Audio playback bitrate
Unlimited. With FTP, you can host raw WAV files if you want (but that won’t do your storage space any good.
Your own site — the bottom line
If you want to go it alone and you’re confident with your skills, this is actually quite a good way to go about it. Realistically, hosting large amounts of files can be expensive, which is why a lot of DJs and labels host music on other services and use their own site as a central hub.
Drawing some conclusions
This look at all the different services shows you that there’s no shortage of customer choice. Every niche the music industry might have is catered for, and that even with all the SoundCloud copyright drama, there’s always going to be a site you can stick your music. And we haven’t even dug into the more standard file hosting sites like zippyshare or Uploaded.net.
One thing I have noticed is that some sites set themselves apart by ensuring higher quality in their web copy. By this, I mean that the bigger sites don’t get like that by accident. Everything is a cut above the rest, from the user experience, to mobile apps, right down to making sure there are no typos or grammar mistakes on the site.
As a completely random aside, it astounds me that so many of these sites don’t have an “About Us” section, or even decent FAQs. From a PR point of view, it avoids a lot of communication headaches, and it just makes sense to have information like how old the company is readily available to users, if only for transparency.
As for which are “better”, laying the facts out above should help you make your own decision best on your own needs, but generally there are three types of site: pure mix hosting, mix and track hosting, podcast/radio show hosting. I’ve tried to make it clear which sites are focused on which service style, but just to reiterate:
I threw in the YouTube and home-grown site sort of last minute, and after some thought, was surprised at how viable they were as options for DJs. Granted, the self-hosted site has a technical barrier to overcome, but realistically, most hosting services automate a lot of the options.
Two questions that will inevitably be asked: “Which is the ‘best’ hosting site for me to start using?” and “Should I move from SoundCloud?”… Those are fairly easy to answer. Firstly, I’ve chosen what I think is the best in each category, based on my usage:
Pure mix hosting: Mixcloud if you’re not in the US, simply for the clean design, decent mobile app, good value for the free version and how easy it is to upload and manage your mixes.
Both mixes and tracks: Youtube, believe it or not. It has the best search engine in the world backing it, you aren’t marred by too many limitations with uploads, but SoundCloud is still up there and
Podcasts: DJPod. I had a much easier time working out how to get started, though the PRO account is quite expensive. For power-users, check out PodBean to forge your own brand quickly and easily.
As for whether to move from SoundCloud or not, it really comes down to how annoyed you are by it. If you’re happy, haven’t had any copyright claims or don’t really care either way, then stay, otherwise, as you can see, there are plenty of alternatives.
You need to remember, though, that self-promotion requires you to be where the action is, to get seen. Ideally, you should have a presence across multiple sites as you need it, perhaps with your own site as a place to collect all your activity for fans to see. It doesn’t hurt to have your mixes hosted in multiple places, either.
Ultimately, it tends to come down to what you’re willing to pay for the privilege of sharing your mixes. Some of these services scale up to pretty heavy costs and provide little extra for the average DJ, but if you run a label, or have a regular, established show, you’ll get better value from them. Again, this is why I like Mixcloud. The PRO account offers extra features like statistics and dumping ads, rather than limiting what you get for free.