Last week, SoundCloud announced they'd finalized a licensing deal with Warner Music Group, guaranteeing that artists signed to the global label will get paid when their songs are streamed—even within DJ mixes. It's the first step in their long-stewing plan to pay artists royalties, but it's not the only change that's afoot. SoundCloud's already started including advertisements in their streams, and according to The New York Times, the site will also implement a new paid-subscription tier, as early as sometime in the first half of next year.
For years, SoundCloud has been a site where artists can upload their half-finished demos, remixes, bootlegs, and thrown-together mixtapes on a whim—straight from their hard drives or smart phones and into our lives. As SoundCloud moves towards a more industry-friendly model, will all those things change? While we don't yet know how these changes will affect the experiences of listeners and artists, we reached out to five songwriters, mix-makers, and devoted users—A-Trak, Ryan Hemsworth, Ricky Eat Acid, Kreayshawn, and "SoundCloud blogger" Odd Castles—for their initial reactions to the news. Are these changes good? Will they alter the way we share and consume music? Are there any alternatives? What's gonna happen to SoundCloud?
SoundCloud is taking that turn towards yuckiness, which most platforms do eventually. But when these sites change and get weird, there's always an alternative that someone's created just in the nick of time so everyone can jump ship with no worries. It's already really fucking up mixes—Dream Koala made me this amazing mix to upload to my Secret Songs SoundCloud but I can't because it has Deftones songs in it and shit, which is amazing and no one should be deprived of that. I don't want to live in a world where it's impossible to upload a mix with Deftones in it. I'm just sad about these inevitable changes because SoundCloud has been the platform I've found most useful in my career, as a tool for sharing, promoting, and furthering myself and others I'm trying to co-sign.
What happens now? I'd love to try something else but I haven't seen any platforms step up. I've loved what SoundCloud has offered people, but I'm surprised it even took this long for industry heads to catch up and turn this into, what will soon be, Facebook artist pages: paying for visibility, paying to even have basic artist accounts—all that gross shit. I'm fascinated to see what platform pops up next, though.
Ryan Hemsworth on SoundCloud
From what I've read so far, I'm not into it. There's plenty of other subscription based services out there, [and] SoundCloud really serves a specific purpose, different from those. To me the purpose of SoundCloud is discovery, and it's important that it remains free for that experience. They already started introducing ads, now if they start adding a monthly fee, they might be able to keep their business alive but another free service will probably appear and replace them. I know it's not their fault; the majors have been hounding them and threatening them. It's just unfortunate that the laws in the music business are so out of phase with reality. I released a new single recently, "Push." Apparently, some fans already heard some ads during playback of my song. I'm not into that.
What happens now? I still think it's hilarious that YouTube continues to be such a popular destination for streaming music. We made a lyric video for my new single because we just can't escape the fact that a lot of people will go looking for it there.
SoundCloud is where I come to find new music and download music to DJ. I think [the new industry-friendly model] is only gonna favor those who are signed. Even though a lot of signed artists are coming from the Internet and are discovered on platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube—which are free and promote sharing,—it will definitely turn the tables for the user. Promoted songs, ads, and fees are three things I can't stand about the Internet. If I have to pay to share my music I will not do it, and if people have to pay to listen to unsigned artists, they won't do it either.
What happens now? I would be so upset if I had to turn away from SoundCloud. Honestly, it's going to break my heart. Go ahead throw some ads on there if it makes you feel better, but if you throw away freedom of uploading and listening, then someone else will just make a better and free site.
SoundCloud stood out from other sites specifically because it wasn't so much a streaming site as it was a promotional tool. At first, SoundCloud just helped democratize more niche corners of music, but the fact that a producer can upload a song, get noticed by a (somewhat famous to world famous) rapper, producer, A&R, whatever, and end up with a song on the radio within months—that speaks volumes about [SoundCloud's] power and its partial role in undercutting traditional power structures when it comes to music. Basically, they've been throwing that away for a while by giving corporations free reign to pull songs out of fear of getting sued. I've had 30 of my original compositions with NO samples pulled from SoundCloud mistakenly, each time without warning, and it took days of protest and emails to get the issue resolved.
One of my fears is that [SoundCloud] will continue to brand itself more as a streaming site, or social media-type thing, rather than a place that fosters largely original content. It's already working towards that in a lot of ways, especially in changing format and layout to better suit casual listeners and not people uploading tracks and content. I can't say if SoundCloud becoming more industry-based is a good or bad thing ultimately. But when was the last time a platform that helps raise up independent artists becoming co-opted by industry a good thing for people still at the "underground or independent" rung of that ladder?
What happens now? I always believe in playing along with the system until the system is actually detrimental to the artists. SoundCloud been the best option for me and a lot of people I know for a long time. A lot of the changes it's made so far have been inconvenient but not detrimental. I imagine if SoundCloud continues to go downhill, something better will hopefully crop up to take its place. If it becomes too much, I'll start hosting everything myself however I can. There's always something new.
As far as I can tell, user-uploaded content from smaller artists, producers, labels, are all still gonna be viable among the ad-supported and promoted content. I can definitely imagine things getting worse somewhere down the line, where communities end up feeling displaced and finally leave the site for good. Soundcloud would be smart to separate its original model in place right now from the eventual subscription streaming service. I'm sure everything's gonna work out and all the little SC communities will continue to stay afloat throughout 2015. Beyond that, I'm not totally sure. It all depends on how careful SoundCloud is with rolling out all their new ideas and changes. I can definitely understand everyone's worries. No one ever wanted to embrace this change; it's like some suits climbed up the steps to our secret clubhouse and no one really knows what to say or how to react.
What happens now? For what I'm trying to do, I'm not really considering another platform. Everything about building a micro-community feels intuitive on Soundcloud, and if somehow that's not there anymore, most of us will probably have to wait for another option to come out. I'm not totally ready for the changes just yet, but I'm hoping for the best.