Is Subscription Right for SoundCloud? | Features | MN2S

SoundCloud is striving to become more like other mainstream streaming platforms, but is this the right direction for service?

Last week, SoundCloud struck a deal with Universal Music allowing the platform to monetize the Universal catalogue through advertising. This deal comes off the back of a similar deal SoundCloud made with PRS for Music – one of the biggest rights management services for songwriters – in December. These deals pave the way for SoundCloud to offer an ad-supported service that plays music from major labels, and a subscription-based service that would not need ads. Commercial viability is clearly a good thing for the bosses at SoundCloud, but do these changes benefit the music fans, artists and independent record labels who have made SoundCloud the vibrant platform it is today?

We take a look at the elements that make SoundCloud such a great platform, and how they might be affected by future changes.

Music democracy

SoundCloud is the first choice of many artists in the MN2S label services group for many reasons. Part of its appeal lies in the way the platform democratises music, putting indie artists, bedroom DJs and globe-trotting platinum-sellers on equal pegging from the user perspective. Even if a user goes onto SoundCloud to listen to Calvin Harris, they could end up listening to the latest up-and-coming house acts on labels like LoveStyle Records or DirtyBird.

Social Interaction

At the moment, SoundCloud has the best social elements of any digital music platform. Tracks are easily shareable, embeddable, and the comment system allows moment-specific discussion. The platform also allows easy interaction between artists and fans. It would be worrying if the service was to go the direction of a Spotify or TIDAL, whose social elements are unwieldy and never really caught on.

Remix the remits

Any electronic music fan, or even a casual SoudCloud user, knows that the platform is rife with the latest and greatest remixes. Countless young DJs like Look Like and Steve Smart made their careers through a few prominent SoundClould remixes. Even before the latest deal went through, SoundCloud had started giving Universal the right to pull content from the service if it used material from the record label’s artists in an unauthorised way. This all sounds familiar, of course, since it is similar to the way copyrighted material is treated on YouTube. This was a worrying prospect for DJs who love to share their remixes on SoundCloud, and the electronic fans who love to hear them.

There was much talk of DJs migrating to different services such as Mixcloud, which allows licensed music on the same basis as a radio station, but one of the supposed benefits of the proposed SoundCloud updates was intended to quell these rumours. Apparently, the deal with Universal means users and artists can still upload remixed copyrighted material as much as they want, and that this material will bring in royalties for the big record labels. However, in practice, it may not be this simple. As we have seen with YouTube, the big labels can often be trigger-happy in pulling copyrighted content from the internet.

Perhaps the most famous example of this comes from Universal themselves. In 2007 a mother uploaded footage of her baby dancing to a barely-audible clip of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. Universal, the copyright holder of the song, sent a request for YouTube to take down the video citing copyright infringement. The request sparked a huge lawsuit (Lenz vs. Universal Music) with Lenz eventually winning the right to keep the video online. Even though this case was a victory for freedom of expression (and uploading remixes online), the fact that Universal even made the request does not bode well for SoundCloud DJs going forward.

Streaming for artists

Dave Elkabas, founder and co-director of MN2S, has been outspoken in his opinion that subscription-based streaming services do not help artists. However, he acknowledges that SoundCloud is different. This is because, more than any other streaming service, SoundCloud empowers the artist. Artists can share clips alongside links to purchase tracks on sites like BeatPort; they can share demos and works in progress; or they can share full songs and mixes if they want them to be free, for whatever period of time.

Even if direct purchases still bring artists more revenue, a service that gives them more control over the music they share is clearly a better one.

Will everything change?

The big question is: can SoundCloud become profitable without losing everything that made it great? And is this even possible? If SoundCloud wants to become the next Spotify, it may well have to jettison the features that fans fell in love with. Alternatively, they could keep the old service as it is and launch an entirely new streaming platform. Though the new deals mean SoundCloud v.1 will never quite be the same.

Whatever happens, it is important that we have an online platform that serves artists, smaller record labels and fans over the pockets of its shareholders, whether SoundCloud wants to be that service or not.

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