There’s more music at our fingertips today than there was twenty years ago, and as great as that is, finding genuine talent is becoming increasingly difficult. Music discovery is easier and more immediate, but the weight of all this new music is building pressure. It feels like the internet is beginning to fold in on itself.
Until recently, SoundCloud was one of the finest sites for music discovery as well as streaming. Due to the rise of Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, and other music streaming behemoths, Soundcloud has been forced to reevaluate their business model. Instead of sticking to their independent roots, they started seeking out major label approval. In the process, they’ve lost some of the fundamental characteristics that appealed to music junkies in the first place. With the gradual introduction of advertisements, new rules, restrictions, and general hindrances to artists and listeners alike, the freedom the website was built on is being taken away piece by piece.
As music becomes less of a paid commodity for the typical consumer, why would one of the platforms initially praised for its lack of advertising and major label interference poison itself with the worst elements from its competitors? The answer to that is, of course, an obvious one—money—but that makes it no less disheartening. Like Turntable.fm—an interactive music-sharing service that was closed in 2013 after less than three years of existence—SoundCloud is losing the sense of camaraderie that once made it so special.
As is the case with SoundCloud, when the overall user base gets too large, a focused scene can turn into a bloated mess. The sense of community is lost.
As we’ve seen with Grooveshark, few companies are capable of overcoming the immense hurdle of scaling their business and competing with the corporate giants who dominate the music industry. With popularity comes interest from big business and a responsibility to cater to the masses, and that’s where a lot of the magic is lost. When something in the music industry starts to catch on, everyone jumps at the opportunity to profit from it, and quite often, services and artists have no choice but to submit themselves in ways that diminish the overall quality.
As communities grow, those on the outside begin to take notice. As is the case with SoundCloud, when the overall user base gets too large, a focused scene can turn into a bloated mess. The sense of community is lost.
Romil, Kevin Abstract’s go-to producer and one of Brockhampton’s key members, says, “It’s amazing that you can upload your song and the whole world can stream it, but it’s getting really over saturated.” One of the key reasons for this saturation is the introduction of the repost feature, something that many artists and listeners initially praised. Viewed as an opportunity to easily share songs on the service itself instead of an outside social media site, the function has since turned certain sections of SoundCloud into a sort of massive circle-jerk.
Niche scenes on SoundCloud which were born out of a desire to offer something new and foster a sense of community are defeating their very purpose by only circulating their own music via reposts. Scenes develop and remain interesting by welcoming new artists and integrating new ideas, but a few of the big players in the current wave of known collectives seem more concerned with maintaining an aesthetic than evolving.
You know those people that retweet all of their friends a little too much? Well, imagine that but with a three-minute long track instead of 140 characters, clogging your feed from numerous sources. As well as endless reposting of the same music, artists have been flooding the service with new music, as a result oversaturating their own discographies. To see higher numbers on their profile, a lot of producers feel the need to put out a new track every day. There’s so much music on the internet already, why make your own music another few drops in an ocean of mediocrity?
Thousands of bootleg remixes of ‘Trap Queen’ later, the real diamonds in the rough are now even more obscured. The community is simply too big at this point to really capitalize on what made it the go-to place for unearthing talent in the first place.
That’s a very broad question to ask of artists, but now it applies to SoundCloud more than ever. Thousands of bootleg remixes of “Trap Queen” later, the real diamonds in the rough are now even more obscured. The community is simply too big at this point to really capitalize on what made it the go-to place for unearthing talent in the first place. While SoundCloud hasn’t helped itself in any way with its recent developments, the real problem comes from its immense growth.
An easy way to put this into perspective is to talk about the growth of video games since the ’90s, when they really started to enter mainstream consciousness. Games got flashier and technically “better” as they advanced, but for a lot of people the magic is no longer there. Video games weren’t big business back then, and it showed in the fearless creativity of some video game studios and publishers. Greed has overtaken much of that spirit, and at a certain point, the end products look less like art to the consumers, and more like a business. Ultimately that’s what music and videos games are, but no one wants to their art to be looked at like that in the grand scheme of things.
The barriers to entry in music as a whole have diminished from the days of vinyl and compact discs, mainly because of illegal activities and YouTube replacing MTV as the go-to place for music videos. SoundCloud prided itself on not having any barriers, on allowing everyone in and excluding no one, but now there are users making it harder for newcomers to get heard. Just like the internet itself in the early days, people have found dubious ways to make money through SoundCloud—paid reposts, bot followers, and fake plays have led to an overall decrease in quality. But these same trends encourage artists to push themselves even further, a vicious cycle perpetuated by the necessity to stand out.
The slow death of SoundCloud’s sense of community begs the question: What’s next? For every movement that dies, another is born in its place. Out of necessity, small artists will always need a safe haven to develop, experiment, and band together—otherwise they’re nothing more than a whisper in a sea of shouts. There are many small communities like Soulseek and SPF420 flourishing away from the spotlight, and away from the pressure of cooperating with the powers that be.
To put it simply, SoundCloud spoiled us. “It made it easy to discover whole worlds if you just knew where to look and how,” says P&P contributor Jon Tanners. “It has become an ecosystem capable of supporting other ecosystems, but that means SoundCloud now has big dollar signs attached to it.” Artists are asking how much it will cost for a repost from better-known SoundCloud artists, and some are actually accepting offers. It’s a means to an end, but when you’re promoting art only because money is exchanging hands, the impact is diminished.
We use it for everything now, from memes to major label releases, which means it’s not as exciting to the kids who want to do something different. They’re going to be looking for alternatives. They are looking. – Ryan Hemsworth
Ryan Hemsworth, a producer and prominent user of the platform, told us via email, “SoundCloud will remain strong until a real threat arrives that can offer what we loved about SoundCloud in the beginning, while simplifying and improving the formula.” It’s very possible that a new service could rise up out of nowhere, but it needs to have the same user friendly interface and inherent shareability. “I think we always love a fresh idea in the earliest stages. Discovering new ways around the technology, ways to use it that other people haven’t thought of, and so on. We use it for everything now, from memes to major label releases, which means it’s not as exciting to the kids who want to do something different. They’re going to be looking for alternatives. They are looking. “
In conversation with Liz from the online music venue SPF420, she mentioned that artists are only willing to pay for reposts “because they’re blindsided by the audience that is portrayed by the artist.” There’s a high chance that when they pay for a repost, they’ll just get lost in a mess of other tracks by like-minded artists. “I think that maybe it helps people sleep better at night to know that their music got a little tiny boost, even though there was a price to pay for it, rather than no one listening to it.” Casual listeners following their favorite producer on SoundCloud won’t necessarily pay attention to a repost as it appears automatically in a feed, so in the long run a paid repost doesn’t do the artist a lot of good outside a boost to their numbers.
Hemsworth isn’t a fan of the concept of reposts as a business, either. Annoyed at even the prospect of asking for a repost, let alone paying for one, he stressed that “if you’re an artist or someone running a page that accepts money for reposts, no one will give a shit about your page very quickly because good music will prevail. Sounds cheesy but I’ll always believe that.”
Paying for coverage removes the original intent of the repost and damages the service in the long run. Paid reposts are unfortunately something that artists feel they need to seek out, but they’re frequently sold to those who don’t know any better under false pretenses, effectively robbing both involved parties of their credibility.
The legalities getting songs removed for use of samples and full songs in the case of mixes are, of course, inevitable. It’s something that the internet has been adjusting to ever since the days of Napster. The reposts, however? It seems to be something that could be easily solved. As a Twitter user, you’ve been able to turn off retweets for a long time, and it’s a valuable function if you follow Lil B. SoundCloud has yet to offer such a function.
For the most part, the features added to the service over the years have been valuable. SoundCloud isn’t dead just yet—in fact it’s far from it—but it’s certainly starting to feel like it’s on the verge of overdosing. It’s an integral platform for artists and music lovers, but the community that fuels it is slowly disbanding. A SoundCloud embed will always be useful, but while aspirations of major label deals and new revenue streams become the focus, the core users are getting fed up. It’s time to say RIP to SoundCloud as a community, and hello to SoundCloud as a service.