Last week, the rap internet went into full-on panic mode as reports surfaced that SoundCloud had some 80 days of funding left before the streaming beast would be forced to go belly-up. As these leaks came in the wake of SoundCloud closing two offices and laying off 40% of their staff, no one should have been surprised by the company’s dire situation. But indie rappers and creators who’ve relied on SoundCloud as their music’s home base for years were taken aback by just how bad things had gotten.
Within a matter of days, and in an almost predictable fashion, Chance the Rapper came to SoundCloud’s apparent “rescue,” placing a call to the ailing giant and walking away with the conviction that “SoundCloud is here to stay.”
Just had a very fruitful call with Alex Ljung. @SoundCloud is here to stay.
— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) July 14, 2017
If you’re an underground rapper or indie musician, that announcement probably produced a sigh of relief. But that assurance may be premature.
While we’ll probably never know what transpired on that phone call, there’s one prediction I can make with full confidence: Chance and Soundcloud president’s Alex Ljung’s optimism is misplaced. As it currently functions, SoundCloud won’t last long; any version that survives will be majorly renovated, and SoundCloud as we know it is dead in the water.
Ultimately, my confidence that SoundCloud is doomed to fail, and soon, comes from two places. First, the platform’s commitment to its core user base, indie artists, and underground creators, has been dead for a while now.
It was indie creators that built SoundCloud into the streaming giant it is today. The hip-hop community was terrified when those doomsday reports leaked last week because, for a huge number of amateur and independent artists, SoundCloud has been the most viable means of sharing music and connecting with other creators and potential fans alike.
It’s that community importance, within hip-hop and within hundreds of other tight-knit creator communities that rely on SoundCloud, that has driven consistent traffic to the site. As a hybrid social/streaming infrastructure, SoundCloud’s highly engaged user base serves as its primary contributor network as well as its largest asset and biggest strength as a company.
But as SoundCloud has developed and grown larger and larger, the giant has spent less and less energy catering to the needs of that independent creator base that acts as its lifeblood. As they’ve monetized some accounts to share revenue brought in from advertisements, smaller scale indie artists haven’t seen a fair share of those profits. On a more fundamental level, the SoundCloud app is clunky and almost dysfunctional to the point of not being usable for creators and streamers alike.
SoundCloud has “sold out” its user base in a sense, failing to respond to the needs of its creator community in an agile or strategic fashion. This alone is a major misstep which endangers the platform's longevity, but it’s tied to an even darker reality and the second reason why I’m confident SoundCloud as we know it isn’t long for this world. That “selling out” didn’t work; economically, SoundCloud has failed repeatedly just as they’ve continued to fail their average “DIY” artist user.
The writing’s been on the walls. In the past year, SoundCloud has gone from receiving billion dollar offers to a valuation in the 200-250 million range. As mentioned above, that massive dump in valuation has resulted in major layoffs across the board, which may buy the company time in the short term but is indicative of a failed business model over all. SoundCloud has never been profitable. Any short term fix is a band-aid, but as it stands, SoundCloud has not demonstrated that it has a realistic plan going forward to turn a profit and achieve financial viability.
A buyout has long been considered the logical next-step for the company, but at this point, who’d be foolish enough to buy? And even if someone does purchase the behemoth for it’s brand credibility and existing traffic, there’s no way that they’ll keep propping up the failed model that has gotten SoundCloud to the morbid place it’s in now.
If you’re an indie creator, all of that pessimism may feel a bit overwhelming. But on the contrary, I’m writing this as much as a message of liberation as a warning. You’re SoundCloud is dead; if not in 80 days, soon, SoundCloud, as it stands, is not here to stay. But with that knowledge, you’ve got the opportunity to make funeral preparations now and start planning for a world without SoundCloud as the presumptive home of your free-to-stream music.
In making those burial plans, there are a couple things all indie artists should keep in mind:
The sooner you start migrating content, the better.
- Pick a new home for your music, and start driving traffic there as soon as possible.
- Spotify is a logical step for most rappers, but copyright issues hinder this platform’s usefulness in the underground community. You won’t be able to upload tracks over industry beats or tracks with lots of uncleared samples on Spotify.
- For this kind of content, free streaming services will still dominate for now. AudioMack and Bandcamp are two to pay attention to and consider.
The rules of promotion don’t change, only your music’s home does.
- Creating high-quality content, from your songs themselves to videos and other promo content, will continue to be the most reliable and approachable way to drive traffic to your music.
- Playlists and the gatekeepers who curate them will continue to be important, even as those tastemakers in the underground migrate from SoundCloud to Spotify.
- Everything that worked long term for the SoundCloud age, from investing in your music to networking and engaging members of the community, will remain valuable in approaching your art independently.
We’re all going to figure this out together.
SoundCloud has been such a dominant force in the landscape of independent music over the past five years that the transition to new platforms and new avenues aren't going to be easy or straightforward for anyone. But we’re all going to figure this out as a community, and you shouldn’t feel like you are behind or out-of-the-loop if the prospect of moving past SoundCloud feels daunting.
As long as artists are staying educated and informed on where the streaming world is headed, and being proactive about keeping their approach up to date, the logical path forward will present itself and we’ll all survive the coming change.
For now, the sooner you accept SoundCloud’s eventual death and make an exit plan, the better. There’s a good chance that the streaming service will hold on for a little longer in a recognizable form, and even after it crumbles completely SoundCloud the brand will likely be bought up and revived by some savvy tech company or other. But it won’t be the same platform; SoundCloud the model has failed, even if some vestige of SoundCloud the company carries on.
Don’t spend too much time mourning, SoundCloud had a good run. Start figuring out what’s next for your music and your brand as an indie creator now, and you’ll be ahead of the curve and a whole lot less panicked when the site finally does go belly up for good.