SoundCloud’s ‘The Upload’ uses machine learning to help you find new tracks

SoundCloud made a name for itself among the landscape of music streaming services as the one where creators themselves uploaded music and other sound recordings — picking up the moniker “the YouTube of audio” in the process. Now the company is launching a new discovery feature that plays on that idea and highlights what’s getting added. The Upload, as it is called, will suggest new music to you that has been uploaded to SoundCloud in the last few days, basing its suggestions on what you have listened to on SoundCloud in the past, and using machine learning to figure out what you might like to listen to next.

You get to the new feature by navigating via the Discover tab on the web, or through Search on SoundCloud’s iOS and Android apps, SoundCloud noted in a blog post announcing the new service.

Upload is an expansion on another discovery feature that SoundCloud had launched a year ago called Suggested Tracks, which also used similar algorithms but dipped into SoundCloud’s wider catalog. If Suggested Tracks was like Discover Weekly, The Upload is like Spotify’s Release Radar, which also is aimed at suggesting new releases to users.

Discovery and recommendation tools — which are also used by other platforms like Apple Music — which help users figure out what to listen to on large, open-ended music platforms, are a core part of how these streaming services grow their user bases and engagement.

They are important specifically as they try to grow beyond a core audience of early-adopter music enthusiasts. More casual listeners might be wooed by the sound of having millions of tracks at their disposal to listen to, but when it comes to actually figuring out what to play, they might come up mute.

That might be especially true at SoundCloud, which touts over 150 million music tracks for its premium Go+ users (120 million for Free and Go users) and a significantly more open taxonomy with multiple versions of the same song, by different and the same people in the most popular cases. (As a point of comparison, Spotify has around 30 million tracks.)

We’ve asked, but SoundCloud is not disclosing, just how many tracks are uploaded each week.

Nevertheless, given that SoundCloud actually has more tracks than many of the other services out there, it’s a little surprising to me that it hasn’t made more of an effort to launch more discovery services like this. In addition to The Upload and Suggested Tracks, other machine-learning powered services on SoundCloud today include Who to Follow, Stations (track and artist stations) and Charts.

More generally, SoundCloud is in a bit of a crunch time at the moment. The company says it has 175 million users, and while it is trying to convert more of them to paid tiers (the cheapest level of SoundCloud Go starts at $4.99), it is also trying to grow the bigger user base to push its advertising model, and to continue to make the platform an attractive place for creators to show off their work.

The company has at times been an acquisition target for the likes of Spotify, Google and Twitter, but from what we’ve heard, it has things to get in order before it can command a deal at or above the price where investors are valuing it (which was $700 million at its last equity round, although that was now back in 2014).

SoundCloud is, from what we understand, still trying to close a new equity round, so getting more services to improve engagement in place may also be to help put it in shape for that. In the meantime, SoundCloud has been arranging credit lines — the last was announced in March, for $70 million.