SoundCloud moves painfully slow for a tech company, and no one feels that pain more than musicians who are popular on the site but don’t get paid. 10 years since SoundCloud first launched, and four years since it opened an invite-only program allowing just the very biggest artists to earn a cut of the ad and premium subscription revenue generated by their listeners, SoundCloud is rolling out monetization.
Now, musicians 18 and up who pay SoundCloud $8 to $16 per month for hosting, get over 5000 streams per month, and only publish original music with no copyright strikes against them can join the SoundCloud Premier program. They’ll get paid a revenue share directly each month that SoundCloud claims “meets or beats any other streaming service”. However, the company failed to respond to TechCrunch’s inquiries about how much artists would earn per 1000 ad-supported or premium subscription listener streams, or how many streams would earn them a dollar.
Beyond payouts, Premier members can post new tracks instantly without having to wait to be discoverable or monetizable, they’ll get real-time feedback from fans, and extra discovery opportunities from SoundCloud. The company hopes monetization will lure more creators to join the 20 million on the platform, get them to promote their presence to drive listens, and imbue the site with exclusive artist-uploaded content that attracts listeners.
It’s been a year since SoundCloud raised an $170 million emergency funding round to save itself from going under after it was forced to lay off 40 percent of its staff. That deal arranged by Kerry Trainor saw him become CEO and the previous co-founder and CEO Alex Ljung step aside. With underground rap that had percolated on SoundCloud for years suddenly reaching the mainstream, the startup seemed to have momentum.
The problem is the slow speed of progress at SoundCloud has allowed competitors with monetization baked in to catch up to its formerly unique offering. YouTube Music’s launch in June 2018 combined premium major label catalogues with user uploaded tracks in a cohesive streaming service. And last month, Spotify began allowing indie artists to upload their music directly to the platform. Meanwhile, licensing distribution services like Dubset are making it legal for big streaming apps to host remixes and DJ sets. Together, these make more of the rarities, live versions, and hour-long club gigs that used to only be on SoundCloud available elsewhere.
The delays seem in part related to the fact that SoundCloud wants to be Spotify as well as SoundCloud. It’s refused to back down from its late entry into the premium streaming market with its $9.99 per month SoundCloud Go+ subscription. As I previously recommended, “to fix SoundCloud, it must become the anti-Spotify” by ruthlessly focusing on its differentiated offering in artist-uploaded music. Instead, another year has passed with only a light revamping of SoundCloud’s homescreen and some more personalized playlists to show for it.
SoundCloud proudly announced it had reached $100 million in revenue in 2017, and exceeded its financial and user growth targets. But filings reveal it lost over $90 million in 2016 and it was previously projected to not become profitable until 2020. That begs the question of whether SoundCloud will have to raise again, or might once again open itself to acquisitions. With Apple, Google, Amazon, and Spotify all in fierce competition for the future of streaming, any of them might be willing to pay up for music that fans can’t easily find elsewhere.