The Rise and Fall of Soundcloud


Design by Jena Salvatore Oh, SoundCloud, you used to be cool. You were all about giving the undiscovered bedroom beatmakers an opportunity to build a fan base. But just like everything else that's awesome and genuine in this world, capitalism had to go and fuck you up.

For years you were the music service for electronic music junkies. You showed the world the genre is more than superficial made-for-radio beats and raving teenagers. Your orange, glitchy interface was far from aesthetically pleasing, but it came with a certain sense of purpose, untainted by obnoxious commercial influence and nauseating High School Musical remixes.

Now, you’re all about capitalizing through endless advertisements, song previews, and confusing premium accounts. Oh, and getting girls to show up to frat afterhours. What was once useful is now blatantly lame, and it's only a matter of time before you join the ranks of MySpace as a #ghosted service. In honor of your impending irrelevance, let's take a look back at your life. And who knows? This timeline could go down in a textbook on the 21st century one day.


Almost 10 years ago, Germany-based sound artists Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss took a break from Oktoberfesting and launched SoundCloud as a platform for unsigned artists to share their creations with the Internet. Think DJs, experimental acts, and no-name indie bands. A vibrant and original musical community is born despite Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” and Nickelback's “Rockstar” being on the Billboard chart this year.


SoundCloud is considered major competition to MySpace as a place for artists to promote their music. Both websites rock the nostalgic, underdeveloped HTML code indicative of a day and age when there were more important things in life than creepy, know-all algorithms and bi-weekly “display improvements.” That being said, SoundCloud’s service does add a significant kick in the ribs to Facebook’s assault on Myspace.


Its first real milestone, SoundCloud reports one million registered users. Thanks to timing and the widespread (and illegal) use of Limewire, it gets a bit of a leg up on Spotify. The world’s most headache-inducing party music, also known as EDM, is popularizing too. This is both good and bad for SoundCloud. Good because it's SoundCloud’s specialty, but bad because artists are realizing there's a demand for DJs from record labels.


Twitter and SoundCloud announce a partnership intended to get the little blue bird into the music industry, but it blows up almost immediately, considering licensed music is still rough waters for SoundCloud. An embarrassing stumbling block, the move had the potential to be a breakthrough moment for the newly redesigned company.


SoundCloud begins regularly advertising on its streams. This is when shit starts getting real – almost too real. An ad plays approximately every third song, killing pregame vibes around the world. Previews of licensed music become available, but they’re two minutes long at best. Not only do these butcher the music completely, but they also betray the emphasis on long-form composition in the EDM world. Oh, and talks of partnering with a major music label start around this time too.

Later in 2014

SoundCloud signs a licensing agreement with Warner Music Group so it can collect royalties from songs it was already profiting from on it's own website. This is its first step towards forging a relationship with commercial music, and subsequently its first (giant) step away from supporting no-name independent artists. Users report hundreds of profiles deleted—apparently remixes are a scary threat to the licensing sensitivities of the music industry.


As an unofficial war declaration to Spotify, SoundCloud introduces a $10 per month streaming service called SoundCloud Go. For $13 per month you can use your Go account through SoundCloud’s iOS app to listen ad-free on the run and get access to mainstream songs as well as not-so-mainstream artists. If you’re a musician, SoundCloud encourages investing in a Pro or Pro Unlimited account to boost your upload time and statistics accessibility. Solid idea, it always goes over really well to charge people for stuff they used to do for free. If anything, this paid service is a frustratingly futile attempt to make a once-beautiful idea profitable.


A string of unprofitable months have SoundCloud looking for a sugar daddy. Talks of acquisition by Spotify—a dominant music streaming service—seem the most feasible. Though no moves have been made yet, the deal makes total sense on paper. Between the struggles with launching SoundCloud Go/Pro/Pro Unlimited and immense criticism of its new direction by users, things aren’t looking too sunny. “Make SoundCloud Great Again” hats even circulate. Enough said.


As SoundCloud approaches the first anniversary of its paid music subscription tier, it faces the challenge of remaining competitive and profitable. If it doesn’t work out, the story of a great place for organic discovery ends. Unfortunately, there’s just no room for creativity that doesn’t make money these days.