You may have heard throughout the past week that SoundCloud lost around $44 million last year, which isn’t great, sure, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to head for the lifeboats. SoundCloud is inking distribution deals with record labels, hiring new employees, and attempting to woo new investors. It’s that last part that sort of got them in the news last week, because, as The Financial Times put it, they are relying on money raised through investment to fund operating expenses despite the fact that there’s no guarantee of them getting that cash. But with that being said, SoundCloud is playing a long game, and statements from the company suggest that no one there is particularly surprised by the company’s losses, describing the company as being in a “growth stage.”
And that’s the troubling part. In an effort to make itself a legitimate contender in music streaming, SoundCloud has begun systematically conforming to a predetermined set of rules pretty much developed by the record companies it seeks to do business with, all while sacrificing the functionality that attracted listeners in the first place and also punishing artists. In other words, the company is dumbing down. In the interest of full disclosure, this is not new. Reports have been steadily streaming in for the better part of a year about SoundCloud taking down content that belongs to podcasters, DJs, and radio stations. And, as all SoundCloud listeners are well aware, you can’t spin a full album anymore without getting the Spotify Freemium treatment from the company’s advertisers. All of this points to an industry-approved, watered-down version of the platform, which has built a reputation based on being more community-oriented and loaded with fresher, more original content than its streaming service rivals.
I only keep two music apps on my phone—three if you count Apple Music, which I can’t get rid of because I use an iPhone—and they are Spotify and SoundCloud. I use Spotify because at present I feel it’s as close to the Celestial Jukebox as you can get, plus it lets me listen to shit offline, and I can see what my friends are listening to. SoundCloud, on the other hand, is where you can find everything else. Good Friday tracks, Chance the Rapper tapes, and one-off freestyles crop up here and sometimes nowhere else. In the event that you can find them on the other platforms, it’s always days or weeks later. SoundCloud functions as a music-laden timeline, especially for hip-hop.
But how much of that is going to change? If SoundCloud is repositioning itself in order to compete with Tidal, Apple Music, and Spotify, what becomes of the aspects of it that stand out from those services? Even with them in tact, not many of us are equipped financially or otherwise to pay for two streaming services. The bottom line for me is that the day SoundCloud eliminates its free listening options will be the day I delete that little orange and white square from my home screen, unless they’re offering something I can’t get anywhere else.