I’m writing this because I recently started using SoundCloud again, and I remembered why I disliked it so much. I figured I’d lay it all out here, share my thoughts, and then explain my idea for an alternative.
CHAPTER ONE: THE CASE AGAINST SOUNDCLOUD
1. The Good
So to start off, it’s probably worthwhile mentioning what I think SoundCloud has done right. Compared with Bandcamp, SC feels a lot more like a social network. This is due to a lot of things, but I think it primarily comes down to three things: the focus on the single track v. a collection of tracks, i.e. an album, the ability to comment, and the ability to private-message people instead of contact via email. There are most likely many more reasons, but since I’m not the most familiar with the ins and outs of SC, I’m sticking with what I know.
The big thing, I think, is the focus on singles. This makes using SC feel much more casual, more akin to browsing Instagram as opposed to someone’s personal portfolio. It makes listening to other people’s work much more laid back, plus it makes it an ideal place for artists to share more off-the-cuff pieces, or works-in-progress, one-offs, etc. It also encourages artist-to-artist discussion, whereas I feel with BC it’s much more artist-to-fan focused. This is what I feel has made SC such a great breeding ground for collaboration.
2. The Bad
It’s no secret that SC has had a lot of financial struggles in the past. I believe this all came to a head in '17, though I’m hardly an expert on the matter. This caused a lot of concern among artists, naturally, as a collapse of SC equals a loss of years of personal work published on the platform. I know this definitely made me grateful that I didn’t have much work invested in SC, and definitely made me reconsider uploading more in the future.
Since that time, it seems the situation may have stabilized a bit? At least it seems to have, SC is still around. But who knows how long this state is sustainable.
More recently, there’s been discussion surrounding SC’s free upload limit, which currently sits at a cap of three hours of audio. However, it seems that in the very near future, SC will be changing that upload limit to “three hours or 15 tracks”. If you want to upload more than that, you’ll need to pay $11-16 per month.
It should be obvious how limiting this could be, especially for young producers who may not necessarily be making money from their music yet. If you’re using the platform more casually, as I and many others do, it makes even less sense to consider uploading further on the site. I’m willing to pay the optional $20 fee for Bandcamp Pro because I invest a lot of time in releasing my most polished works to my personal portfolio. I take what I release there very seriously, so it’s worth it to me to get the most out of the platform.
(I would highly recommend reading this reddit thread to get a more complete rundown of the information and what it means.)
3. The Ugly
What follows are my personal opinions about SC. Some of you may not take issue with the things that I do, and that’s ok. There are just certain things that bug me to death.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, SC puts a big emphasis on their mobile app. Even if you’re trying to play an embedded track on desktop, if you try and pause the track it will give you this message:
It’s even worse on mobile, you can’t even play the track without seeing this:
So the mobile app. This is obviously something they push a lot, so a while back I decided to download it and give it a try. I remember being amazed at how useless and incomplete it felt. (This was several years ago, so doubtless it’s improved, I just downloaded it.) But even in the app, they can’t stop advertising:
This “Go+” even takes up its own tab at the bottom of the screen.
It should be mentioned that this is more expensive than both Spotify’s and Apple Music’s premium plans. I don’t know, maybe I’m being an asshole, but to me it just feels really aggressive, desperate, and money-hungry.
Let’s contrast this with Bandcamp. If you’re a fan, you can listen to anything on the site for free, no monthly payment, no pressure to subscribe to anything. Instead, it simply limits the amount of times you can listen to a release before asking you to pay for the album to add it to your library. This puts the focus on the artist. The artist can even extend the amount of times someone can play a release, or even suspend the limit altogether.
Now, I get why these methods are different. Considering that SC is more track-based, it makes sense that it would ask for a subscription, as fans aren’t likely to go around buying individual songs. I just think they’re going about it in the wrong way and are asking too much.
(There’s another app just for artists, which honestly is kind of a nice touch. I personally wish Bandcamp had something like that. My only slight gripe is that I wish you could upload directly from the app, but that’s no big deal.)
Good grief. This stuff is terrible. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m getting absolutely flooded with bot accounts following me, commenting on my tracks, messaging me, etc. It’s absolutely ridiculous. One of my tracks has four individual comments from bots. It feels out of control. It sucks the enjoyment out of any amount of engagement I get. Any listens, likes, or comments always seem to come from bots, so it really deflates my engagement with interaction. Feels really lonely.
CHAPTER TWO: MY PROPOSAL
All of this got me to thinking about how annoying it is that SC isn’t as awesome as it could be, because I really do think it’s focus on tracks is unique and that makes it invaluable for sharing works in progress, one-offs, etc. The social side of it is really interesting too. If there’s one thing I could say against Bandcamp, it’s that it sometimes feels a bit impersonal. There’s no great way to connect with artists or fans.
So I started thinking about what I would do differently if I were to make an alternative platform. This is what I came up with:
This is obviously just a mockup.
I was looking for a happy medium between the focuses and ideals of BC and SC. The idea is that each track must stand on its own, similar to SC. Obviously, playlists can be made and curated, but that’s not really the point of the site. The point is simply to share what you make in a more casual setting.
This decision influences the design. Since the collection of tracks isn’t as important as the individual track, I decided to strip back much of the artwork and simply make the track player a long, scrolling list of songs. You start playing at the top, it will automatically go down the list. Autoplay could be turned off, of course. Your home-screen would be something like when you first open Instagram. You’ll be presented a feed of new tracks curated by the genre tags and artists you follow. As each track plays, track art and information will appear on the right side. Each track must have no more than five genre tags. This section can be collapsed to show blog posts, artist highlights, etc.
All of this would function in essentially the same way on the artist’s personal page, with the space on the right either displaying artist information and links, or track art and info. Perhaps you could give artists the option to create their own blogs, either to journal about their creative process or annotate tracks in a more in-depth manner.
I even considered eschewing track art altogether, but I thought that might be too dull for people.
As far as how to monetize it, I can think of several ways this could be done, but who knows if any of them are good. You could do something like SC, where you pay to not get ads. I personally don’t really like this option very much, but it’s an option nonetheless. Another is having your subscription money going to support the artists you listen to. Or perhaps, it unlocks the ability to create and curate and download your own playlists. Maybe as an artist there are pro features that you could unlock, like larger file upload, access to stats and mobile upload, etc.
CHAPTER THREE: CONCLUSION
I’m obviously in the early stages of mocking up how this would work, just some initial ideas. I’m just very interested in the idea of something track-based that might be more casual than Bandcamp but retain the quality experience and non-aggressive attitude. Something more low-key.
Despite what it might seem, I don’t hate SoundCloud. There are things that I think it does well, I just think the idea could be improved upon and expanded. It may also be nearing the end of it’s rope, and it might be time to start considering another option, and if it’s another option we need, why don’t we make our own?
Let me know what you think!
P.S. I’d be willing to share the illustrator file if anyone wants to play around with the mock-up.