Why Soundcloud Go ultimately fails

Sadly, we live in a time where services and products that are just too good to be true ultimately don’t last that long.

Look at Tidal for example, a service which wanted the anal techies among us to have access to the highest possible quality audio files. It ended up flopping so hard that the majority of its backers quickly backed out (see what I did there?). Thankfully, we have kind warm-hearted individuals like Kanye West who persist in trying to push the streaming service, probably due to the fact that he poured a sh*t ton of cash into it to try and make it work.

Soundcloud has always been in a similar predicament. The service which it offers is free audio streaming and free audio uploads for everyone, neat huh? Well, as with any business, running a freemium model just isn’t viable at this scale. So, Soundcloud decided to introduce premium accounts that enabled you to access a greater number of features, a very smart move. Clearly, however, this was not enough to drag the Germany-based company out of the red.

And so, God said let there be Soundcloud Go. A revolutionary membership scheme which allows users to listen to tracks offline, gain access to a greater number of tracks and have an ad-free experience. I have to say that when this was announced, I was shivering with excitement.

Until I really delved into the features it offers, and the price.

‘The Price is Wrong’

Now, £9.99 a month (yes I’m British) seems to be a relatively small fee to pay, right? And realistically it is. However, the majority of music-lovers, tastemakers and any other amalgamation of words you want to use to represent someone who listens to music also have other subscriptions to deal with in their lives.

Take me, myself & I for example… Using a free app called Bobby (a cute squirrel, also with an optional subscription) I am able to constantly keep track of how much money I am spending each money on my various subscriptions. Now, I already have a Soundcloud Pro Unlimited account which costs me around £8 a month to have an unlimited upload quota and extensive stats. To then add on an additional £4.99 a month (a discounted price for Pro Unlimited users) for a service which I have been subscribed to for over a year seems utterly absurd.

When I add the Soundcloud Go subscription into Bobby, I feel a little more lightheaded seeing it nestled among my Netflix, Spotify, PureGym, Google Apps for Work, Soundcloud Pro Unlimited, Amazon Prime, Xbox Live, Spinnup and WWF subscriptions. Again, it’s not so much the actual price tag that bothers me, it’s what you are getting for that price tag.

What’s wrong with this feature

  1. The price is too high for what is being offered, especially when your community is made up of broke bedroom producers and music lovers who spend most of their life working to save up tickets to a gig.
  2. Splitting the subscription services into two offerings, presumably one to suit content creators and another to suit content listeners.
 

How to fix this feature

  1. Add extra functionality to the Soundcloud Go offering by running ‘Go exclusives’ with track premieres, intimate Q&As with artists, artist-curated playlists and many other things that would drive hardcore listeners towards paying a small monthly fortune.
  2. Enable Soundcloud Pro users to enjoy an ad-free experience and Soundcloud Pro Unlimited users to also have an ad-free experience along with the offline availability. In forcing content creators to have to pay two separate memberships for the same site, you are ultimately alienating them.

‘Even more tracks’

This one confuses and irritates me to be honest. If you aren’t up to scratch with the Soundcloud VS Everyone-else-in-the-music-industry debacle then I suggest you read this article from 2015 about the issue.

Essentially, the record labels were frustrated with Soundcloud as the money being made from advertising on the website from users listening to music signed to those very same labels wasn’t going into their greedy oversized pockets.

In an attempt to please the labels, and therefore keep their signed artists’ content up on the site, Soundcloud decided to revoke access to most of tracks which were signed to the labels in question. You now get an annoying ‘Preview’ option if you don’t have a Soundcloud Go account.

‍An example of Soundcloud Go’s ‘Preview’ feature.

What’s wrong with this feature

  1. The preview only includes the first few seconds of the song, and therefore nothing of huge interest usually as traditional song structure dictates that the euphoric peak occurs during the chorus / ‘drop’ (for you EDM bugs out there).
  2. You have pissed off 99% of music fans who adore particular artists and their music by blocking out both old and new tracks.
  3. You are pushing people towards using other streaming platforms to listen to the songs in question (e.g. Spotify, YouTube, etc).
  4. God damn, you really did pick the absolute worst part of the song to show as a preview.

How to fix this feature

  1. Allow the artists or labels themselves to choose what part of the song they want to preview, that way they can make sure the very best of their track is on show which will in turn encourage users towards the Soundcloud Go proposition.
  2. Allow remixes to not be affected by the Preview roadblock. Remixes are at the core of Soundcloud’s history and user base, and ultimately is what has made Soundcloud such a vibrant community.
  3. Follow in Spotify’s footsteps and on the affected preview tracks in question, run an audible advert before and after the track. This way, users still get to enjoy the frequency goodness of their favourite artist whilst sacrificing a small amount of their time.

‘Listen offline’

This is probably the only feature on offer with Soundcloud Go which I can confidently say I would pay for. Realistically, it would be hypocritical of me to criticise it, when that’s exactly the reason why I pay for my Spotify membership.

But therein lies the issue, it is a model which over 15 million people already pay for on a monthly basis so why would they pay another £10 a month to get exactly the same feature on another streaming service JUST to listen to what will essentially be remixes and bootlegs offline.

Having said that, this remains an extremely strong feature and an extremely strong incentive to go for the Soundcloud Go membership.

Found some hidden gems during an evening’s SoundCloud exploration? Now you can revisit them on your commute the next morning. — Joe Roberts (TrustedReviews)

What’s wrong with this feature

  1. It’s a feature and model which a lot of people are already paying for with Spotify and can already download most major releases using their service.
  2. It’s encouraging people to use free .mp3 conversion websites and apps to access their favourite Soundcloud hosted tracks rather than pay a subscription fee.
  3. We live in a day and age where cellular data is good enough in 99% of major towns and cities to efficiently stream tracks live and so some could argue that this is an unneeded feature.
  4. Content creators seem to have no say in whether or not their track is available for offline listening.
‍A screenshot from http://opensignal.com/coverage-maps/UK/ showing the extent of mobile coverage in Europe.taken

How to fix this feature

  1. Make the offline downloading different from the rest of the streaming services by allowing you to control the downloaded tracks in an iTunes-esque fashion of filtering by artists, albums, etc.
  2. Improve the Soundcloud iOS and Android apps to accommodate this feature in a far more intuitive and fluid way than they currently are. Maybe even create a separate Soundcloud Go app where you can store and organise all your downloaded tracks.
  3. Enable content creators to force listeners to make a one-time action of following, liking or reposting the track in order to have it available offline. This way content creators are paid in a kind of way for making their content available offline to Soundcloud Go members.

‘Ad-free’

Well, this is a particularly funny one. We live in a day and age where you simply cannot escape from advertising. Oh wait, yes you can. Thanks to the magical invention of an ad-blocker, it’s easier than ever to say “bye bye” to those pesky flashy ads.

PageFair published a report in 2015 in partnership with Adobe to enlighten us on how detrimental ad-blockers are to the advertising industry, and how ravishing an add-on they are for the average internet user.

There are now 198 million active adblock users around the world.

It is for that very reason, that offering an ‘ad-free’ experience on Soundcloud is utterly pointless. Again, I would understand more if Soundcloud were like Spotify in that it runs audible adverts in between songs being played. However, Soundcloud simply is not Spotify and should never go near to becoming a streaming service like it.

What’s wrong with this feature

  1. Everyone uses ad-blockers these days.
  2. Soundcloud isn’t exactly an ‘ad-heavy’ service with full width banners shouting at you to buy the latest and greatest in performance-enhancing drugs.

How to fix this feature

  1. Try and think of a more inventive and profitable way of pushing adverts to your users that is both non-intrusive but also effective. Spotify succeeded here with their audible adverts in between songs.
  2. Remain as little reliant on adverts as you possibly can, and rely on providing a more effective membership option to rake in the cash.

Where Soundcloud stands

Whilst I admire Soundcloud’s consistent efforts to try and stay afloat (and God help us if it does go under), I feel like Soundcloud Go is one of those ideas that sounded good in the boardroom but ultimately didn’t play out on the streets.

Offering a ‘listen offline’ feature is definitely a step in the right direction, but to limit access to some of Soundcloud’s best musicians and to justify a £9.99 price-tag to remove what little advertising exists on Soundcloud is just outright lazy.

Labels are putting more and more pressure on streaming services and content creators to abide by the publishing rights of their artists and it’s about time that a compromise was reached.

I feel that Soundcloud has just gone wrong every step of the way. Their mobile app is embarrassing to say the least, to which they responded with an artists-only Soundcloud Pulse app to give access to statistics and a limited number of listener interaction notifications. Their website constantly experiences technical issues with a large part of their site still being the older design. They still haven’t fully opened up monetisation options for artists who want to make money off their songs (Premier members) and they have yet to figure out a concrete and intuitive way of browsing and finding new music on the site.

‍The ‘Connections’ panel of the account settings on Soundcloud.

Despite the many faults it has, it remains my favourite music streaming platform. The talent on show, the sense of community and the opportunities given to artists from across the world are truly unparalleled.

I can confidently say that without Soundcloud, the music industry would be a very different place indeed.

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© Oliver McQuitty 2018