SoundCloud's in trouble
July 14, 2017 6:22 AM   Subscribe

SoundCloud lays off 40% of its staff, only has enough money to make it to the next quarter. The audio streaming service, while popular with amateur and semi-professional musicians and podcasters, has struggled to find a viable business model that would make it competitive with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. If it shuts down, it would mean the loss of a huge repository of music not found elsewhere. Perhaps Chance the Rapper (one of the many rappers who have achieved fame via SoundCloud) will save it?
posted by Cash4Lead (64 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I interviewed with Soundcloud for a job in Berlin a few months ago and they seemed to be super nice guys, and really strong technically.

If you're a professional dj or dance music producer, your life revolves around soundcloud and facebook. Having instant connection to people listening to your music and the djs that play your music is huge for opening doors to people into the music industry.

If they went non-profit and got costs under control, I'd donate money to them in a heartbeat.
posted by empath at 6:29 AM on July 14 [10 favorites]


Jason Scott on why Archive Team can't save SoundCloud's data. tl,dr: It's a goddamned petabyte of music and they simply don't have the resources.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 AM on July 14 [13 favorites]


Link for the curious: How big is a petabyte?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:42 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


It's a goddamned petabyte of music and they simply don't have the resources.

It'd be roughly $20,000 a month to store it on aws.
posted by empath at 6:48 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


Then how does archive.org do it?
posted by NoMich at 6:53 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Damn. Sorry, but no matter how catchy the tune is, I no longer feel I "have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better all the time," because it just plain objectively isn't.

What can people use to share audio experiments and demos and just share their recordings now? The internet is becoming less and less a way to bypass the industry gatekeepers and more and more just another tool for corporate branding and marketing like everything else. I know Sound Cloud wasn't perfect, but at least it was still something viable that promoted and distributed art made by anybody, anywhere.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 AM on July 14 [13 favorites]


They (archive.org) built their own systems, though the stats on that page are from 2014.
posted by fragmede at 7:01 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


When I visited the internet archive last year, they were keeping 8 petabytes. Expanding by another full pb is likely something that requires planning and some funding.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:01 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


If SoundCloud does disappear, I shall miss it a lot. Anyone got any suggestions for a reliable music hosting site we could all use instead?
posted by Paul Slade at 7:03 AM on July 14


I had no idea SoundCloud had a paid service, I thought it was just a thing artists used to share songs, and then sell their albums through Bandcamp.
posted by rodlymight at 7:08 AM on July 14


Now I feel guilty. I use it to post rough mixes of the recordings my friends and I make. Maybe I should get a paid account.
posted by zzazazz at 7:15 AM on July 14


It's funny that I give money to Chapo Trap House through Patreon while they host their actual content on SoundCloud. Also good as a business to wonder if you are being exploited or doing the exploiting.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:35 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


I have probably 40-50 tracks on Soundcloud. Fuck. Most of them are the only copies of recordings I have (I know, I know). I guess I'll start downloading them all. *cries* I love Soundcloud.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:57 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


There's also Tindeck but the banner saying they're looking to sell doesn't speak well for its future.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:04 AM on July 14


I've had a paid SoundCloud Pro account since 2012 for the purposes of hosting my podcast. A large portion of my listeners listen via SoundCloud. If they go under, not only will I need to retool everything (RSS feed, embedded players, etc), but I'll also likely lose 50% of my listeners. Crap.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 8:12 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


This is messed up. I kind of thought of SoundCloud as one of the Internet Good Guys. Not like, Bandcamp Good Guy level, but still in the Actually Not Evil camp. Would hate to see them go, and feel terrible for all that staff.
posted by gwint at 8:14 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


It's not looking good for them, which is sad to see. Related: read about Matthew Liam Healy's experience with them. Hired and fired within a week.
posted by agilmore at 8:14 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


What soundcloud should do is publish how much money they need to keep running annually, and how many yearly subscriptions they need to keep going and start some kind of pledge drive. I'm sure there are a lot of people who depend on it professionally as well as fans of those people who would contribute.
posted by empath at 8:15 AM on July 14 [10 favorites]


if you want to archive a whole account at once without any hassle i highly recommend the cross-platform tool youtube-dl.

install it per the instructions and run the command
youtube-dl soundcloud.com/ACCOUNT/tracks -o %%(title)s.%%(ext)s -w -c --playlist-end 150
and replace ACCOUNT by the profile you want to archive.
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 8:18 AM on July 14 [20 favorites]


Paul Slade—Some of my DJ friends started moving to Mixcloud a year or so ago, when Soundcloud made some changes they didn't like. Bandcamp definitely isn't equivalent, but it's good for what it is.
posted by adamrice at 8:21 AM on July 14


On the one hand, we're going to lose a _lot_ of podcasts when Soundcloud goes down.

On the other hand, people shouldn't be hosting podcasts on Soundcloud in the first place, as it's really not made for that. Plus it breaks the excellent Huffduffer service.

I was discussing on Mastodon why Soundcloud is crashing and why Bandcamp, the closest competitor, is not. Aside from the fact that Bandcamp's business model is better—sell your songs and they get a cut versus pro subscriptions that most users won't need, the other issue I see with Soundcloud is that they took way, way, way too much VC funding.

It's hard to get exact figures, but Pitchbook says that Bandcamp raised an initial seed round of 1 million, and has barely raised anything since. Pitchbook says they're profitable, and I believe it. Meanwhile, Soundcloud has raised $334 million and not made a penny.

This is the danger of VC funding. VCs don't want a "modest success," or a "sustainable business." They want a huge return, on the magnitude of Facebook. It is very unlikely Soundcloud would, or could, ever provide the returns that its valuation demands. Because they've spent more time scrambling to grow the service and less time finding a better way to make money than "Give us $7 or $15 a month (or $63 or $135 a year) for functionality you're not likely to need.

TL;DR, the Venture Capital system is beyond fucked, and Soundcloud is its latest victim.
posted by SansPoint at 8:22 AM on July 14 [32 favorites]


struggled to find a viable business model that would make it competitive with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music

And there is the crux of the problem. They were making money hand over fist from independent musicians and DJs and that wasn't enough. They were the one-stop shop (with Bandcamp a distant second) for indie musicians and they screwed it up because they were greedy and dumb.
posted by tclark at 8:24 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


tclark: I don't think they were making money hand over fist, and they weren't greedy and dumb. Well, not _that_ greedy, and not _that_ dumb. Their investors, though...
posted by SansPoint at 8:26 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


It is an informative article, but this chestnut dropped in the middle makes me really angry:

"SoundCloud has a free tier with ad-supported access to 120 million songs, largely from lower-quality independent artists."

Seriously, WTF? Equating "independent" with "lower-quality" is a seriously awful POV and makes me question the author's motives.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:27 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


> Seriously, WTF? Equating "independent" with "lower-quality" is a seriously awful POV and makes me question the author's motives.

Oh, come on. They're not equating "independent" with "lower-quality," they're saying most of those 120 million songs are lower-quality, and I guarantee that's true without even listening to them. Sturgeon's Law, amigo.
posted by languagehat at 8:35 AM on July 14 [11 favorites]


What can people use to share audio experiments and demos and just share their recordings now?

There are a zillion little services that would plausibly facilitate such a thing (Google "audio sharing"), but the crucial piece of the puzzle (for both the service providers and for the content creators) really does turn out to be the collective human habits, the human networks, and the generally accumulated human attention that drive repeat visits.

An awful lot of websites hit you up for an e-mail newsletter subscription now, because that's an effective way to maintain a thread of attention without going through Facebook or Twitter.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:37 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Well, not _that_ greedy, and not _that_ dumb. Their investors, though...

You're letting them off the hook too lightly. You do have to be *that* greedy and *that* dumb to take VC investment in the 2010s. They had a business model that was sustainable and were seduced by VC excitement that they could be rolling in the Mad Cash. So their previously-sustainable business model became leveraged all to hell and back to use as a stepping stone to a huge payout (for the VC investors first, and then for them). I contend my diagnosis on greed and stupidity wasn't overblown.
posted by tclark at 8:39 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Oh, come on. They're not equating "independent" with "lower-quality," they're saying most of those 120 million songs are lower-quality, and I guarantee that's true without even listening to them. Sturgeon's Law, amigo.

I'm not going to argue that your average indie SoundCloud artist doesn't suck. But the editorial decision to include "lower-quality" is unnecessary and derogatory, especially and particularly because SoundCloud is/was a major platform for indie acts, and the last thing indie artists need is a major publication taking a dump on them.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:43 AM on July 14 [9 favorites]


> people shouldn't be hosting podcasts on Soundcloud in the first place, as it's really not made for that

At the time that I signed up, SoundCloud was courting podcasters and claiming to be a swell podcast hosting option. Perhaps it was some kind of trial run that they ultimately abandoned, but it still works perfectly fine to host podcasts if one pipes the feed through a third-party normalizer such as Feedburner. And their embedded player works great for people who want to listen via my website.

I'd bet that many of the podcasts hosted there were courted as I was...though I wonder how many of them became paying customers.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 8:43 AM on July 14


Well, "lower quality" than mainstream or not, I'm damn proud of this recording my buddy Will and I produced and put out on Sound Cloud. And short of reversing time back to the days I had a band with physical distribution through Allegro, I don't see the picture for online distro getting any better or clearer. Bandcamp is great for selling music (except you can easily languish in obscurity there if you don't have PR pros working your stuff), but as a place to host works in development or just fun and interesting bits of found sound you want to share, it's no good and Google drive isn't even comparable.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:48 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


There is a self-hosted, distributed Soundcloud (and Flickr/YouTube/etc.) alternative called MediaGoblin, which works similarly to Mastodon. Worth a look for anyone who wants to jump ship.

I have some songs on Soundcloud, all of it the best of my electronic juvenilia from 2002-2004, and if it disappears, I won't be too sad. I still have the originals.
posted by SansPoint at 8:51 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]


I never liked soundcloud, I always liked bandcamp more.
As mefi's own blue_beetle said :"If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."
Soundcloud never managed to sold its users while bandcamp is very clear about what it's doing, it's selling music.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:22 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


This is sad. My friends and I have a fair bit of music on there, and a few of us are subscribers too. Hopefully they will figure something out.
posted by TrinsicWS at 9:37 AM on July 14


What can people use to share audio experiments and demos and just share their recordings now?

Some sort of link aggregator with a unified UI would be a start. People could host their own files and then use the site as a proxy. That would federate storage out to individual users and solve for the petabyte problem. Obviously that would expose users of particularly popular tracks to bandwidth surges / constraints / costs, but given the relative rarity of an extremely popular track, having the site cache and serve the high-volume songs might be fiscally feasible through some sort of modest revenue model, probably based on statistics / ads / licensing, etc. There is, of course, the copyright issue, which there is no easy solution for but to license that tech from an existing firm.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:57 AM on July 14 [3 favorites]


Just a quick note to everyone about how much it costs to actually run a streaming service. Let's say your catchy pop song encodes down to 4MB. Let's also say that your catchy pop song becomes rather popular.

256 people can stream this song in its entirety, and that uses up 1GB of bandwidth. If you use Amazon's content delivery network for those streams, it's going to cost you $0.085, roughly, for that GB of bandwidth. (Yes, Amazon's pricing is regressive and the more you stream the bigger your discount but let's start simple)

That comes out to about $0.00033 per stream. Cheap, right? Okay, let's say that your catchy pop tune explodes and gets 1M streams. That's $330 just to host one song. Unless your hosting service is running ads before your music, or is charging you a decent amount for streaming, they're going to run out of money in a hurry. This is why you read headlines like "Spotify's loss set to double" and "Soundcloud running out of money" etc etc.

Now, you could argue "well Soundcloud could make their own content delivery network, Soundcloud's cost isn't really $0.085 per gigabyte of traffic, etc" and yes, all of that is true, but bandwidth is still relatively expensive when it's effectively 4MB per request. (Imagine, if you will, the price of a T1 line in the year 1997, and that could basically handle 100 simultaneous streams)

Bandcamp is profitable because they're a web version of iTunes for indie artists, not a streaming service. You can't just fire up a Bandcamp player and listen to music all day long-- when you're on Bandcamp, you are purchasing mp3 files to download, and Bandcamp gets a percentage of that sale. I am certain that there are artists on Bandcamp that are basically huge loss-leaders.
posted by mark242 at 10:03 AM on July 14 [8 favorites]


You can't just fire up a Bandcamp player and listen to music all day long

You can stream songs right from the artist page. AFAIK there is no limit, and if you purchase an album you can stream all of the tracks via the BandCamp app.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:08 AM on July 14


Because I am too lazy to go looking right now: I've posted about two dozen tracks to Soundcloud. Does anyone know of a convenient "Export all of my original files" tool available, either in Soundcloud itself or via some other app/service?
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 10:09 AM on July 14


AFAIK there is no limit

There is, but it's paid for by the artist either directly or via sales. Bandcamp accounts come with "download credits" for posted free albums, which renew every month and are sufficiently small enough so that Bandcamp makes money via the purchase of these credits. (1000 streams for $20, paid by the artist-- now you can see some of Bandcamp's margin)

you can stream all of the tracks via the BandCamp app

Notice that you have to be in a native app, which can cache your downloads on your local device, thereby taking up no bandwidth every time you hit play on the album again. That's one stream per track, for an album you paid maybe $5-$10 for.
posted by mark242 at 10:17 AM on July 14 [6 favorites]


Well it looks like they're doing it right. I love Bandcamp.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:37 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


If you need to download soundcloud tracks or want to back them up to the internet archive, there is this website:

https://diracdeltas.github.io/SoundDrop/
posted by getao at 10:42 AM on July 14 [7 favorites]


This stinks. I love SoundCloud for music and podcasts.
posted by doctornemo at 10:45 AM on July 14


The cool thing about SoundCloud is site like BandMix and DownToJam have widgets that allow you to embed your audio files in their profiles. Obviously, that means they're using SoundCloud for storage instead of hosting the files themselves which doesn't help SoundCloud's financials at all.
posted by tommasz at 10:47 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Looks like Chance has done it
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:54 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]


Wow, that's amazing (assuming the deal is viable)!
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:55 PM on July 14


I think that's probably misreading it. It sounds like he just got a run down of their financials and is convinced they're not going anywhere.
posted by empath at 1:11 PM on July 14


Now I'm confused. TC says Soundcloud is only fully funded through start of Q4. Soundcloud disputes claim, but offers no contrary evidence. Chance the Rapper says he'll look into it and later says Soundcloud is here to stay. But why would that matter? It's a sign of confidence, I guess, that Chance isn't moving his recordings off the site, but by itself, it's not that much, compared to the implied assurance that Chance could help bail out the company.
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:58 PM on July 14


  youtube-dl soundcloud.com/ACCOUNT/tracks -o %%(title)s.%%(ext)s -w -c --playlist-end 150

All I get is one file called %(title)s.%(ext)s
posted by scruss at 6:41 PM on July 14


TC says Soundcloud is only fully funded through start of Q4. Soundcloud disputes claim, but offers no contrary evidence.

Soundcloud's statement is the contrary evidence. Why would you believe TechCrunch over Soundcloud about Soundcloud's finances?
posted by John Cohen at 9:58 PM on July 14


All I get is one file called %(title)s.%(ext)s

it maybe depends on the system you are working on, try changing it to "%(title)s.%(ext)s" instead of %%(title)s.%%(ext)s in the command

and if that doesnt work you can try this command:
youtube-dl http://www.soundcloud.com/NAME/tracks --playlist-end 150
which will just take whatever filename the SC track has
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 3:10 AM on July 15


Among the usual snark, Deadmau5 makes a couple of interesting points/suggestions
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:13 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Ugh, I somehow missed Deece BJ Pancake's youtube-dl solution before posting earlier (I always forget what a Swiss Army knife that program is), and I apologize for being That Guy. This is what worked for me on Mac OS X:
youtube-dl -o %\(title\)s.%\(ext\)s -w -c https://soundcloud.com/[ACCOUNTNAME]/tracks
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 5:34 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Why would you believe TechCrunch over Soundcloud about Soundcloud's finances?

I specifically asked about their funding when I was interviewing with them. They said they were doing fine. If I had ended up going with them, I'd have gotten an all expenses paid trip to Berlin and an immediate lay off.
posted by empath at 5:51 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


It's not like you can't just buy some web space, build a site & throw some music on it, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how you draw eyeballs (ear balls?) to it once it's out there. I've got about 20 hours-worth of my music on a static site hosted by Nearly Free Speech that's costing me about $50.00 a year to serve & store, but almost no one knows it's there.

Also, it has taken in a total of $55.00 in PayPal donations in 4 years, so it's no business model at all.

Bandcamp is a great Service, but it seems much more formal than SoundCloud, like you need an actual album's worth of music, associated artwork, an artist bio & whatnot, or it really looks crappy up against everything else on the site.

I hope SoundCloud figures something out.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:57 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


People put up single tracks on bandcamp all the time.

Check my fave Begin all 1-2 track eps, super simple art.

The album is an artefact of physical media.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:39 PM on July 15


Bandcamp certainly looks nice but it seems like overkill for someone like me who's just looking for a place to store the occasional home recording. I hope SoundCloud survives but I can manage without it.
posted by tommasz at 6:55 AM on July 16


I've had a paid SoundCloud Pro account since 2012 for the purposes of hosting my podcast. A large portion of my listeners listen via SoundCloud.
FWIW you're not going to lose as many as you think, because SoundCloud's proprietary metrics lean toward being "vanity metrics" in a couple ways: (1) They're freakishly generous, with "Plays" counted on button click rather than waiting to see if anyone listens for even a minimal industry-standard length of time, and (2) it's thought that well over half of all SoundCloud activity is bot-driven.

Even their RSS metrics are a bit suspect, to the point that SoundCloud built integration for (and appears to recommend) third-party integration with providers like Blubrry and Podtrac for measuring podcast downloads.
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 8:28 AM on July 16


The album is an artefact of physical media.

So is the single track.
posted by thelonius at 8:51 AM on July 16


Do you mean only the single track as embodied in physical form, Thelonius? Because, if not, I'm baffled.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:24 AM on July 17


I have no idea what you mean!
posted by thelonius at 3:49 AM on July 17


Services like Spotify and the rise of digital downloads have allowed people to dismantle albums and simply mix and match whichever individual tracks they want (from whichever artists they want) on their own custom-made playlists. Hence, artists can no longer dictate sequencing or insist that any given set of tracks be consumed as a self-contained unit.

That's what I take inpHilltr8R to mean by the remark that "The album is an artefact of physical media".

What I don't understand is how any of this relates to the single track. In what way is the single track an artefact of physical media? Aren't all the new means of digital distribution built entirely around single tracks? Perhaps I'm being dense, but I genuinely don't understand what you have in mind here.
posted by Paul Slade at 4:55 AM on July 17


It's nothing Paul. Just a quick send-up of a commonplace received idea that I don't have much respect for.
posted by thelonius at 5:09 AM on July 17


Ah. So I was being dense. Thanks.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:28 AM on July 17


The folk at archive.org changed their mind, and Archiveteam are backing up SoundCloud.
posted by fragmede at 8:39 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Archive Team are now backing up Soundcloud.
posted by koavf at 10:36 AM on July 17


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