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Sorry I abused you, SoundCloud

Soundcloud has had a relatively short life, but last week the music streaming site hit rocky waters.

It appeared that out of nowhere, Soundcloud announced layoffs of 173 employees (near half of its staff), and the closing of its offices in San Francisco and London. The move came from rumours that the platform only had enough cash to float for the next fifty to eighty days, and was now to focus on the Berlin and New York headquarters. Side-note: If they can suddenly let off staff perhaps you should back up your music and download your favourites.

But CEO, Alex Ljung, has assured that “Soundcloud is here to stay.”

I want to believe you dude, but I’m struggling a tiny bit. Because I know that nothing good is free, and that when something is both good and free, then there has to be a catch. Like Ryanair and their two bag hand luggage allowance, you’re killing yourself with kindness. And I’ve totally taken advantage.

It’s silly to compare the likes of heavyweight Spotify to our beloved SoundCloud. Their only similarity is that they’re both streaming platforms for music audio. They both have entirely different motives, and thus business models.

SoundCloud’s motive is what makes it so special. It isn’t there to simply host releases for listeners. Instead, SoundCloud opens the minds of listeners. If you want a Nintendo inspired mix at an hour long, you can find it. If you want a dubstep version of a show tune, bet your hat it’ll be there. If you’re after a cover of a party dance track with the lyrics replaced with fish, sit back. Since launching in 2008, SoundCloud has given a platform for anyone – and they really mean anyone – who makes any kind of music to upload, host and share it with the world. The novel stuff is great, and so are the more serious uploads.

To upload music to platforms like Spotify, it can be easy if you have cash and somebody in the know, but otherwise it’s a bit of a ball-ache. Whilst uploading to Soundcloud is quick, easy and free, giving anybody the opportunity to be heard. Fair is fair too, as whilst Spotify pay back 70+% of their revenue to royalties, SoundCloud as of the end of 2015 hadn’t paid a penny. It gives artists the choice to gain exposure in return for using the platform and in that essence is more about the freedom, than the business. It’s an A&R wonderland. Hipster guys across the world are stroking their goatees thinking of just how much praise has been sprayed on them because of the luck of SoundCloud’s algorithm.

Speaking of algorithm, SoundCloud nail theirs. Tracks flow effortlessly into recommendations seemingly handpicked for your mood. It’s a platform known for mashups, remixes and DJ sets, and that is truly reflective in the ease of listening. SoundCloud understand that their deep sea of songs make them for many, background music. I pop on a single track I like on Soundcloud and trust that I can leave it playing in the background, checking back to heart ‘like’ the ones that really pricked my ears.

Last year, Rory Fresco made everybody sit up and listen. Thanks to SoundCloud’s fair and honest algorithm, the lil rapper from Kansas City went viral after his single ‘Lowkey’ was selected to automatically play after Kanye West’s release, ‘Real Friends’. It amassed over 150,000 plays in 24 hours. 1. Kanye West uses SoundCloud to reach his desired audience. 2. Rory was inundated with offers from major labels, whilst he sat in a basement in his bedroom. That’s the beauty of SoundCloud, there’s no hidden agenda or paid for pushes. Like Rory, so far maybe SoundCloud has just relied on a bit of luck, and a lot of genuine support.

Chance the Rapper got his big break from the platform, and thanked SoundCloud in his speech when he collected his Grammy for Coloring Book, the first awarded to a streaming-only album release. When news broke last week, he took to Twitter and encouraged people to tag artists they wouldn’t have known without SoundCloud. He then notified his followers of a ‘fruitful’ call with Alex Ljung, and reinforced that SoundCloud was here to stay. What was negotiated is uncertain. Did Chance offer financial support? Was it the public image that shifted a change of heart? SoundCloud has been in talks before to be bought by Twitter and by Spotify, but neither offers have gone through, for they are determined to stay “independent” – something close to Chance’s heart.

But things aren’t easy, and they’re never simple. SoundCloud have had to add advertisements to the platform, and have introduced paid subscription packages – though they haven’t disclosed how many paying subscribers they have, and the launch of a budget subscription package suggests not a lot. They fail to say how they’re going to maintain themselves, and that makes me worried. Perhaps Chance the Rapper’s next release will be SoundCloud only, like the celebratory surprise ‘Big B’s’ from Young Thug and the man himself, to help them out.

SoundCloud had a good thing going for it, but it was simply too good, and I hold my hands up to taking advantage of it. I take it for granted, despite embedding it daily into my work, and finding artists who are now my favourites through it.

A future without SoundCloud may be on the horizon and nobody is to blame except ourselves; those who use and abuse it. I guess you never know what you have until it’s gone. Sorry, SoundCloud.

Words by Tanyel Gumushan

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