Back maybe five years ago when I worked for a certain internet giant, I was approached by a vice president of said company. This man asked me, very simply, what company I thought we should acquire. Without hesitating my answer was “SoundCloud”. Though this transaction never came to fruition, and I have no idea if the thought was ever entertained by the powers that were, the VP was clearly looking for some ideas on a new direction. At that time I was the youngest employee of the office, fresh out of college, and I was probably looked at as the model of “what the kids are doing these days”. Five years ago I absolutely thought the sky was the limit for SoundCloud, but these days I no longer have that confidence.
If you’re like me, you probably use SoundCloud several times a week, if not every day. If you’re like me, you’ve probably noticed changes from the social music platform – both on the PC and on your mobile device. And, if you’re like me, you probably have a growing list of complaints about SoundCloud. SoundCloud couldn’t be a better example of a company that has a sure thing in its pocket and it couldn’t be a better example of a platform that should be getting better. But it’s getting worse. I understand the process of evolution among start-ups, especially in the digital media world, but the very definition of “evolution” is “the gradual development of something”. I would not say SoundCloud is evolving, but perhaps I can point out some weaknesses and help steer the ship back on course. Or, if my constant pleas for help do not get answered – is the social music platform doomed?
I want to start with the most-recent update to the SoundCloud mobile app to try and figure out what the hell the developers were thinking. It goes back to this whole “evolution” thing – or lack thereof. The newest SoundCloud update gives the user a “scrolling” feature, allowing us to slide our finger in multiple directions to do things like, skip ahead in a song/mix, go back to the home screen, skip to the next sound, etc. Initially it’s confusing as fuck and I had to have a friend show me a few tricks for navigating the player. One day I was using the player to listen to a mix and in typical fashion I was interested in seeing what tracks were on the mix. When I couldn’t figure out how to find this information I tweeted at SoundCloud support. The reason I couldn’t find track information? IT WASN”T BUILT INTO THE UPDATE!
Artists, record labels, and radio shows take the time to write information in the description of their sounds. This is for the benefit of the listener. Whether it’s information about how a song was made, where someone can buy the music, or simply what tracks are included in the mix, it’s all there for a reason. I’m glad the team over at SoundCloud will “keep this in mind”, because it’s probably not a big deal to have track information available when a majority of users are on their mobile devices (source: me guessing). Let’s make this real simple SoundCloud: please include track descriptions as part of the mobile app.
One of my biggest issues with SoundCloud has always been the fact that it drops tracks. Whether I’m listening to a two-hour mix or a three-minute song, I couldn’t tell you how many times a sound has stopped playing right in the middle. Did I have data or wifi service? Yup. Did I change anything about what else was happening on my phone? Nope. Was there a reasonable answer given by SoundCloud support as to why this occurred? Of course not. SoundCloud’s support team told me to delete the app and to re-download it, even suggesting I try it twice. How is that going to make anything better when I’m far from the only one experiencing these “dropped” sounds? What I don’t understand is how the track drops, moves on to the next song which plays perfectly, but when I go back to try and load the dropped sound again it simply doesn’t load and I receive an error like this:
Of course, not all of the world’s complaints with SoundCloud have to do with poor user experience on the mobile app. The very foundation that SoundCloud was laid upon has always been rocky territory. I’m talking about the actual uploading of music to share with the world. Whether it’s someone like me who has had multiple mixes taken down because the mixes contained portions of songs under copyright (though I wasn’t making any money off these mixes); an up-and-coming musician like Mike Vincent who had original tracks taken down because they “sounded” like other copyrighted songs; or some of the biggest artists in the world getting THEIR OWN material taken down due to copyright protection on record labels (see THIS article on Kaskade’s SoundCloud battles and the below screenshots) – it’s just been atrocious. And it’s getting worse. Now listen, I’m all about copyright protection but there has GOT to be a better way to handle this. Maybe employ actual human beings to determine copyright infringement for starters. There has been a lot of debate on this issue, but it’s not going anywhere. So we need to brainstorm ideas on how to make it a better system so all the artists out there – from bedroom DJs to main stage headliners – don’t have to get their hard work yanked offline.
And just to prove I’m hardly the only one who has noticed SoundCloud moving in a less-than-favorable direction, here’s a screen shot showing some Boston friends’ thoughts on the subject:
Listen, I’m not an engineer and I never pretended to be one. But I’ve been a very loyal user and CUSTOMER (yes I pay for a Pro plan) of SoundCloud for years and it saddens me that things are not improving for the company. When you have a firm like Twitter decide they are no longer interested in purchasing SoundCloud, that should send off red flags. But really, what should SoundCloud do? Start by listening to your users. Without your user base, you have no hopes of existence years down the road. I really hope things turn around because SoundCloud is one of THE BEST platforms for music discovery. We here at MMIBTY pride ourselves on sharing the latest and greatest in dance music and a majority of that comes from SoundCloud. So let’s see if us music enthusiasts can help steer the ship in the right direction, or if we’re going to hop aboard the next vessel that comes our way.
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