Ask anyone who follows modern music if they have heard Drake’s song “Hotline Bling,” and you will likely get a unanimous “Yes!” However, far fewer would say they knew that the song was first released on SoundCloud back in July, 2015. Similarly, the popular podcast “Serial,” Lorde’s hit song “Royals,” and tracks from popular artists like Beyoncé and Snoop Dogg have all debuted on SoundCloud.
SoundCloud, the audio sharing and streaming platform, has both democratized and revolutionized the sharing of music. Soundcloud users have the ability to freely stream audio and upload the music that they create. As a result, SoundCloud has become the optimal environment for uploading novel sounds and the perfect testing ground for popular artists wanting to get a gauge of the public’s reaction to a new track. Additionally, SoundCloud’s grassroots approach to audio sharing has given many aspiring artists a chance to publicize their work and achieve a measure of fame and recognition. A great example is the Australian EDM artist who goes by the pseudonym Flume. He began posting remixes of popular songs and watched in amazement as his number of listeners quickly grew from thousands to millions. His fame did not provide him with income because SoundCloud pays little to no royalties to artists and labels. However, Flume’s tour and his songs featured in TV ads would have never become reality without the free publicity and the creativity encouraged by SoundCloud. Consequently, SoundCloud is the amalgamation of the styles, ideas, and innovations of its millions of users.
SoundCloud appears to be a well established company. It has 175million listeners each month, four times Spotify’s global following. Additionally, 12 hours of music are uploaded per minute and its millions of users are continuously expanding and redefining its musical archives. However, the company faces many challenges in its near future including allegations of copyright infringement and trouble raising capital.
There are many users who create songs using elements of other artist’s work. These remixes or mashups are what is called derivative work. Without a license from the copyright holder these users are violating the exclusive rights of the authors. As a consequence, legal action has been taken against SoundCloud by companies like the PRS, which represents songwriters. Karen Buse, executive director of membership for PRS, said, “If the streaming market is to reach its true potential and offer a fair return for our members, organizations such as SoundCloud must pay for their use of our members’ music.”
Above is a popular example of the type of remixes that pervade SoundCloud, but raise questions of copyright infringement.
SoundCloud has also struggled to raise capital. So since last year the company has been incorporating advertisements and letting artists and labels collect royalties. The end goal is to have a paid subscription that will let users skip ads, similar to Spotify. This move is in some ways a response to pressure from the music industry to produce revenue and license content. SoundCloud’s inability to make a profit also irritates record labels, which want to take advantage of its millions of users. SoundCloud’s future is bright, but before it can reach its true potential there are some challenges it must overcome first.