SoundCloud is undergoing a shift in its identity from a hangout for DJs and radio hosts to a commercial platform for established artists to share their music. But not everyone is happy.
Business Insider has spoken to multiple users and independent record label owners who feel that the music streaming app and website has strayed from its earlier focus of supporting DJs. Instead, they feel that it is now unfairly removing content and focusing on high-profile users and licensed music.
SoundCloud did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Liana Rosenberg is a London-based DJ who has been using SoundCloud since 2009. The way she used the site was typical of SoundCloud’s original users.
Rosenberg says she paid for a SoundCloud Pro account that allowed her to upload unlimited DJ mixes and also gave her analytics on her uploads. She was regularly sent tracks by producers to share, but SoundCloud started to remove entire mixes without explaining which tracks weren’t allowed.
Rosenberg has now stopped sharing music on the platform because of the confusing copyright policy.
“Major labels … have sent me tracks to play and to then have have my content removed seems a little odd. I’m completely disillusioned with SoundCloud now,” Rosenberg said. “Effectively all my work and the plays on those mixes are now lost forever. Other radio stations and DJs have fast been migrating to [rival site] Mixcloud over the last few months, which now seems like the only viable option.”
Online radio stations such as Radar Radio have been affected by account suspensions even though no apparent copyright violations have taken place.
It seems that SoundCloud’s copyright system has automatically scanned radio shows and flagged mixes for removal without giving paying users the chance to explain that they have the rights to songs, or to allow them to edit them out of mixes. Radar Radio’s entire account has been suspended in the past because of alleged copyright violations.
Business Insider also spoke to Chris Reed, known as Plastician, owner of the Terrorhythm Recordings music label which he launched in 2002. He said that he “had trouble” with a track on his personal SoundCloud profile as well as the profile of his record label.
“I own all the rights to it, it contains no illegal samples, and I even own the publishing to it,” he said. “So I was really confused as to why this is happening.”
We kept hearing the same thing: SoundCloud has upset some of its original power users by removing content that was totally legal. Tomas Fraser, owner of Coyote Records, told us that he had multiple problems with SoundCloud removing tracks that he owned the rights to.
“As a community of listeners, it’s been a brilliant platform to get our music heard and shared,” he said. “But until it starts to prioritise the basics, it will struggle to survive – particularly with the streaming market now being so competitive.”
Another label owner, Tom Lea of Local Action, said that he also experienced issues with SoundCloud.
“From a label’s perspective I find it far less worrying than if I was a radio station or mix series, as ultimately the key stuff that I upload is material I have the rights to,” he said.
“Radio and mixes are a crucial part of Local Action’s musical make-up though, so it is frustrating if Soundcloud ceases to become a home for those, especially as it’s far more useful having all our music in one place. What I don’t get about the whole thing is where their priorities lie.”
SoundCloud cofounder Eric Wahlforss told Business Insider in June that SoundCloud remains a place for its early users. “We still have a massive artist community that is growing,” he said. “So we are probably the biggest artist community in the world at this point.”
Wahlforss went on to say that “there are a lot of loud voices because people are very passionate about what SoundCloud is, what it has been, and what it is going to be, but I think that fundamentally our core values are very much the same.”
But are the SoundCloud copyright strikes having an impact on users? If the site has embarked on a campaign of account suspensions over the past year then that would presumably be reflected in its user numbers and engagement on the site.
This chart from 7Park Data shows an estimate of SoundCloud’s install base. It’s growing steadily in the US, but it’s not really doing much in Europe:
And this chart from 7Park Data shows that SoundCloud is more popular in the US than in Europe:
So there isn’t evidence of any dramatic downturn in SoundCloud users. But some of the influential users who built up its platform are feeling alienated anyway.
It’s not just a vocal minority that are complaining about SoundCloud, either. The mainstream press has started to take note of potential trouble for the streaming site. The Guardian published an article on November 15 in which it asked whether “dark clouds” were on the horizon for SoundCloud. And FACT Magazine also mentioned SoundCloud’s issues in an article titled “What the hell is going on with SoundCloud?”
Put simply, more and more people are talking about SoundCloud’s problems.
There are two different paths that SoundCloud can take: It can either support the DJs and radio stations that kept the site alive in its early days by working with them to keep their content on the platform, or it can try to become a major player in the music streaming world by getting record labels on board, and that likely implies an aggressive copyright policy enforcing content take-downs.
Right now, it looks like SoundCloud has its sights on becoming a big name in music streaming. Warner Music owns between 3% and 5% of SoundCloud, following a deal in 2014 to bring its music to the platform.
And it has continued to negotiate with record labels to bring licensed content to the platform.
That’s a far cry from the original vision of the site, launched in 2007, which aimed to be a home for DJs and others remixing tracks Now it looks like those mixes are now being taken down by copyright notices.
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