The Disappointing Evolution Of SoundCloud

It seems to me that it was only a couple of years ago when I (and many others) thought that the audio sharing website and app SoundCloud was incredibly useful and perhaps even the future of audio distribution via the internet. After all SoundCloud had elegant mobile apps that made it easy to record and upload audio as well as offering elegant, easily embeddable audio players that were also mobile friendly. These features made it easier than ever to capture and share audio on the internet and across a variety of websites.

As a venture capital funded company I knew that SoundCloud would at some point be making changes designed to bring in more revenue so it was no surprise to me when they limited the amount of free upload time when they launched a paid Pro service in 2013. The much bigger suprise was in 2014 when SoundCloud decided to remove uploading capability from their mobile apps, including their iPad app. To this day you cannot upload to SoundCloud directly using their mobile apps. You must use a computer or seek out a 3rd party mobile app. That and the redesign which was intended to put the listening experience for music upfront lead to an interface that to this day I find just plain confusing.

While I’m sure it seemed to make sense for SoundCloud to put music listeners (or to at least attempt to) in the drivers seat I think that’s the tail wagging the dog. If there are great sounds on SoundCloud then all kinds of listeners will come. And if you give audio creators a platform to build a strong presence then the listeners will stay. But what SoundCloud did with their updates to their apps took away the simplicity that probably lead more that a few people and artists to capture those spontaneous moments (including live jam sessions, live concerts and important live events) that could possible delight many other people.

As things stand now SoundCloud does support uploading prerecorded audio files via non-mobile web browsers and some third party apps, including Apple’s GarageBand music editing software. While that is something I think it’s a far cry from the prior possibilities for SoundCloud. Others do too in part because of additional content related issues such as SoundCloud cutting deals with major labels and cracking down on piracy (which inevitably leads to legit fair use content being pulled).

More recently SoundCloud has attempted to boost their revenue by launching a paid audio podcasting service. Although I think that the service will do quite well, particularly with established media companies, the general direction of SoundCloud over the last couple of years makes me think that for the individual who hopes to build out a show that using SoundCloud will be a mistake. I say that because as a company with lots of venture capital funding (over $200 million) they are bound to make decisions that go against creators. Some examples could include auto-insertion of ads into audio as well as assertion of some form of ownership over the actual content.

Perhaps my fears are overblown. Perhaps not. For the moment I’m disappointed to have lost a place where I can easily share interesting audio clips at a moments notice. For those willing to put their faith in SoundCloud I say beware. It’s always very dangerous to host what you consider to be valuable content with a service whose aim goes beyond merely hosting content. Services like SoundCloud see themselves as media companies (as opposed to pure technology providers) and as such you have to be ready to move to another platform if (more likely when) they make a change that goes against your mission as a distributor of content on the internet.

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