Friday, 22 August 2014

Soundcloud Ads: Musicians Finally Making Money or Shattering a Community?

Soundcloud is looking for new ways for musicians to make money by introducing ads. Is this going to work?

A couple of years ago, just before I launched my first album on Spotify, I emailed Soundcloud headquarters suggesting that track plays on Soundcloud should be synced with Spotify. This, I reasoned, would get around the problem of having a big following on Soundcloud, but very few listeners taking the trouble to switch apps to generate an income for the artist. I got a polite answer but heard nothing more of it.

Now Soundcloud (SC) have announced a new partnership program called On Soundcloud, opening up for musicians (and labels) to make money through ads, both visual and embedded in songs. Not by connecting to Spotify though, but instead "spotifying" the user experience. And by paying for an account listeners seem to be able to get rid of the ads, just like a premium account on Spotify.

Is this the perfect way for musicians to finally get paid for their work in the age of digital music, or will it just shatter the quite unique audio community that SC has become over the years? Most people seems to agree that the music business need new ways to make money. Live gigging is at the moment covering up a bit for lost sales, but many artists (myself included) use nothing but a laptop to create music and that makes for a slightly thin live experience. Spotify has started to move up to it's promises at least here in Sweden by generating a big chunk of the total royalties, so obviously this kind of business model is working after all. It just might be that SC has found a good concept to copy.

Will the SC community accept these changes? For me, the biggest advantage of SC is also it's biggest drawback: It is very much a community of musicians, not listeners. The quality of discussions, the friendship and engagement of SC members is remarkable, close to unique in the digital world. Without that kind of wholehearted support, I think many would have stopped making music after a handful of songs. It makes the musicians evolve and deepen their creative explorations. But the support is seldom extended into the economic field - buying each others albums or songs is not a big thing.

For about a year SC have slowly introduced changes to attract more listeners, and thereby making it a slightly less convincing platform for musician-to-musician communication. (Likes and timed comments have been somewhat downgraded for example, two of the essential features for musical discussions and sharing). Member reactions to these changes has not been very positive, though few people seem to have actually left the community. Complaints are surfacing in many discussions. Is this just the normal human reaction to change or an indication of users not wanting the same thing as SC headquarters? And will the greater change now introduced, the inclusion of ads, be accepted? I believe that if musicians with a paid account will be spared from listening to ads for 15 seconds at the beginning of a collaborators song, and at the same time gain a small income from non-pro listeners, I think it can work. (Visual ads might be a bit easier for most to accept). On the other hand, it will be much more risky to force audio ads on pro users, as it is a kind of working tool for them. In this case I think people will start leaving the community, in what numbers is of course hard to predict. As always, the actual implementation is crucial. With Pinterest in mind and the discreet way they have handled similar issues, I hope SC will be applying the changes in a careful and well-thoughout way, listening intently to the feedback from their users as they go along. Then it might actually be a way for musicians not having to pay for doing a job they love.

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