Having not engaged with Soundcloud in any meaningful way for a few years I was curious to know if artists still used it or found it useful. I posed this question on Twitter recently in the interests of research - and got a variety of answers!
It's worth noting that last time I used Soundcloud it was mainly so that various bloggers and reviewers could embed the tracks they were writing about onto their websites, and this was mostly by their request.
Lets get the bad stuff out of the way first. For me the UX has always been poor and as a music discovery tool it falls very short of Bandcamp, and even Spotify (which I don't really rate either!). The app is also atrocious and glitchy, and the adverts are excessive. And it's also full of spam links and bots which no-one likes.
Many agree with my objections, others disagree with some so I guess its all about what you're familiar with. All that said we did uncover 2 good things about Soundcloud - so lets have a look at those in a bit more detail.
Some industry people use it
One of the key things that came up in this debate was that various corners of the music industry still use Soundcloud their go to platform for various things from Sync licensing companies to radio and reviewers.
The most notable of these perhaps is that you can't submit to Fresh On The Net unless you're on Soundcloud. Fresh On The Net is independent music blog founded by BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Tom Robinson. Other than the carrot of potential airplay on BBC Radio 6 which likely appeals to many UK artists, one of the key interests on Fresh On The Net is the Listening Post feature.
As I understand it the inbox for music submissions is open for part of the week for artists to send tunes. People from the site listen to the submissions and post the entire inbox as a Soundcloud playlist.
Fresh On The Net then publish 25 of their favourites on the Listening Post for readers to listen to and vote on, and the most popular of these then get reviewed on the blog.
This seems pretty long winded but from the artists point of view its really just a case of sending an email. I'm told it's a pretty popular blog and obviously Tom's appeal as a BBC Radio 6 DJ means that people are keen to get involved.
So for a shot at this it's probably worth uploading a track or 2 to Soundcloud as part of your release strategy. Arguably of course radio play isn't going to get you much exposure anymore - in fact Tom Robinson himself said pretty much this in a lecture way back in 2013 - but it can give you kudos and something to talk about, and in this case the effort is minimal to generate potential results.
It's great for posting demos and private links
One of the main responses was that if you want to post a demo to get early feedback, quickly stream a rough mix in the car / on headphones, or send a demo to another band member, Soundcloud is a quick and easy way to do that. Equally setting up private links for reviewers, or a select group of fans so that you can send pre-releases is quick and simple.
Unlike Spotify you don't have to pay a distributor to get your music on Soundcloud and wait a month for it to appear. You can just get it on there and send to people either privately or as a released version.
Bandcamp offers some of this functionality but for private / pre-release you need a pro account, and even if the track is out many artists use the option to restrict the number of streams before you have to purchase which causes issues for reviewers.
Similarly to Bandcamp the embed feature on Soundcloud means its really quick to put the player pretty much anywhere without people having to login anywhere or go to a different site. But unlike Bandcamp (for now) this link could be a playlist.
Personally I don't use Soundcloud to listen to or discover music and I suspect not many people do. Bandcamp is my go-to here and Spotify is my back up. Both have much better UI/UX and far less spam and link drops. The social features on Bandcamp far outweigh those on Soundcloud for me too.
But I think the difference that starts to emerge here is that sites like Bandcamp and Spotify are consumer facing, Soundcloud is really good at the back end stuff. As one person put it - if Spotify is the shop floor, Soundcloud is the stockroom - this I probably agree with.
It is annoying that there is still no one-stop shop for musicians to get heard that integrates to create a seamless experience. Bandcamp comes the closest for me, and whilst I appreciate that it hasn't become a victim of 'feature creep' it would be useful to have some of these elements (and a few more I talk about here). But for now, it's probably just about worth the effort of putting some tracks on Soundcloud, at least the free version anyway.