Hoe SoundCloud de strijd aangaat met Apple en Spotify

Foto SoundCloud

Apple, Spotify, Tidal: die namen kennen we inmiddels wel. Er zijn ook andere bedrijven die vechten om marktaandeel in de industrie voor het streamen van muziek. Zoals SoundCloud. Business Insider interviewt de mede-oprichter van het bedrijf.

It’s easy to oversimplify the battle between the world’s biggest music streaming companies. The conventional wisdom is that Spotify and Pandora have the crown right now, although Apple’s June 8 unveiling of its own new streaming product could shake everything up.

But there are other services vying for a stake in the global streaming industry. One of those is Berlin-based streaming site SoundCloud.

It’s tricky to get your music onto Spotify. You have to go through a distributor, then sign up to get royalties from streams. But SoundCloud lets anyone upload music (or any audio) for free. That made the company the go-to places for independent DJs, music producers and amateur musicians looking to share their work.

SoundCloud has grown from an initial haven for amateur musicians into what could become a viable competitor to the world’s biggest streaming services. It’s YouTube for music. Business Insider met with SoundCloud’s cofounder and CTO Eric Wahlforss in London to talk about SoundCloud’s history, as well its plans for the future of music.

It’s an exciting time for SoundCloud. The company announced that it now has 100 million tracks on its service, and it launched a service for podcasts. It’s expanding from a focus on music to include spoken word as well. We asked Wahlforss whether SoundCloud has any plans to launch a standalone app that’s just focused on podcasts:

Generally we’re looking a lot more at the listening experience. We try to create a unique listening experience. I can’t comment on exactly the things that we’re planning on building but we are definitely planning to vastly improve the experience over time, and I think that’s one of the differentiators of the platform, it’s sort of a functional stream of creators generating a lot of unique content, and that creating a unique experience. So it’s all about how we can get those things to work together within an experience. I think we’re going to try and see if we can do some interesting things there over time.

It was reported in May 2014 that SoundCloud was in talks with Twitter about a possible acquisition. The rumoured asking price was $1 billion. It seemed like a logical fit — Twitter wants to get involved with music, and SoundCloud could have been an easy way for it to start hosting audio on its platform.

But the Twitter/SoundCloud deal never happened. Twitter reportedly balked at the $1 billion price for SoundCloud, feeling that the company was overvalued. But another, perhaps larger, problem was the presence of copyright infringing audio. SoundCloud was filled with music that had been uploaded without the copyright holder’s permission, which meant that it was going to take time to make music labels happy by deleting content. Even worse, a crackdown on music on SoundCloud could have upset its loyal users.

Users were spooked in April when SoundCloud announced a partnership with rights agency ZEFR. Pando said that the deal had an “enormous hidden threat” that could be used to start removing tracks that were uploaded without permission, such as remixes.

Wahlforss, however, insists that the ZEFR partnership doesn’t signal that the service is going to embark on a copyright clampdown. Instead, he says that the deal is “actually very limited in scope.” Wahlforss went on to explain that “we’re literally working with them to improve the accuracy of our fingerprinting technology. That’s really the purpose of the integration at the moment.”

SoundCloud CEO Alexander Ljung

SoundCloud CEO Alexander Ljung

SoundCloud’s reluctance to talk about the rumoured Twitter acquisition has become something of a running joke at tech conferences. Interviewers usually ask about the deal with a wry smirk, knowing they won’t get an answer, and one of SoundCloud’s cofounders will chuckle before declining to comment.

Unlike other streaming sites, SoundCloud doesn’t devote a lot of its time to shouting about its achievements. It almost has an aversion to blowing its own trumpet. Instead, it has concentrated on building its platform and growing users. Wahlforss explains that the site is still growing at a healthy rate. “SoundCloud is still growing really fast. It’s growing primarily through mobile. We are now at over 70% mobile usage. We grew Android 3x over the last year. 3x. At the scale we’re at, it’s very significant growth.”

But despite its continued growth, competition is increasing in the world of music streaming. Wahlforss says that SoundCloud pays “close attention” to what other companies are doing.

Jay Z is getting involved in music streaming

Jay Z is getting involved in music streaming

Rapper Jay Z recently acquired obscure Swedish streaming company Aspiro, and turned its Tidal streaming service into a celebrity-filled showcase of exclusive content. What does Wahlforss think about Tidal?

They’ve essentially done exclusive deals with artists, which I think is an interesting development and is probably a function of the subscription-driven world where you buy into one value proposition that essentially has a mix of content.

With us, having a consumer subscription on the rise that we’re going to bring to market, we think that we have something pretty unique in that when that dynamic gets introduced into the market, Apple being rumoured to have a number of exclusive deals, Spotify probably trying hard now to get similar deals, we come into that world with a platform that has now, over the last year, more than 10 million creators have been heard on the platform.

SoundCloud is about to embark on its most ambitious project yet. It’s preparing to launch a subscription service which will let users pay monthly for access to streaming tracks. That would make it a direct competitor of everyone from Apple to Tidal to Spotify.

It has taken months for SoundCloud to form deals with music labels in preparation for its subscription service, and it’s still not finished. Wahlforss says that SoundCloud has “multiple active deal conversations” in progress that will see established artists bring their music to SoundCloud in return for a cut of the revenue from music streaming.

Streaming has overtaken music downloads in the UK.

Streaming has overtaken music downloads in the UK.

We asked Wahlforss what the mindset of record labels is like when it comes to streaming. “They realise that streaming is here to stay, it’s going to be here for ten, twenty, thirty years,” he says. “It’s a very sustainable platform. As opposed to downloads that are not that sustainable. Streaming is actually something that is going to replace radio and all these other things over time.”

SoundCloud has always been the outsider of music streaming, trying to juggle running a platform that exists to serve DJs and musicians as well as music labels and copyright holders. That hasn’t been easy, and the company has often found itself working hard to simply keep the service the same. But it’s now looking to establish itself as a viable place for people to go when they want to listen to music, as well as podcasts. Sure, it might not have Tidal’s exclusive content, or Apple’s bankroll and reach, but SoundCloud has 100 million tracks on its platform, and the trust of DJs and musicians around the world.