The data used to measure the success of songs in FanLabel contests comes from a variety of sources. Sometimes it’s album sales and other times it’s “spins” on radio. But the primary metric we use to judge song performance is streaming, which has completely revolutionized how listeners enjoy music. From humble beginnings as clunky, low-quality bootleg tracks (often uploaded illegally), online/mobile music streaming has now become the dominant source of revenue in the business.
And we wanted to shine the spotlight on one major streaming provider in this mix that we believe really stands out among its peers — SoundCloud. With its 76 million monthly listeners and 200 million-plus tracks uploaded by artists–many of whom are unsigned acts–SoundCloud is a class apart from Pandora, Apple Music and even Spotify, which have stricter uploading requirements. With the exception of copyright infringement, SoundCloud’s relatively lenient upload rules allow artists to publish anything they create with no label deals in place and a streamlined process. That has made Soundcloud the go-to platform to tap into new, strange, innovative and experimental music.
Founded in 2007, amid the heat of the MySpace era, SoundCloud was originally intended to be a collaborative tool that allowed artists to share their recordings. Users quickly adapted to SoundCloud’s sharing capabilities to upload music and share it with the world for free. The website became especially popular with DJs, who were able to upload their lengthy mixes and promote their music online. Electronic music artists began to form a community on SoundCloud that still exists today.
Joining forces with experimental producers, rap artists also began to build a strong presence on SoundCloud. In recent years, these artists and their unique styles have increasingly broken through into mainstream music. Lil Pump, XXXtentación, Russ, and Famous Dex all started as “SoundCloud rappers,” sharing their music for free on the platform. Today, these artists and countless others have become some of music’s brightest stars.
SoundCloud has done more than help artists achieve fame. A feat unique to a streaming platform, SoundCloud has given birth to entire subgenres of music. The ebb and flow of electronic music owes itself in part to the innovative nature of SoundCloud communities.
In 2013, artists including Flume and RL Grime developed a new style of electronic music known as “Future Bass,” and the genre remains popular to this day. In 2014, Kygo and Thomas Jack brought “Tropical House” to millions of eager ears via SoundCloud, and this genre is featured prominently on the radio today.
Despite its strong ties with electronic music, there are few doubts that rap has been the most heavily impacted by SoundCloud. With roots in the “Cloud Rap” scene of the early 2010s, the rapidly growing “Emo Rap” genre owes its prominence in part to artists’ use of SoundCloud to spread their music. Starting with niche sensations like Yung Lean and Xavier Wulf, this diverse subgenre grew to birth stars like Lil Skies and Juice WRLD. Today, this genre continues to thrive on SoundCloud, with countless artists uploading their music and hoping to be the next Lil Uzi.
SoundCloud’s success has not come without roadblocks, however. Most notably, their struggle to find a sustainable revenue model has made headlines several times over the years. Formerly an ad-free site, SoundCloud eventually incorporated an advertising program. As with its competitors, SoundCloud has introduced premium subscription services. Today, SoundCloud features a variety of services, catering to casual listeners as well as dedicated artists. The highest level of subscription now enables DJs to load SoundCloud tracks directly into their mixing software, making the premium service highly appealing to one of SoundCloud’s most loyal and fanatical user bases.
Our view is, as the music industry continues to change, SoundCloud will continue to play a unique role and we expect it to adapt and thrive.