Uncertainty Brewing: Strange Clouds on the Horizon For SoundCloud

Eric Gasa

Start those 30-day free premium trials because SoundCloud might not be here much longer.

A death knell resounded in the halls of SoundCloud’s Berlin headquarters last Tuesday after the user-based streaming service swiftly laid off 40 percent of its staff and shuttered two offices in a closed meeting. Co-founder Alex Ljung said the decision was made in order to “ensure our path to long-term, independent success.”

Initially thought to be a rumor, reports of the site’s inevitable demise sprouted online. Sources at SoundCloud told TechCrunch that founders Ljung and Eric Wahlforss confessed that the company has only enough money to last until Quarter 4, or approximately 80 more days.

The news has left underground MCs, DJs, amateur producers, and other unsigned artists scrambling to archive their music on SoundCloud before they’re gone forever. Unlike competitors, Spotify and Apple Music, SoundCloud allows users to upload and share their own tracks and audio content.

For the independent music world, Rome seems to be burning because love it or hate it, SoundCloud served as the springboard for countless artists such as Lil Pump, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, and Young Thug. This rise in underground viral hip hop led to a loose subculture of SoundCloud rappers; a subversive brand of amateur MCs raised on bassy beats, Percocet, and viral hooks.

As for the company’s financial ailments, experts cite SoundCloud’s inability to brand itself as a big streaming platform like Spotify (which it’s not) instead of capitalizing on the app’s truly organic uploading features for young artists and listeners alike.

The collapse of SoundCloud spells the end of a weird and diverse world of live DJ sets, rare bootlegs, and the ultimate extinction of the SoundCloud rapper…or at least until they find another music platform. Regardless, SoundCloud’s departure will leave a large void on the Internet’s landscape and its 175 million monthly listeners.

As Casey Rae, a music professor at Georgetown University explained in an interview with WIRED, “If SoundCloud went away there’s a piece that would be lost in the culture. Where do [artists] go if SoundCloud can’t maintain the operations?”

In essence, SoundCloud is the big, bad and free Wild West of the Internet and with its demise, a unique frontier closes on the horizon.

But there might be hope yet if Chance The Rapper can help.

“I’m working on the SoundCloud thing,” the 24-year-old rapper said on July 14, later tweeting, “Just had a very fruitful call with Alex Ljung. @SoundCloud is here to stay.”

Chance released a new single that day featuring Young Thug in hopes of raising morale and listeners to the site. “Big B’s” is available exclusively on SoundCloud which has 1.75 million plays in three days as of press time.
The track skips over a bouncing beat, layered with Thug’s erratic vocal and Chance’s boyishly fun flow. “Big B’s” finds the two rappers bragging about their career successes which have ironically stemmed from their first releases on SoundCloud.

To Chance, preserving SoundCloud is like preserving a way of life. The rapper is famous for being the first artist to win a Grammy without selling a single physical copy of his music; in fact, he gave it all away for free without the help of a record label.

His burgeoning rise to fame is partially indebted to SoundCloud’s unique ability of raising an audience of millions of listeners for free. In 2017, you no longer need a manager or radio play to possibly make it big in hip hop; just an Internet connection, decent rhymes, and a SoundCloud account.
But the task of bolstering a $700 million company in decline may be too daunting even for a major mainstream success such as Chance.

In a recent blogpost on SoundCloud’s website, Ljung reassured listeners:
“Hey everyone, There’s an insane amount of noise about SoundCloud in the world right now. And it’s just that, noise. The music you love on SoundCloud isn’t going away, the music you shared or uploaded isn’t going away, because SoundCloud is not going away. Not in 50 days, not in 80 days or anytime in the foreseeable future. Your music is safe.”
Ljung’s words ring null though as values plummet and SoundCloud employees jump ship.

With losses doubling for Spotify, and Apple Music struggling to procure more subscribers to pay exorbitant artist royalties, the streaming bubble may finally burst. Streaming will not become profitable until companies develop a sustainable business model but until then the market may have just claimed its first victim. For SoundCloud the days tick away until Quarter 4.