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Summary:

The ‘YouTube of audio’ now reaches 180 million people, but it remains unclear how the service’s stellar growth is translating into premium subscription uptake.

new soundcloud

SoundCloud is really big these days. Heck, even Barack Obama is on the platform. This makes sense: there is no equivalent service out there at scale, apart from YouTube, which is hardly focused on the audio experience.

So how big is it? On Tuesday, as the service took its ‘Next’ web app version out of beta, it revealed that 180 million people interact with SoundCloud each month through the service’s website, mobile apps and embedded players. It should be stressed that this does not mean 180 million registered users (the last update there was 20 million-plus, back in May), but still. Woah.

And that’s not enough, it seems. As co-founder Eric Wahlforss told me, the revamp is largely aimed at increasing engagement and attracting more users:

“If you go on the front page it’s a more friendly appearance. We’re basically accepting any kind of user – it’s a broadening out.”

How will it achieve this? The biggest new feature is reposting, which should make it easier for sounds to spread. This feeds into the newfound ability to curate sets of sounds – a feature that Wahlforss reckons should appeal to music bloggers and even labels and radio networks.

Eric Wahlforss, Soundcloud co-founderThere are other handy tweaks too, such as the introduction of continuous listening, keyboard shortcuts and a realtime notification infrastructure (the last two there came out of internal hacking projects, of which CTO Wahlforss says he is especially proud).

According to Wahlforss, the rather lengthy gestation phase for Next (it was in beta for seven months) showed a 30 percent increase in overall engagement, with the main metric there being the time people spend listening.

However, the most important metric for SoundCloud is really its number of premium subscribers – and there, the company is staying pretty tight-lipped.

SoundCloud operates a freemium model, with charges ranging from €29-€500 ($38-$654) annually, and that’s pretty much where all its revenues come from. Ask Wahlforss whether ads might invade the service at some point, and you get a swift circling-back to the subscriptions angle. So is SoundCloud profitable yet? “We don’t really comment on those numbers in public. We’re focused on growth.”

Overall size does matter. But it remains frustratingly difficult to evaluate whether that growth is translating yet into the kind of premium subscription uptake that SoundCloud needs for a sustainable future.

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  1. Steven O’Brien Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    As someone who pays for a premium account on Soundcloud and depends on it to run a business, this is a disaster. The new design is a nightmare. I certainly don’t want to do it, but I’ll be canceling my subscription and moving onto another service if serious issues aren’t addressed.

    Why on Earth would they think it was be a good idea to remove the “list of tracks” from sets? What about completely limiting and breaking the spotlight on the front of my profile page (the one that I paid for…), meaning that potential clients, instead of seeing my most successful and popular tracks, will now see some confusing nonsensical sets without tracklists and those pieces I dashed off in 5 minutes last night. This is ridiculous.

    1. I have to disagree with you, Steven. I am also a pro user and I’ve always felt that the track listing approach was old school. It’s what made MySpace’s music player terrible. People have short attention spans now, so if they get through one entire track—and repost it—that’s a win.

  2. I like Soundcloud. Shame to hear about Steven’s experience in the other comment and maybe this will be the downside for them in terms of paying customers. The quote from Wahlforss “We’re basically accepting any kind of user – it’s a broadening out.” may well sum it up. But if they are going for scale then they obviously have the technical backing to get there. I read somewhere that there is 10 hours of audio uploaded every minute. You have to have the infrastructure or arrangements in place to deal with the changing demands ( http://ow.ly/fOA2c ). Let’s just hope that the changes don’t drive off the paying subscribers like Steven or it might become another good idea which doesn’t have the legs.

  3. I always felt that SC was not nearly fan friendly enough to justify the promo part of their pitch. Being a part of the promo experience I came to realize that it seems as though there were far more music creators than music consumers, and in my opinion, this reason alone is enough to discourage a sizable chunk of producers and indie artists from becoming premium members.

    Fortunately, the SC ecosystem did in fact provide an environment for some amazing apps (http://mycloudplayers.com – for one) to emerge, which compensate for some of the logical and marketing failings of SC itself.

    I find the “next SoundCloud” to be just as dull and esoteric as it always has been. The only feature which I am actually glad to see is “Repost”. Now, at least it would be theoretically imaginable for a track to go viral within SC itself. We’ll wait and see I suppose.

  4. delete & migrate…soundcloud killed the music.

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