With the ever-growing popularity and usage of music service Soundcloud, it’s not entirely surprising that the company has been taking steps to expand their business and further cement themselves in the streaming marketplace. According to Business Wire, more than 12 hours of audio are uploaded to the site every minute to share with a global listener base of 175 million! Given these kinds of numbers, Soundcloud undoubtedly possesses the power to greatly affect the colossal community to which it serves. Up until late last year, however, very few implementations were made to protect the copyrights of the creators on the site. Aside from their algorithmic process of weeding out “stolen” content, the service hadn’t included a way for artists to explicitly promote themselves or turn a profit. They launched a partner program in August called On Soundcloud, which added the ‘Pro’, ‘Pro Unlimited’, and ‘Premier’ account tiers. Currently, the only way to gain access to the Premier tier is through invitation, only longstanding and widely popular artists and creators making the cut. Solely Premier accounts are able to run ads over their content, and therefore earn revenue.
Here’s where we run into our first problem. Until this addition, the biggest names and the smallest bedroom producers were equal in their ability to promote themselves on Soundcloud. Of course, Diplo will always get more plays than some unknown creator with 13 followers, but listeners were still required to seek out the artists they wanted to hear from themselves. With Premier account holders now able to promote themselves within the site through Spotlight features, and therefore draw exponentially more traffic to their pages, Soundcloud took the first step toward widening the gap between big time producers and those just starting out.
Yesterday, Soundcloud took it one notch further and announced a partnership with Zefr, the same company used by YouTube to scan content for copyright infringement in videos. Zefr provides a much more sophisticated and highly accredited algorithm for detecting copyrighted material, as they deal with more data than any other YouTube partner. Paired with the Premier account tier, this service will likely lead to top creators being able to gain a greater revenue for their content. Because people tend to re-upload tracks from top accounts, Zefr’s detection will put more power into the hands of the original creators, allowing them to either capitalize on it and claim the content as their own or request takedowns in a more efficient way. What remains slightly unclear is whether the average creator will be able to place claim on their own work and run ads on any re-uploaded tracks or if this ad-service will only apply to the select few who have Premier accounts.
Although this partnership may seem like a step in the right direction, it will most definitely have a drastic effect on the Soundcloud community. Even though larger artists will now have the option to run ads on tracks that have used their content, such as remixes/bootlegs/mixes/etc., it’s hard for me to believe that this will be their primary choice over simply having them taken down. At the caliber of artists with access to Premier accounts, although any extra cash is always welcomed, it seems to me that using Zefr’s detection algorithm for takedowns will be of higher value to them than the option of claiming their ownership and allowing it to remain posted.
This commercialization and delegation of greater power to the biggest names on Soundcloud comes as a disappointment to many of its dedicated users. For a lot of up and coming and even already established artists, this service has been the steady backbone of their entire music career. With countless unofficial remixes saturating many popular accounts, this partnership will most likely cost many of them their standing within the community. Artists who depend on their remixes and mixes to remain relevant to their respective fan bases will have to close down shop and move elsewhere if the original creators don’t opt for leniency. While I won’t get into the sampling debate again, I believe it’s safe to say that most big name artists would rather keep their original work to themselves than offer free reign to every DJ B3dr00m who wants to use their samples.
Taking a look at this status by Wick-it the Instigator, it’s easy to see the kind of reaction the new merger will have amongst the community.
At this point, as far as I can tell, the two probable outcomes for any tracks using unofficial samples/songs will be as follows: 1) they will be immediately taken down, giving the artists no choice but to re-upload their work elsewhere and begin a new journey to obtain the followers they’ve amassed over the years, or 2) this content will now have bothersome advertisements running over it, compensating the original producers and Soundcloud itself at the cost of a more difficult and time consuming listening experience for its users.