SoundCloud has been too free for too long, according to some observers.
Now that a deal with Sony Music Entertainment is in hand, SoundCloud appears to be rapidly accelerating its move towards a subscription (ie, paid) tier. In fact, SoundCloud’s much-anticipated subscription service may launch within a matter of weeks, not months.
It’s unclear exactly when the launch timetable was altered. In the wake of an earlier deal with Universal Music Group in January, sources pointed Digital Music News to a roadmap to launch a full-blown subscription service by this summer, with insiders expected the actual launch to happen by fall. That was a reaction to pressures from UMG, though Sony has proven a more demanding holdout and may have pushed for the accelerated subscription launch.
Either way, SoundCloud is now making this a top priority, and hoping that users pay the piper. Just last week, one source to Digital Music News pointed to an initial subscription launch in ‘April or May,’ though details on what will be included in the launch remain scant. Today, Billboard also pointed to a subscription launch ‘in the coming weeks,’ though details on what will be included in the service were also light.
The Billboard report also noted that major labels Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group will pick-and-choose which songs will be free and which will be paid. But exactly how that alters the overall SoundCloud experience remains unanswered, though critical.
The huge schedule-shift is uncertain news for artists, especially DJs with million of followers. This is probably going to be a difficult transition, with DJ support already complicated by a warzone of takedowns and destroyed accounts. Just this week, Morgan Page found his entire account deleted for posting a promo clip with unlicensed work, the latest in a string of abrupt teardowns. That has cooled relationships between artists, labels, and SoundCloud, and the specter of a subscription service dictated by major label demands is unlikely to improve morale.
But the biggest question is this: will users pay? And if so, how many?
At last count, SoundCloud reported 175 million active users, though most of those users are accustomed to a completely free experience. On top of that, more serious fans are probably already subscribed to a paid platform like Spotify, Tidal or Apple Music, not to mention already buying higher-end items like vinyl records.
SoundCloud could be playing a game for scraps.