SoundCloud’s Revenue Just Topped $100 Million. Here’s Why That Probably Doesn’t Matter.

SoundCloud's Revenue Topped $100 Million. Here's Why It Probably Doesn't Matter.
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SoundCloud's Revenue Topped $100 Million. Here's Why It Probably Doesn't Matter.
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SoundCloud CEO Kerry Trainor

2017 revenues have skyrocketed. Yet, without a viable long-term strategy, is SoundCloud doomed to repeat its own troubled history?

To be honest, SoundCloud didn’t have a great 2017.

First, it kicked off the year with a rather blunt warning.  Should its SoundCloud Go subscription service have failed to turn things around, the company would’ve gone bankrupt by the end of the year.  Immediately thereafter, 2 major executives jumped ship.  Then, last summer, SoundCloud abruptly fired 40% of its staff (173 people) and closed 2 lavish offices.  The company once valued at $1 billion was now reportedly willing to sell itself for around $250 million.  Spotify, a potential suitor, pulled out of advanced negotiation talks.  No other buyer lined up.

Then, after receiving a much-needed $170 million emergency bailout, the company pushed out (read: fired) its CEO, Alexander Ljung.  As SoundCloud burned, investors found that he had wasted money and “partied like a rock star.”  He remains in the company as a ‘Chairman.’  Investors quickly rallied behind the company’s new CEO, Kerry Trainor, formerly of Vimeo.

Yet, has the company truly put left behind its troubled past?  Does it finally see a great future at hand?  Yes to both questions, according to Trainor.

Speaking with the Financial Times, Trainor claims that SoundCloud has now exceeded financial and user growth targets.  Less than a year after the bailout, the company’s total sales have surpassed its revenue goal of $100 million.  SoundCloud “has never been healthier financially,” he claims.

Trainor credited the explosive growth to a new strategy.  Instead of “trying to mimic Spotify,” SoundCloud has focused on its original market among music creators.  It sells much-needed music creation tools to independent artists and podcasters, for around $70 to $100 a year.  The platform no longer focuses on pushing its subscription service down users’ throats.

According to Trainor, the benefit of this new strategy is twofold.  As artists pay for its tools, they post content that, in turn, draws in listeners on the platform.  More users means more music creators will shell out for the company’s tools.  In addition, Trainor underscored the platform’s 177 million+ track count, as opposed to Spotify’s mere 40 million tracks.

The strategy appears to have worked.  Following an August fundraising round, the company has “significantly reduced the cash burn.”  It’s also achieved a positive cash flow in recent months.

Positive feedback from listeners has also helped the platform go in popularity and relevance.  According to Midia Research’s Mark Mulligan, SoundCloud Rap has produced emo-influenced rap artists who “have invaded the US music charts.”  Speaking with the Financial Times, he explained,

Artists were always SoundCloud’s core value, and that is how we need to measure its success.  How many people are starting their careers on SoundCloud?  What SoundCloud needs to prove is it can be the most-used stepping stone between obscurity and stardom.

In addition, SimilarWeb, a website market intelligent tool, found that SoundCloud now has a “stronger and significant digital presence.”  In all key markets, the company appears to have completely turned things around.  It has great engagement metrics and has grown stronger on the app side.  SoundCloud’s digital presence has even rivaled Spotify’s overall metrics. You can check out a comparison here, provided by SimilarWeb.

Sounds great, right?  Maybe SoundCloud has finally managed to overcome its depressing past and can now head towards a profitable future?  Yeah, not really.

As a whole, SoundCloud has yet to turn things completely around, a feat it never truly accomplish.  The company continues to bleed money.  Its long-term prospects remain mixed at best.  The company’s premium product, SoundCloud Go, has yet to gain traction.  Mulligan estimates that its total subscriber count is around 100,000.  In turn, Spotify has 71 million subscribers.  Apple Music over 36 million.  Amazon recently announced that its Music Unlimited subscriber count has reached the “tens of millions.”

So, what exactly is SoundCloud’s best bet for long-term survivability?  “To get in good enough shape for Spotify to come knocking again,” says Mulligan.  Spotify abandoned a possible acquisition deal two years ago to focus on its direct listing on Wall Street.  Executives posited that purchasing SoundCloud would drag down its long-term prospects, something the first half of 2017 readily proved.  Spotify declined to comment on a possible future acquisition, but Trainor remains hopeful.  Hinting at the company’s long-term strategy, he expects that Soundcloud “will potentially be of interest [to suitors].”

That is, if it can actually manage to make a profit.  And you know, actually provide a truly standout and worthwhile product.

Looks like you have your work cut out for you, Trainor.

Featured image by Recode/Code Media (YouTube screengrab)

6 Responses

  1. dj

    Soundcloud need to sort out their product offering to their subscribers. I don’t pay for Soundcloud Go, but I do pay for a Soundcloud Pro Unlimited account and STILL get served audio ads – what’s that about?

    If they want to look after their ‘creators’ then they should at least offer a ‘no ads’ policy to all paying subscribers – irrespective of whether they are Go or Pro…

  2. The Dude

    Soundcloud for me, is like a Dropbox where I privately share rough mixes–that’s pretty much it. If they want it to be anymore than that, the platform needs to be remodeled. The business itself needs to be remodeled. Comparing it to Bandcamp, Bandcamp wins hands down. One thing I cannot stand about Soundcloud is that when you embed a Soundcloud player into your website, it displays with a “open in Soundcloud app” message, which diverts MY USER TRAFFIC to their app and away from my website. Bandcamp allows streaming and purchasing right there in my website. Maybe top executives will see this. I want sites like Soundcloud to make it however, it has to offer something unique that other sites don’t.

  3. trollsite

    I’m not gonna comment on anything else. But regarding music listening and music discovery, soundcloud is really damn good. Almost as good as listening on spotify.

    • trollsite

      specifically what plays next when u finish what uve chosen (suggestions) is always extremely good music. I like and have discovered a bunch of new artists and music

  4. trollsite

    bandcamp is same shit as spotify and everything else
    all about the promotion or yuo’re fkt! you can have the greatest music on Earth no promo no sales. and there’s tons of musicians with 0 promo skills/capabilities

  5. Adam Mackintosh

    SoundCloud is great for me to listen to everything Eric Prydz and Above & Beyond make, especially ABGT, but I find SoundCloud has absolutely piss poor algorithms for showing me music I haven’t heard that is related to what I listen to.

    You would think that after listening to every EPIC Radio and ABGT episode for the past 2-3 years and nothing else that SoundCloud wall feed could be smart enough to include music that sounds similar and help me discover new artists, but no, it just lists trash music from people I follow in the EDM scene that I wish would make good music.

    It’s all so dissimilar to the electro house, progressive house, melodic trance that I listen to for upwards of 15 hours a day. It makes me angry that SoundCloud doesn’t have a smart algorithm that injects similar music into my stream (wall feed).

    Spotify does this and my girlfriend finds huge amounts of awesome music. I will honestly just switch very soon. I’ve been a dedicated listener for years on SoundCloud and I get tired of listening to the same Eric Prydz and ABGT podcasts over and over again because I don’t like anything else and I love them so much.

    Basically, new content discovery based on my preferences and listening history is absolutely horrendous and non-existent and they will lose me soon.

    I’ve wanted to complain about this for a long time, and I just Googled “soundcloud profit” to see if they were still dying. It seems like less dying but still they don’t understand how people listen to and discover new music in 2018.

    If people listened to SoundCloud for a day and then started getting flooded with similar music they’ve never heard before that makes them say “wow this is dope”, they would become a permanent cornerstone.