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Soundcloud and the Changing Music Industry


“In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes”

Andy Warhol

Soundcloud is an online audio streaming service offering both paid and free memberships. Founded in Sweden in 2007 by Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlfross it was launched in 2008. The site now boasts over 76 million active monthly users. Artists-wise there are over 30 million creators in 190 countries. With over 265 million tracks uploaded to the platform as of March 2021.

Soundcloud to Stardom

There are many global music stars today that came up through Soundcloud. Some surprisingly so, like Billie Eilish. In 2014 Eilish uploaded a number of songs to the site. Two years later she signed a record deal with Darkroom label. She is now one of the world’s biggest music stars boasting over 76.7 billion song streams across all major platforms.

Source: Dimitrus Chapsoulas

The most frequent type of music artist to find fame through Soundcloud are those that are given the moniker of “Soundcloud Rapper”. This title previously held negative connotations, carrying a joke-like persona with it. However, the popular rap scene is now dominated by these “Soundcloud Rappers”. Artists like Post Malone, Lil Nas X and Lil Uzi Vert all came up through Soundcloud and now hold a strong spot on the global music charts.

Why the Change?

There are many possible reasons for this shift in the music industry. The first is the simple, but by no means small, impact of the internet. In the last 30 years the internet’s growth has been unprecedented and all parts of society have felt its affects.

The music industry is no different. Even outside of Soundcloud artists have found fame through this route, artists like Kid Cudi who released his breakout single Day ‘N’ Nite on MySpace in 2008.

Another reason for this change is the increase in freedom it gives artists, like Kid Cudi, who maybe would not have been discovered previously. Anyone can now make their own music fairly cheaply and upload it. They no longer need a studio and record deal. Instead, at the most basic level, they need a phone with a built-in microphone and internet access.

Source: Alexey Ruban

In recent years, there has also been a negative shift in the music industry due to the internet which has potentially led to further reliance on websites like Soundcloud.

Sites like Spotify and Apple Music has led to the disillusionment of many artists who feel underpaid and undercut by those running the business. The estimated pay-per-stream for artists on Spotify is a measly $0.004. This seems very little when you consider the company itself is valued at $37.45b as of 2022.

This disillusionment led to the creation of Tidal in 2014. A year later the company was brought by rapper Jay-Z who along with a list of other famous faces including Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and controversially Kanye West, pledged to only release music on this artist driven platform. For most of these artists this was more of a quasi-threat and owner Jay-Z even made his music available on all platforms as of 2019.

The Future

Looking to the future it is unclear what the music industry has in store. It is not certain how we will listen to the songs of tomorrow and how the artists who make them will be discovered. It is, however, clear that the industry is changing.

Soundcloud has allowed anyone and everyone to try their hand at making a hit. Maybe pop-artist Andy Warhol was right and we should all be ready for our “fifteen minutes of fame”.

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