SoundCloud

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SoundCloud was once a wonderful place.

(And let me pause for a moment, already, to make clear that I’m not going to spend this post whining about the growing number of Promoted Tracks, and now blatant Advertisements preceding particular high-profile songs.)

SoundCloud was basically the birthing-place for countless, primarily electronic artists and DJs who hoped to find exposure in a platform that wasn’t as broad and widespread as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. They shared their work, didn’t have to worry much about copyright nonsense, could recommend other artists by re-posting, share private tracks, gain input from fans, etc. For the most part, they can still do 4 of those 5 things. SoundCloud is still an invaluable tool for most artists, and is gaining popularity despite reduced functionality and overall usefulness to the listener/fan.

But SoundCloud faces a very serious problem in that the more popular it becomes, the less-useful it becomes. This problem exists primarily because of flawed design and functionality that have existed from the very beginning, have remained virtually un-evolved since SoundCloud launched, and it’s because of this that plenty of users still have to resort to Pandora or Spotify or Google Play Music All Access or Mixlr or any number of various music-related alternatives. Not a single one of these is a one-stop-shop, and this leads to the first problem:

Discovering new music takes too much time, and this problem only gets worse.

Let’s look at a typical Stream:2015-02-23_11h57_21

This screencap is from an account I started maybe a year and a half ago. My method of using it was pretty simple: hear a great song somewhere, follow the artist. Admittedly, I wasn’t very discerning here, but I don’t think you should have to be. If you like a song by someone, you follow them on SC to stay up to date on their releases, and maybe to hear whatever they re-post on the seemingly-reasonable assumption that you like their music, so you will also like the music they like.

Well, that’s great in theory, but ultimately what this leads to is a Stream that is absolutely jam-packed with “stuff”, that will only become more jam-packed if you continue to follow new artists. Some artists will re-post 10 tracks at a time. Other artists will re-post one of their own songs, then a day later they’ll un-re-post that song so they can re-post it again so it once again shows up in your feed, and a lot of these artists do this on a regular basis.

Looking at your Stream, you’ll see that there is no way to filter any of it. Search results give you the ability to narrow things down a bit (although not nearly enough) while the Stream is completely out of your control. While this does offer the ability to passively consume music, there is no balance and you are force-fed a whole slew of things you may or may not be interested in. You cannot filter genres. You cannot filter out all those long DJ/Radio Mixes. You cannot filter Posts. You cannot filter Re-Posts. You cannot filter anything, and the idea of the Stream is that you press play somewhere within it and you continue listening through all the new additions in chronological order.

Well, on this particular SC account, it’s just after 1PM and in the last 24 hours there are over 90 “items”—I use this word because they aren’t just Tracks, they’re a variety of Tracks, Albums, and Mixes, and a mixture of Posts and Re-Posts. Granted, this account is following 455 users, but these are all artists I enjoy and want to continue hearing, and even a casual listener will hit that number at some point if they’re using SC as it should be able to be used.

If each item is 4 minutes long (a reasonable assumption, though this does not account for the number of items that are full albums/EPs, hour long mixes, etc), this will require that I devote 6 hours per day to my Stream. If I’m unable to do this, I’ll get behind and either become buried or miss out on a great number of items. So at this point in order for me to stay current I need to devote 1/4 of my day to sorting through everything that pops into my feed, consisting not only of new tracks by artists I enjoy, but consisting almost primarily of tracks that were re-posted by artists I enjoy. Every single day.

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Control

This problem would be fixed if we were given even the most basic control over our Stream. For example, the ability to separate Posts from Re-Posts would allow us to hear what we’re looking for. Posts will consist of new things from artists we already know we like, while Re-Posts will consist of recommendations from those artists. This one single filter would transform SoundCloud from a metaphorical person shoving an assortment of items at you yelling “HERE TAKE ALL OF THIS” into a metaphorical person presenting the items neatly saying “Here, take your pick.” No more smattering-of-shit, just a nice selection divided into two parts so you can at least begin to narrow down that 6 hours of content per 24 hours of time to something more realistic that you can actually hope to stay on top of.

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TAGS

This overall problem of lack-of-control could also be fixed if tags were actually somehow managed on SoundCloud. Their current state consists mostly of artists using a main tag that is utterly useless when it comes to using the tag to find things… which is the purpose of a tag. It’s metadata, and if metadata is redundant, metadata becomes increasingly useless. For example, a few current tags immediately on my Stream are #slowknights (the name of the original artist—no shit, I can see the name of the original artist in the track title and in the username), #Gold Shore (the name of the EP the track is from—again, this info can be and should be found elsewhere), #CIRCUS RECORDS (you guessed it, the name of the record label the track is associated with), and the laughable #EP (signifying, obviously, that it’s a track from an upcoming EP).

What I see here are 3 tags that would serve as a less effective view than if you’d just clicked on the artist/label’s name to navigate to their stream, and 1 tag that is only slightly more specific than #MusicYouHearWithYourEars. Rather than use the main tag to indicate the genre of the song, it’s used for further promotion and represents something that is completely and utterly useless to the listener. People will not use the tag feature to discover new music if the tag feature is being used as a laughably pointless “just throw some word in there that makes sense” that doesn’t even make sense. While there are a few items in the stream that actually use tagging to indicate the genre, they’re a serious minority.

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“Explore”

Then we have the “Explore” tab, which directs us by default to Trending Music which is a great place for those people who, when you ask what kind of music, they say “All kinds”, but otherwise you’ll want to quickly click the drop-down box to jump into one of their fairly-broad genre categories. Once you’re in there, you’ll see some of the most popular songs in that realm over the past I-don’t-know-how-long. Some songs are from a few days ago, others are from a few months ago. This feature is useful, but only because the Stream is so broken to begin with that any basic feature must be appreciated (at this point I’m having to remind myself to appreciate that navigating to http://www.soundcloud.com even directs you to a live site). You can jump into a broad category like “Trap”, but there are several sub-genres of Trap that exist that you can’t narrow down to. If the tagging feature worked, they wouldn’t need this Explore feature, so it serves as a very lazy defeat.

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blocking

Then there’s the fact that if you block an artist they can still show up in your Stream if they’re re-posted. If I don’t want to hear another Zomboy track in my lifetime, I shouldn’t have to. Why have a block feature if it does not block. That’s not even worth a question mark. This “feature” is nothing more than a disguise, with the button sitting there so you think oh, good, if I wanted to block this person I could do that, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have to click it you’ll find yourself in the same exact position you were in before that wasted click.

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formatting

Digressing now a bit from the idea that it takes too (way) much time to find what you’re looking for, we now have the problem that arises when you allow uploaders to title tracks whatever they want. These are all verbatim:

Filip Rasch – Valerie (Surreal Recordings)
We don’t need to have all the titles cluttered with who released the track.

Premiere: Duke Dumont ‘Wont Look Back’ (Jak Jones remix)
If we add “Premiere” to every new track, well… that’s redundant.

$aturn – Domu ft. Father Dude [EDM.com Exclusive]
The fact that it’s “EDM.com Exclusive” can be found in the track details. It doesn’t need to be in the title.

FMM: K Stewart – Speechless (Produced By Karma Kid)
FMM here, apparently, stands for “Free Music Monday”. All these different profiles trying to brand the track titles does nothing to benefit the listener—it just fills the Stream with unnecessarily-long titles.

IDEH – The One (Feat. Flowzart)
I’m nitpicking here, but no one can seem to make up their minds between “feat”, “feat.”, “featuring”, “ft.”…

Mavrik – Hot To Trot (Coming Soon To Crank Digital )
If it’s coming soon, that should be in the track details.

Take The Funk From Me [Colonel Abrams FUNKAFIED] – TEMU
Reversing the track title and the artist, and using [ ] instead of ( ) for whatever reason. And personally I hate when artists decide to call their Remix something like this, but that’s besides the point.

Sex Whales – Wild Passion [FREE DOWNLOAD]
If there’s already a button that says “FREE DOWNLOAD”, it doesn’t need to be in the track title.

SLOW RENDER – album teaser ~OUT SEPTEMBER 1~
Album teasers are great, but you don’t need to tell the whole story in the title.

So while all this might not actually directly contribute to how long it takes to sort through all the new music, it does hinder something along the way and it makes the Stream a real headache to look at. But then again, maybe this one is just me—I prefer a highly organized music library and if it looked like this my head would likely explode.

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Played vs Unplayed

The Stream is a simple list of items for you to listen to. As you play through, you move through the list, but once you’ve listened to the track all it does is stay where it was. If you refresh the page to see if there’s anything new that’s been posted since you first loaded the page, you’re back at the beginning. Now if you click play on the top item of the page you’ll hear a new song or two, then you’ll be right back into the songs you’ve already listened to. If there was some simple icon that popped up by the track to indicate that it had already been listened to, you wouldn’t have to mentally keep track, which is especially a problem if you do what a lot of people do by hitting play at the top of the stream and working on something else as everything plays. Or better yet, give us a separate Stream where played tracks just disappear, while remaining in the original Stream for reference or re-listening.

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mixes

I’ve touched on this briefly, but there’s no way to filter out Mixes, Radio shows, Podcasts, etc. So you’ll be listening along, casually taking in the Stream while working on something else, then one of these 59 minute sets come along out of nowhere. Once again, the issue with this is simply that Soundcloud withholds the ability to filter anything—staying true to obsolete-and-inferior-to-begin-with fashion—forcing everyone to ingest whatever happens to be there… unless you jump back into the tab and hit next.

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Promoted tracks & advertisements

It’s a “free” service, we’re all aware of this. And things are not free—they come with strings that are often far more costly in the long-run than paying a few bucks up front. So a few months ago SoundCloud introduced Promoted tracks, which place any number of tracks at the very top of your feed that randomize and disappear and reappear every once in a while upon refreshing the page. I suspect this will eventually lead to Promoted tracks appearing nested within the Stream, which would be far more sinister, but once again there’s nothing we can do but complain, and most users will rationalize and brush it off as a small price to pay for “free.” In any case, these Promoted tracks can be anything—they are in no way catered to your Stream or music interests. Often upon clicking these tracks you’ll either find that A) the comments have been disabled or B) the majority of comments contain a whole slew of expletives and people otherwise asking why this track is in their Stream. I would encourage taking part in B). While it’s not the most noble thing to do, it’s a small, easy protest that might at least discourage people from going the Promoted route, and rather finding a way to become popular and successful the hard way, like a slew of other artists managed to do just fine. And if nothing else, I’d say these Promoted tracks garner a lot of dislike/distrust right off the back because people don’t want to hear what they don’t want to hear.

Then we’ve got the blatant Advertisements. They seem to be easing this one in pretty slowly, as over the course of a few weeks I’ve only encountered 3, and they’ve preceded particularly prominent tracks that didn’t particularly surprise me. This is one of those issues that’s really no big deal right now, but it most certainly will be. These will become increasingly more prominent until the obvious next full step is taken: SoundCloud offers an ad-free version for a monthly fee. This is the only potentially-successful method of taking something that was free (particularly something that was free and owes its success to its supporting users) and making us pay $$$ for it—they take something that worked, break it, then charge us if we want to use the “fixed” version, while making plenty of money already off the broken version.

conclusion

While some might say that SoundCloud is on the rise, I say that it is simultaneously on the fall. Those of us who have been using it since the start are abandoning it, or attempting to, because we can finally recognize the flaws, which are much more than just the sticky copyright infringement issues lately (which are far too involved for me to even bother going into detail, and I imagine you’ve already read about that elsewhere). It is following the cliche formula that once something gets big, it goes to shit. It is abandoning its roots and spitting in the face of everyone who made it successful in the first place.

It is more broken than it has ever been and is not only making no effort to fix itself, but is further breaking itself in some fashion that’s either baffling-ly ignorant or strangely masochistic.

Unfortunately, I don’t see it ever being fixed. I don’t see it coming back from this awful mess of a state and having anywhere near the prominence in the music industry it once had, let alone the prominence it could have had.

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(03/20/2015 EDIT)

Corporate Accounts

I’ve lost count of the number of things that are wrong with SoundCloud, and I anticipate this list will only continue to grow and not a single problem will be fixed.

Fifth Third Bank has a profile.

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Soon we’ll start seeing various links and advertisements, along “Follow us on Twitter!” and “Like us on Facebook!”: “Follow us on SoundCloud!”

Go ahead and give one of these tracks a listen—they’re attempted (and failed) humor and do not belong on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/fifth-third-bank

SoundCloud