To SoundCloud, Love Dave

Dear SoundCloud,

When Taylor Swift wrote her open letter to Apple about why her music wouldn’t appear on Apple’s brand new streaming service, her core frustration was over the lack of payment to artists during the 90-day free trial period. Not for her sake, she claimed, but because of how the trial period could impact small, independent artists whose entire sales cycle could be swallowed up in 90 days.

Today you launched SoundCloud Go, a streaming music service that brings your full catalog of independent music together with major label artists to create something new: a seemingly level playing field with focus on the creators and their music (or podcasts). Something accessible to anyone.

Except it isn’t a level playing field, and that’s a big problem. I’m no Taylor Swift, but hey, you’re no Apple. Have a seat, let’s talk.

Your Go service is $9.99 for unlimited songs. Users can download songs for offline listening. Anyone can access the same collection of songs for free but with advertisements included. So far so good. But then I get to the “Creators” section of your announcement to see what this means for my band, and I see nothing at all about our cut of the take.

We can see from your On SoundCloud page (which reads a bit like a multi-level marketing scam, by the way) that there’s a “Premier” level at which some artists get paid. The major labels are listed, but what about independent artists?

"Even if you don’t work with a label or a distributor, you can still make money from your music or audio. As long as you own the master recording rights to your tracks, you can monetize them by becoming a Premier Partner directly with SoundCloud.

Premier Partners that are independent artists include Blackbear, Kali Uchis, Toni Romiti, Stick Figure, Omar Linx, and many others.

Please note that we currently have a backlog of artists who’ve expressed interest in becoming a Premier Partner, but opening up monetization opportunities to more artists and creators is something we’re extremely focused on accomplishing. You can register your interest in becoming a Premier Partner here and we’ll contact you as soon as we’re able to invite you.

Alternatively, you’re welcome to participate through any of the growing list of aggregators that are Premier Partners, many of whom are accepting new artists. Aggregators that are currently Premier Partners include: Fullscreen, Maker Studios, Studio71, Repost Network, Omnia Media, AEI Media, with more to come.

Please follow the SoundCloud Blog, our social channels, or check back here for updates as we continue to roll out monetization to everyone.

So there’s only one conclusion left: SoundCloud doesn’t intend to pay Airplane Mode a single penny for our music regardless of how many people listen to us unless we:

  1. Get invited into your exclusive club which you’ve already stated has a super-long waiting list.
  2. Wait for you to “roll out monetization to everyone.”
  3. Work through an aggregator (who may still reject us) and lose the benefits of posting directly to SoundCloud.

This is dramatically worse than missing 90 days of revenue for a free trial because you're offering listeners a way to pay to hear our songs that actively and intentionally competes with services that do pay us.

You can slice it, package it, or spin it however you like, but the bare fact is that you’re making money off of songs you aren’t paying for. Worse, you’re doing it while perpetuating an air of exclusivity around the concept of making money. All while you’re pretending to be a friend to the little guy. There’s nothing artist-friendly about this approach.

But wait! There’s more!

Airplane Mode has a SoundCloud Pro account to get access to unlimited uploads and a few other features that make the service useful. This account costs us $15 per month. So not only are you getting our music for free and paying us nothing, we’re actually paying you to take it. What an excellent deal. For you.

This isn’t new, really. You’ve been running ads for a while now without paying us. I guess I wrote it off as a temporary measure to keep the lights on. I could accept that. But now you’re charging people for access to our songs, rolling out the red carpet for the major labels, and saying you’ll get around to us eventually. You can make lists of why this service is good for us, but “exposure” is a myth, and I have little to no faith in your magical recommendation algorithms as our ticket to superstardom.

We’re a small indie rock band from New York City. We’re very new on the scene. While our play counts on SoundCloud wouldn’t generate enough revenue for us to be especially meaningful right now, that’s exactly why it matters that you’re not paying us. SoundCloud’s success thus far has been built on the backs of small artists looking for an audience. It’s fine to want bigger things, but not at the expense of your fans. You’ve sold out, man.

Meanwhile, there are services like BandCamp falling over themselves to help us make money. Apple Music, Spotify, and even Tidal manage to pay us for our songs despite not allowing us to upload to them directly.

As musicians and as music fans, we want options. As a perennial supporter of underdogs, I want to see SoundCloud do well. But not by perpetuating the notion that independent art has no value.

This is simple: you’re charging money for our music. Pay us. Not with “exposure” or vague algorithms but actual money. Apple ended up doing the right thing. It’s not too late for you.


Airplane Mode loves you.