SoundCloud has become somewhat notorious in popular culture — notoriously bad. The platform has become known for the overwhelming ego and underwhelming music of its infamous SoundCloud rappers, a few of which inevitably attended your high school and are now living in their parents’ basements.
There’s no denying SoundCloud’s sordid past, or its somewhat grimy reputation. The company was sued for copyright infringement in 2015, then almost went bankrupt in 2017 and is now facing off against the massive conglomerate that is Spotify, along with several other (mostly irrelevant) streaming services.
Yet despite SoundCloud’s shortcomings, the platform still has 175 million monthly users — double the active users on Spotify — and serves as the birthplace of some of the most popular artists today, including Post Malone, Kehlani, and an entire slew of actually talented and successful SoundCloud rappers. So, no, despite what the Spotify loyalists would have you believe, SoundCloud is not all bad. In fact, it might just be the best audio streaming service out there.
SoundCloud’s central feature is its complete lack of gatekeepers. Anyone can upload music, whenever they want, from wherever they want. Even Elon Musk can post his cringeworthy tracks on SoundCloud. Of course, this results in a fair amount of low-quality trash, but once you begin using SoundCloud regularly and allow the algorithm to get to know you, the app will dig out the hidden gems and place them right in your hand. And let’s not forget the advantages of this system.
For all my fellow hipsters out there, SoundCloud is the only place to find music that’s completely off the charts. A cute track with less than a hundred listens? Right here. How about a song in Spanish? You got it. What about French? Look no further. The freshest EDM, straight from the producers themselves? SoundCloud has a playlist for that. And rap, pop, R&B, indie — even emo rap.
Unlike other platforms that just post the music of already established artists, SoundCloud doesn’t discriminate. Just as YouTube is breaking down barriers in the film industry with its direct creator-to-consumer format, SoundCloud is making it easier than ever to enter the music industry — if your music is good, that is. Whether you make music on GarageBand or in a fully decked out studio, your post on SoundCloud will look exactly the same, just that classic sound-tracking wave form and a cover image.
Just as SoundCloud empowers the artists that post their music, the platform also grants its consumers ultimate control over who becomes successful, and who doesn’t quite make it in the music industry. The artist posts a track, and consumers can choose to repost it, spreading it to the streams of all their followers. Compared to the small record label enclaves that decided which artists would be catapulted to stardom in the days of physical music distribution, this process is a lot more democratic — communal, almost. If you like a person’s music taste, you follow them. Simple as that.
Perhaps this is why SoundCloud gives off a distinctly friendly vibe. Whenever someone follows me, they are tacitly approving of my music taste, and that feels nice. Of course, there’s always the blatant self-promotion that you find on all other social media sites: follow for a follow, like for a like, and all that jazz, but it never feels invasive, or even all that noticeable.
SoundCloud often fails to notify me when I’ve gained a new follower, and by the time I notice, the attention-seeking user has usually unfollowed me anyway. Of course, SoundCloud still encourages the growth of communities in its own way, but the website and app are both set up so that the focal point is always about the music.
And SoundCloud has a lot of music. In 2019, the platform officially hit 200 million tracks, an impressive growth from 125 million in 2016. When you see that number, it may feel like a daunting task to try to find even one track that fits your music taste on such a vast platform, but SoundCloud has your back, as always. The most elementary way of finding music on SoundCloud is to go straight to the source — if you find an artist you like, follow them. It’s likely that your artist will also repost tracks that they enjoy, and you’ll be able to see these, along with the tracks of all the people you follow, on your stream.
If you have a voracious musical appetite or want to find other new artists, you can visit the home page, where SoundCloud recommends music based on the kind of music that you already listen to. The algorithm will usually aggregate 10 or so playlists based on the tracks you listen to most frequently, as well as the more general SoundCloud Weekly and Upload playlists, which take into account all of your favorite tracks. The Upload playlist is one of my personal favorites because it shows you the newest tracks in a style that you might like.
Though SoundCloud typically does a good job of recommending music, it does take some time to comb through the mounds of recommended tracks in order to find those perfect songs. There is also somewhat of a learning curve when you first begin using the platform, but the more you listen, the more SoundCloud’s algorithm will be able to understand your music taste. And, you can always be sure of one thing: SoundCloud will never run out of new music for you.
Ultimately, SoundCloud’s greatest strength lies in its versatility. You can participate in any community that you so choose, or choose not to participate at all. You can find new music by following the artists you like and those with similar music taste to yours, or you can rummage through SoundCloud’s personalized playlists. You can listen to any music that you want without judgment. And it’s all completely free.