Discussing Change at and on SoundCloud

The new interface and content providers' discontents

An icon has been making itself seen around SoundCloud.com, as various users have replaced their individual account icons with a collective one: a white-on-black appropriation of the SoundCloud logo that has been altered to look a little weathered; it reads “Save SoundCloud Classic.”

That particular term, “classic,” refers to the version of SoundCloud that existed prior to this past week’s interface overhaul. As a protest to the recent changes, many of these accounts have now posted individual recordings of people bemoaning the new SoundCloud interface, while others have reproduced a single track, titled “Revolution Will Be Audiovised.” As of this writing, at least 101 people have. (Update 2012.12.10: I’d initially written that this “Audiovised” track originated at the account soundcloud.com/shores-1, but that appears not to have been the case.) While many of the protest recordings are fairly general in their complaints, the “Audiovised” one provides a line-item list of various concerns, and the author of the text lists them in the body of the track’s page so they can be read as well as heard.

Examples of these protests were made at such SoundCloud accounts as moody-alien, markjbennett, stephenrandall-1, and der-himmel-uber-lyon. One user, Peter Koeller, posted a JPG of proposed revisions at his peterkoeller.de site.

One thing that’s interesting about the current SoundCloud protest situation is that the service, being in the content-infrastructure business, has literally provided the foundation of its own critique. That said, this isn’t an anti-SoundCloud movement, to the extent that it is a movement. It’s people who care about SoundCloud discussing what they wish the service would remain, and what they are concerned it may be leaving behind.

To be clear, I’m writing not because I have a certain sense of the situation, but because I don’t have a full grasp on it. Perhaps this is because, for all my use of SoundCloud, I do so as a highly active listener — a community organizer, as it were — not as a musician, certainly not in any conventional sense of the term “musician.” Perhaps it’s because I signed up for the preview version, so I saw the “next” SoundCloud as it was iterated, and didn’t find myself suddently faced with it, as many people were.

I don’t know. And that I don’t know is why I am asking. As a heavy user of SoundCloud, and because of the Disquiet Junto a heavy participant in SoundCloud, I’d be interested in learning more about people’s concerns about the shift — or, perhaps, just peoples thoughts about people’s concerns about the shift. The “discussion” tab on the Groups pages at SoundCloud is a bit difficult to navigate to right now, in the current state of the service, so if you want to, please consider weighing in in the comment space of this post, down below. (I’ve been thinking about adding a proper discussion section, a forum, to Disquiet.com, and situations like this one help convince me it’s a good idea.) I’m as interested in hearing from folks who are happy, or non-plussed, about the changes at SoundCloud as I am by folks who are not in any way pleased.

And lest it go without saying, discussion here is intended to be done with mutual respect for differences of opinion. Trolling, ad hominem attacks, and rudeness will get the attention they deserve, which is none.

Much appreciated.

28 thoughts on “Discussing Change at and on SoundCloud

  1. The ‘repost’ function is a definite plus, very much emulating twitter, but I’m all behind it. It is fairly intuitive that if I follow someone I’d be interested in hearing the things they feel are worth refering in their own feed.

    The whole of the interface seems as a general rule of thumb more intuitive and easy to navigate, and the way it directs your attention towards content feed more so than who has commented on what, who favorited what, etc. I think is all for the better.

    The only thing, and that’s not minor, is that the group functions (share this track to that group / group actions showing up in the feed, etc.) seems to have been weeded out. The groups were already not one of the most accomodating and user friendly functions on the site, following discussions on them and so on was already somewhat painstaking. But it would seem instead of improving those features the soundcloud team has opted to weed them out, not by deleting altogether but by making their access even less intuitive.

    In that light, especially when it comes to the Disquiet Junto makes soundcloud a much less appealing platform.

  2. I honestly have had only minor issues with the new soundcloud redesign. I have missed out on whichever changes the uproar is about. That being said I think moving the forums to your website would be a good move. In most soundcloud groups I am in the forums are an unused wasteland. There are many good open source forum projects that would implement the feature better than Soundcloud does.

  3. I think the upgrade of the site is generally pretty handsome, but there are some weird UI problems that make things less than easy to find unless you know what you’re looking for. This clearly hides the features for people who are new to the site.

    I haven’t used it enough after the change to really have been annoyed by anything other than the fact that you can’t read comments by hovering over the little icons unless you are playing the track. I like seeing what people have to say, even on tracks I’m not listening to.

    I’m also wondering why you can’t see track’s licenses at a glance, didn’t there used to be a little icon in the window for CC licensed tracks. This was helpful information, now it’s gone.

    So I looked over Theo-G’s list of complaints and they’re all pretty valid ones, some of them are minor annoyances, like the “who to follow”… yeah, it’s annoying, so is most of what’s on the internet, I can ignore it… it would be nice to have an opt out.

    Some are a little more weighty, like the missing download counts. This is a similar complaint to the one about the comments above… each track on soundcloud is not just the music, each track is a packet of information and a hub for interaction. You can learn a fair amount about a piece, its author and its listeners just by looking at it, before you even listen… removing the utility of any of that information is a really bad move.

    The weird formatting of bio text is definitely irking… I’d imagine they’ll be fixing that sooner than later.

    He complains about auto-play, but SC doesn’t auto-play for me… hm. I wonder what that’s about.

    One thing I expected in the new soundcloud and was surprised to not see was a drop-down description so that you don’t have to go to a seperate tab to read the artists’ methodology or whatever.

    Anyway, I’ve been witness to a lot of social media platform drama (especially over at LiveJournal) and so I’m not prone to get all protest-y over something like this… but I sincerely do hope that SoundCloud are savvy enough to take criticism like this as instructive on the way forward for the site, and not trust some sort of committee-approved game-plan to change everything in order to, I don’t know, be the next Facebook? Is that what companies want?

  4. There are a couple of decent improvements to soundcloud. I particularly enjoy the ability to listen to things while I navigate around the site as well as reposting tracks. Improvements I would suggest:

    1. Downsize some of the graphics and icons. Everything seems a little big.
    2. Don’t start playing random suggested tracks automatically in the background. It’s very disconcerting when it plays a track from somebody I don’t follow, especially when I have difficulty figuring out what’s playing at the moment.
    3. Restore functionality of the groups, especially the messaging and comments.
    4. Don’t hide comments and put them into another page. If you want to clean it up, add some sort of threading ability to hide and show responses to a comment.
    5. Fine tune the suggestions section so that it only shows artists that make sense. It could be similiar to twitter’s suggestions, based on who I follow. All I saw were commercial artists that I have no interest in.
    6. On profiles, reword ‘following’ – it says that for both the followers and the people you are following. It should be following and followers.
    7. Additionally, restore the ability to see who somebody is following. I can only see their followers now.
    8. Add some sort of playlist or queue for tracks you want to listen to. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see anything like that.
  5. I have always seen soundcloud as a good service with a terrible user interface (a nice player, with easy, flexible upload and well supported sharing). I don’t really have an opinion yet on whether the new terrible user interface is less bad, but as long as the player and the uploading is still solid, I’ll continue to use it.

  6. I don’t know if I’m right but the huge movement from Myspace to SoundCloud was caused by the improvements of the Myspace. This may sound strange, but as I see it. the improvements caused the death of Myspace. Than people moved to the simpler and clean interface of SoundCloud. Later you could see all artists providing their Myspace URL, now you can see the SC. (Do you remember when Myspace changed heir interface? We had pretty much the same discussion – “Leave the old interface, we don’t like the new one.”)

    And as I see it, the simpler the better. I also loved the simplicity of “old” SC. As C. Reider said above, I could get a lot of information just by looking at the “cloud” before even listening to it.

    So who knows, maybe it is time for somebody to start a new service similar to SC? If the SC does not want to listen to what the users want to say, and they make the same mistakes as the Myspace, this whole situation may change the way how people will present their music.

    And now, when BandCamp is in the beta tests of the new “collection” features, which are pretty much similar to the “Following” we could use on SC, who know what may happen? We will probably see in a couple of weeks…

    I don’t know if I am

  7. Hopefully those who don’t like it are aware you can switch back. You click the “more” button top-right and the option is available. (Though I like the new one a lot, and have been enjoying it on beta, so I won’t switch back.) I presume that’s the kind of thing that will be phased out, but for now…

    I’m disappointed re: groups, but was glad to see Jami Welch from SC post this among the angry comments on the SC blog:

    Groups can still be found through Search and their direct links. We’re working on improved navigation and discovery of them currently. In the meantime you can find the groups you’ve joined at http://soundcloud.com/groups/j

  8. I’ve been using Soundcloud a little over 3 years, almost entirely as an artist rather than a listener.

    While I’m a Premium Pro subscriber right now, it’s only because of the Junto and a 30% off coupon. If the Junto were to move or cease, I’d let the subscription lapse.

    Interface changes that upset longtime users are just a symptom of the problems with Soundcloud. As an artist, I’ve never felt they had a good listener base. I get vastly more listens to my work via my Live365.com station and even what little material I have at Pandora.

    Soundcloud’s business model is largely based on subscriptions by artists and labels. Is Soundcloud profitable? According to a recent interview with the CIO, not likely. They seem more focused with “scale” today than profitability. How is that working out for other companies? Well, Groupon abandoned profitability for scale and now they’re almost broke. Pandora had to scale up past 150 million registered users to achieve any hint of profitability. Soundcloud may have 30-odd million registered users, but I bet only a micro fraction of that number are paying customers (and again, mostly artists and labels). Of course, Pandora has to pay out more than 50% of their revenues in royalties, but at least they have a solid listener base to tap for subscriptions and advertising.

    What happens when finance becomes more important than serving the needs of artists and listeners? Those tens of millions in private equity dumped into Soundcloud over the years has to achieve a return some day. If a buyout occurs, you can almost guarantee that services will become bowdlerized and the system shuttered after users flee and a massive write-down occurs.

    In the meantime, how does infinite scrolling and near-real-time stats get paid for? You can’t pay for that with “scale”. You have to pay for that with revenue. What revenue options are left when you’re operating on “scale”? They are: Listener subscriptions and/or short mandatory advertisements at the start of listening.

    That’s it. I have just predicted the future of Soundcloud. I’m just gonna enjoy it in the “here and now” while it’s around.

  9. One thing as a designer, It lacks of clear indication what currently playing and what is going on, this is the first mess. The red indicator is cosmetically treated and less helps before clicking on it. listening while browsing is useful but it should be carefully implemented even though it’d be a cheesy player beside. and the mess easily happens when leaving it playing( all music players must be focusing current song). and more. Shortcuts, People still don’t tie up with shortcuts (don’t know there are shortcuts on a certain website). one guy tweeted how to stop current song and where? I think this is same type of UI trend as the on-mouse-up icons hidden in white background that’ s not WYSIWIG. Someone on twitter told me ”over-simplified” Yes sometimes occurs.

  10. I’ll admit upfront to a degree of hypocrisy on this issue – I haven’t even tried the New SC, even though I’ve publicly spoken against it. I’ve just moved house, my wife’s retired and now wants to go overseas (I don’t) and I really don’t want any more major changes in my life. I’ve been on SC for about 18 months, posting over 300 tracks, I just purchased a full Pro account and now this… I don’t even want to try it (I will, I will), and I certainly don’t want it forced on to me.

    It’s going to happen whether we like it or not. The proprietors of SoundCloud are making their grab for the big name and the big bucks, apparently aided and abetted by Facebook. What they seem to have forgotten is that what they are streaming and clearly intending to make a profit on is not theirs. It belongs to the musicians, sound artists and contributors who spend interminable hours on the site, in studios and on locations, composing recording and tweaking. Moreover, some of us – many of us – have paid a considerable amount of money for the privilege of contributing. My Pro account cost me several hundred dollars, is non-refundable and gives me absolutely no voting rights or power as far as the dissemination of my own tracks is concerned. All of my work is free to download and remix. My attempts to capitalise on it have earned me the princely sum of ten dollars! Why should SoundCloud be able to make money off my product, when they are charging me to upload it? It’s ther listeners that should be paying fore the service, although this is probably part of a different issue.

    Although I have accounts at bandcamp, Vibedeck and Mixcloud, they don’t have the same social and interactive facilities. Or the same wonderfully eccentric, helpful and brilliant artists that SC has. Not yet, anyway. The first site that offers what the old SC had will be inundated with new members, me among them.

    A good statement: http://soundcloud.com/soundtrack-audio/my-thoughts-on-new-soundcloud

    Also the issue has been soberly written up at Endgadget: http://www.engadget.com/2012/12/07/editorial-soundcloud-optimized-for-listeners-not-artists/

  11. It’s interesting to me to find that the thing I miss the most hasn’t been mentioned much by other people. For me the biggest loss is seeing the favourites of the people I follow in the dashboard.

    I always found it to be a great feature because I follow people whose musical styles appeal to me – so chances are good that the music they like will appeal to me too. This feature is a bit like a curated top picks list, and has helped me discover artists I would never otherwise have found.

    It’s different from the “re-post” feature, because it’s likely going to be a subset of what people marks as favourites, and not the full list.

    I realize I haven’t been using SC the way most other people do. I probably should have been more active searching out new music rather than depending others – but from a listener perspective, I’ve lost a key feature in the new SC.

  12. I’ve been a SC user for at least 4 years, on a daily basis. I’ve also created and curated a group there for more than 2 years and have been very much involved with it. I’ve read all comments posted here so far and I agree with a lot of what has been said, particularly by all n4tural, colab and Tuonela. for me the issue has been lack of respect from the very start. I upgraded to a paid account this year, after the beta version had been announced -didn’t need one before- and I did not get what I paid for. (I specifically wanted to send out private sets as demos to labels and ended up sending links that wouldn’t work and had no way of knowing it. how does that sound for a platform that was based on an audio file sharing service?) when I complained about it, I got a ‘sorry’ but not even a ‘we’re working on it’. during the past months I repeatedly declined to go to the next version, because I had been informed what it was about. last week I got forced into it and had to find my way out, but not before I could see for myself the mess they had made. cutting my bio to a miniature so they could fit the “suggestions of users to follow”/adds, allowing anyone to repost my work without even making sure it would be easily identified as mine and not his by others, making real communications through comments impossible, disregarding practically all of the feedback they had asked users who tested the beta to give – I’m surprised there are people who don’t feel offended by any of that or won’t make the connection to Fb and the likes. the fact is that I have not sold much music through SC and have stopped hoping I will, but I did earn in many ways: I have met some of the most interesting people/artists I ever hoped to, discussed music with them, was inspired by them, collaborated, improved, gained confidence. plus, nothing was preventing me from joining one of the many other streaming platforms available or simply sharing my SC uploads to practically any site, blog, etc, on the web. I don’t see why we, the artists that gave this site life with their presence, interaction and creativity, should be willing to sacrifice fundamental rights for reasons as vague and dishonest as “socializing the site”, “attracting bigger audiences”, etc. if SC had said to us “we can’t make it, we have to make more money or close” I’m sure many if not the most of us would have agreed to some reforms in order to help. what they did instead was treat a community of creative and intelligent individuals like a flock of sheep. I never said the old version was flawless or that the new one has no good ideas at all. the point is that the new version is not about fixing what needed to be fixed; it’s simply about attracting as many circumstantial users as possible in order to sell out at the highest price possible -and at our expense. as for the future, I’m afraid this will drive the most active part of the site users away and kill any sense of community. I’m not planning to delete my account when my paid time is over. I will simply treat this site the way I’d treat any other streaming site out there. I apologize if I tired you or failed to express myself with clarity. thank you.

  13. It seems to me that Soundcloud are trying to change the core membership of their site from artists to listeners. Which is I think both good and bad for musicians posting music on there. Obviously the more listeners using soundcloud the better. I always looked on the old soundcloud as like performing at an open mic night; the majority of your audience are largely made up of other musicians. So yeah I’m all for increasing the type of listeners using sc. Just as long as the community aspect remains intact.

    There are a few things which I find puzzling though. The repost system seems a bit confusing to me; if I go around clicking repost on sounds that I like then my own profile will be full of other peoples music. As an artist that uses Soundcloud as the main portal for my music getting out there then this is disconcerting. I think there needs to be a tab system as before, one for your own sounds and one for reposts. This will encourage more people to use the repost system i think. Either that or have distinct “artist” and “listener” profile pages.

    But if we have re-post, then why do we also have “favourites”? There needs to be some clarity to this issue. I miss seeing the favourites of the people I follow in my stream. I found a great deal to of music this way and it doesn’t seem to be the same with repost.

    I’m not sure that the changes will signify soundcloud “jumping the shark”. But I do think that soundcloud need to come out with a statement addressing the concerns of the community as there does seem to be a great deal of dissatisfied customers out there.

    1. it sounds like a step in the right direction to me, but I’m not so sure the explanation they’re offering is that honest. (they could have used the feedback they had for months before introducing the new version to the public, couldn’t they?)

  14. Well, to be honest I kind of like the new SoundCloud, for the most part. But I have to say, like Marc, I switched to the Beta some months back, and I’ve since become used to it.

    After I noticed the reaction to the new Soundcloud, I decided I’d hold judgement and first switch back to classic for a day or two to see what I thought of it after getting used to the new one.

    I do also miss seeing what other people have favorited, and being able to view the other meta information about each track. But that’s about it. I prefer the new Soundcloud’s larger artwork, the fact that it’s real-time, sets are a big improvement (in fact, I quite dislike how sets work in classic) and in general I find the new interface simpler.

    I also agree with Moon Zero’s comment above about making it useful for listeners, not just artists.

    For me, one thought I’ve had with both versions of SoundCloud is the emphasis on ‘new’ – like every social network, old content gets basically pushed into oblivion in favour of new content. Which is fine for a Tweet, for example, which often expresses something transitory, but music often rewards repeat listens. But because your feed is always being refreshed with new material, chances are you won’t really go back to listen to earlier tracks (UNLESS you download them).

    Maybe this isn’t an issue for others… but I wonder if it affects how people write music?

  15. I wrote a very long post, which apparently got eaten. All the better, since it was probably more appropriate as a post on my own blog…

    There are many things about the new Soundcloud that I like. The back-end is obviously improved. Things are much much faster. I also like the bigger artwork for the songs and generally I think the site looks better. The “classic” design wasn’t any better. Rather, I just got used to it. Some of the design elements I don’t like are the unnecessary and annoying cropping of texts like the bios, and the comments. The comments especially are puzzling. When you mouse over them they pop up, but incompletely. Also, the comments seem only to be timed now. I might be in the minority, but I tried to use timed comments only when it was relevant to the moment of the track, like “nice beat here.” Otherwise I usually used the regular comments. I know that some were confused by two different kinds of comments so I understand the choice. But if SC is going to focus on timed comments, why cut them off? I click on the comment to see the whole thing and it takes me to the commenters page, rather than the comment. Irritating. And then there is the size of the comment icon. That’s just bizarre.

    So my design issues are along those lines. Things that are puzzling and may or may not be fixed. I’m more perplexed by the stuff that isn’t affecting my use directly (yet) but that overshadows all of this design and usability stuff. This is the obvious shift from the creator to the casual listener. Like others have mentioned, I have no problem with more listeners. I suppose if some listener finds their way through the finished tracks and main-stream artists that Soundcloud is promoting now to my tracks, then they were probably looking for something else, and that’s good. But I feel like it’s just not what SC is supposed to be about, and it’s not what I pay for. There are a lot of sites for the casual media consumer (music, photography and so on) and none that I know of that offer to creators what Soundcloud does (Flickr is close). It seems that opening the gates to the listener could be done without affecting the great systems that benefit those of us who want to pay for them, like groups, and spotlights, and comments… Why deprecate one for the other?

    What they’ve done to the “stream” I feel is the most egregious. I would like total control over two things — how my stream is presented, and what I am listening to at any time. If someone listens to my stream, I’d like to leave out the sketches and pieces. The spotlight was great for that. Now they’ve removed the spotlight. Yes, i can still choose three things that are the top of my stream, but that’s reduced from five. As others have pointed out, reposts is maybe a good idea with terrible implementation. We already had favorites. Of course I’m interested in the work that others like, but I don’t want it in their stream, and I don’t want other’s work in mine. This isn’t Twitter, where one reads a stream actively. It’s a passive thing to listen to a stream. Unless you’re commenting, who sits and watches that audio wave? So when I’m listening, i’d like control over what i’m hearing. If I navigate off a page, I have no idea what I’m hearing. And there is no way to control it (I read that there are keyboard commands but can’t figure out what they are or where they’re shown). If I want to listen to a user’s stream, I don’t want to hear someone “reposts.” If I play an album in iTunes, i don’t want to hear what bands that band likes either. If I’m curious, give me a tab or filter to add their favorites to the playlist.

    So generally, puzzling choices and a sketchy direction. It seems like a move more like what Facebook makes, which being a free site, Facebook can do all they want. But Soundcloud makes its revenue from its users, and they don’t seem aware how their subscribers use the site. How long is it until Soundcloud goes the direction of other media sites and claims some kind of copyright or ownership over the work I’ve posted, claiming it’s their “content?”

  16. I know this article is a month old… and I’m not sure if anybody will read it anymore (Let alone the comments) but I gotta say… I purchased a Lite account only a few weeks before these enforced changes. And through lengthy emails between myself and a SC rep; both of us had determined that due to the new interface, some of SC’s primary features like group sharing (a privilege they used to charge for and was why I upgraded in the first place) is now just thrown out the window.

    So thank you very much Soundcloud. The interface looks nice but why does it have to completely ruin the ‘sharing/community’ aspect of the site? Especially at a time when I just started uploading & had started to get things running. Again, many thanks to the people who changed the websites policy (without any indication, warnings, or announcements). Thank. You. Very. Much.

  17. I agree whole-heartedly Jim, I purchased a Pro account and had the same reaction, though I didn’t make contact with SC, due to a gut feeling that it would be fruitless.

    I will let the year run its course, then probably go back to a free account and use SC as a shopfront or showcase. At least the “real” SC is still running, tho that can’t last.

    Mixcloud is one site that has the potential to take up the community function if its owners decide it’s worth the effort.

    Even now people are pressing “Like” rather than commenting. :( Combined with the exodus and disappearance of some very active members, it’s very sad.

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