In an era where streaming services have unprecedented power to steer an artist to success, SoundCloud is planting its flag deeper as a "creator forward" platform. Today, it announces an expansion of its SoundCloud Premier program, a direct monetization platform aimed at making it easier for fans to support artists and empower its musician users.
"The diversity of SoundCloud is one of the great strengths of the platform. We see content from all genres, across gender, across geography. A big part of our mission is to be as inclusive and as open as possible, so likewise for SoundCloud Premier," said SoundCloud CEO Kerry Trainor. "In fact, we think one of the most exciting things about this expansion step is that we now have the opportunity to open it up even further and allow the artists to really select which tools to utilize."
After initially testing SoundCloud Premier with a select pool of artists, the service will now be more broadly available. To start, artists will need to have at least 5,000 plays in the past month, and the program will be limited to countries where both advertising and SoundCloud's subscription branch, SoundCloud Pro, are available. The intention, per Trainor, is to scale the Premier service so it will be available to the site's full musical community, so long as artists can prove that they own the full rights to the work they're monetizing, and to take advantage of the massive user base it has built up since launching in 2008.
"Where other platforms maybe have single digit million creators, again, we have content from over 20 million creators," said Trainor. "Where some streaming platforms might be inviting hundreds of artists to monetize directly on the platform, we're inviting hundreds of thousands of artists to monetize directly on the platform."
The service's artist-forward ethos also extends to the financial side of Premium, where they've said that SoundCloud will "meet or beat the revenue share that any creator can earn from their music on any other platform." They also promise direct, monthly payments, hopefully avoiding the issue of late payouts that has dogged services like Tidal. SoundCloud has had its share of financial troubles in recent years, but the money for Premier will come from a mix of advertising that is part of the free user experience and the cost of a subscription account.
SoundCloud is well known as an early home and outlet for artists like Chance the Rapper, Kali Uchis, and $UICIDEBOY$ who went on to achieve major success, and part of the Premier expansion will come with an eye towards curating and championing rising acts. It plans to continue the "Fresh Pressed" and "First on SoundCloud" playlists, while also launching programs like a recent one where it helped artists on the platform shoot their first music videos. SoundCloud also partnered with Noisey earlier this year for an initiative where artists selected from the Premier program would see increased exposure in the form of editorial coverage, playlist placement, and listening events.
"The foundational work that we do is to give creators the very best tools to share with the world however they want. And then when it comes for listeners discovering creators, the listening experience on SoundCloud is defined by that connection back to the creator," Trainor explained. "So for the listener, it's all about discovering creators, connecting with creators, giving them feedback such as likes, reposts, shares. And then also, now, supporting the creator."
The initial phase of Premium will solely be for original music, but Trainor said that SoundCloud is interested in exploring how to incorporate other forms of audio content like podcasts, remixes, and DJ sets into the Premier program.
The program expansion comes at a particularly crucial time for SoundCloud, as Spotify announced last month that it is rolling out a program where independent artists could upload music directly to their service, ostensibly cribbing a major part of what has set SoundCloud apart from its streaming competitors. Still, Trainor is confident that SoundCloud's open audio emphasis will continue to separate it from the pack.
"Even as we deliver one of the largest streaming services in the world, it's just built a very different way," he said. "SoundCloud is built from the creators outward, and the tools we offer creators are what allows for the unique experience that we offer listeners."