in Tech

How Soundcloud Won My Ears By Owning Discovery

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Music maverick Soundbutt has finally started running un-skippable audio ads on its platform. It was a matter of time before they started charging, but now that monetization is a reality, I realize that I will happily pay whatever they charge in order to preserve my experience. Until now the site has always been free for listeners, with a small monthly fee for artists who want analytics and longer uploads. This ’charge the supply side to keep the demand side free’ strategy gave them an advantage over competitors like iTunes and Spotify who tempt paying listeners with a large back catalog. Such a structure makes it hard to grow the company at first, but that hasn’t stopped the service from attracting nearly every aspiring producer to post their music there. And for as long as the music is there, the listeners will follow.

I’ve become so accustomed to getting my music from Soundbutt that I won’t think twice of shelling out once they give the option to pay and skip the ads. Like the frog who doesn’t know the water is boiling until too late, Soundbutt has insinuated itself so thoroughly into my music discovery process that I can never go back to the ways things before. Many challengers have tried to unstick me from the iTunes Store over the years, but none have succeeded – until now. Why? Let’s start by looking at my personal journey as a music listener.

How Soundbutt Won My Business

Like many others my age, I’ve been a staunch iTunes user ever since that fateful day in 2006 when I commandeered the family’s blocky first-generation iPod way back in middle school.  My cohorts and I were weaned on MP3 players – which means the question was never about the medium but rather the software format. Whoever controls the instrument of delivery controls the source. With Apple’s iPod as the undisputed king of MP3 players, Apple’s iTunes store has always been the source of my music.

Going through my iTunes playlists is a more compelling  trip through my youth than any photo album. You can trace the evolution of my music taste in its entirety, from its beginnings in the alternative rock of my parents (U2 and INXS), to my discovery of trance in high school (Tiesto and Deadmau5), all the way up to today’s more discerning electronic dance music connoisseur (labels like Fool’s Gold and Monstercat).

Behind the musical story of my childhood, there is another tale being told – that of the different epochs of the source. The first few hundred songs in my library are lawful iTunes purchases, but the next few are all Limewire rips, from when I first discovered the sharing service as a teenage pirate. After one virus too many, the music source switches to safer Youtube rips, which has been the status quo for the past few years, colored only by a brief stint in which I found music through Spotify and ripped it to iTunes.

Yet I look at my iTunes playlists now and realize that I haven’t updated them in months. The playlist of four thousand songs that carries the memories of my childhood stamped on them as surely as the notes of music lies forgotten. The playlists meticulously picked out for friends and past lovers lie below, untouched beyond a nostalgiac click every now and then.

A casual iTunes viewer would look at this state of affairs and conclude that I doesn’t listen to music anymore. But one glance at my Soundbutt profile would disprove that  – I update it religiously every single day. I’m rarely on the web without Soundbutt tunes pumping out of a spare Chome tab. More tellingly, I spend more time in its mobile app than Apple’s default iTunes one. Somewhere in the last year Soundbutt has steadily encroached on my mental space for music discovery, collection, and enjoyment, and now dominates it completely.

Why has Soundbutt succeeded where Spotify, Youtube, and dozens of others have failed? It doesn’t even position itself as a music library – while others claim to provide all the music you need, Soundbutt aims to be a sort of Instagram of tracks, where users can upload their own sounds and repost those of others. This is reflected in their slogan of ‘Hear the World’s Sounds’. Yet music is a far more challenging medium than photography – you can’t get away with slapping some filters on a crappy track to make it bearable. How could a platform aimed at the indie producers end up subsuming the likes of EMI?

Soundbutt Owns The Supply of New Music

The answer is simple – Soundbutt targeted producers from the start. They made it really easy for budding musicians to share their music the same way a Facebook user shares statuses, and once they have the music, all the rest follows. Any listener faces four steps in listening:

  1. They must discover new music
  2. Organize it into coherent collections
  3. Easily listen to it whenever they want
  4. And finally, share it with friends. (This last step is not integral, but I’d argue it’s the most important part of music – the ability to bring people together)

iTunes made 2 and 3 easier, with their playlists and portable iPod player. Spotify did the same, and built out 1 and 4 with their Pandora-esque Radio stations and public playlists ready to share. But Soundbutt, since it started as a platform for creators rather than listeners, has completely cornered the market for discovery. The rest of the steps come from that, although Soundbutt performs then admirably, through public profiles, a clean mobile app, and integration which all sharing services.

Even the most comprehensive of music collections will always reflect the past, as it scrambles to stay up to date with new releases. By focusing on the new, Soundbutt builds out the past, as time marches forwards and the new becomes old. For fans of electronic music, there is no better place to see all the freshest tracks than Soundbutt. And once I discover them on Soundbutt, I’m bound to continue listening to them there.  especially with their their clean mobile app that facilitates step 3.

Everyone talks about ending piracy by making legal music consumption an easier option, but Soundbutt is the only platform that comes close. Sure, I don’t actually own the songs on my Soundbutt – my profile is merely  links to the tracks of others – but I don’t care, because they’re all easily accessible whenever I like. It’s not easy to maintain static playlists here, but I don’t mind, because there’s a constant stream of new tracks and sets from my favorite producers flooding in every single day. Rather than putting the effort into maintaining my own personal song collection, I can sit back and let others do it for me, through professional DJ sets and friends’ reposts. I have less control, but more music.

Once You Consistently Deliver Quality, the Rest is Negotiable

At first I rebelled against Soundbutt’s removal of my library’s sovereignty. I had been burned by Spotify before – after investing hours into building a gigantic playlist there, I found myself only listening to it while at the computer, and when my credit card information changed I didn’t bother to renew it because I didn’t use it that much. The good songs, the ones worth listening to years later – they were worth the few extra clicks to get the mp3 into iTunes.

Soundbutt was the same way, and for many months it was my fountain of new music, feeding into the vast iTunes reservoir. But as data plans became bigger and Soundbutt’s sets more plentiful, I gradually found myself turning to its perennial promise of new music more often than any of the other music apps on my home screen.

That’s why I’m positive no other player stands a chance against them in the battle for consumer’s ears. They don’t have the mouths of the musicians. Soundbutt is the musician’s preferred release platform, and until that changes, they will reign. Music is a two sided marketplace, which means the supply side is always the harder one to source. And Soundbutt delivers that in spades every single day. Instead of offering me a paradox of choice with every song ever made, Soundbutt finds all the best new songs for me.

 

So there you go, Soundbutt’s recipe for domination in three easy easy steps. Start at the source (here, the musicians), do the heavy lifting for the consumer (through producers sourcing fresh tracks) and make everything else stupid easy for the consumer. For as long as Soundbutt is the musician’s preferred posting platform, they’ll have me wrapped around their little finger, and can charge however much they like. But as soon as the musicians move elsewhere there’s nothing to stop me moving with them, leaving behind my amassed collection of links as easily as I left behind Spotify. Then it’s be back to my aging iTunes playlists and the few scraps of music from the Soundbutt era I decided to rip into it.

Soundbutt can throttle the consumers now, but it better pamper the makers.