This post was written for and originally published at DigitalMusicNews. Read it here. Anyone that’s serious about marketing music has noticed that Soundcloud has changed. Just over a year ago they introduced their brand new user interface to the public, still largely in beta mode. It introduced a few new features whilst adapting or removing older ones. At first everybody panicked and complained; it looked too cartoony, not all old functionality was there and there were a lot of infancy bugs. Over time though, they’ve done a great job refining the platform to its current state – and most fans have grown accustomed to it.
They are upping their game; shifting course from being originally intended as a means for musicians to collaborate, to a mass-scale music platform. A mandatory change if we believe the numbers… October 2013 reports claim over 45 million registered users and over 250 million monthly listeners. They are the most shared music platform on Twitter and valued at over 700 million, with recent rumors even talking about a takeover by Twitter (recent sources already state this deal hasn’t gone through). It’s often said that they took the online space that Myspace had once occupied, and with that comes the realization that they need to continuously adapt, or face the cliff.
On May 12th they announced the official shut down of the old Soundcloud, removing the option to switch back to the older style if you so preferred. That makes the new Soundcloud, or Next Soundcloud as they call it, here to stay. And we as users, artists, industry professionals and fans, better learn how to use it properly.
Over the past few months I’ve received many emails of people asking how to cope with the new changes. The focus of the promotion within the platform has shifted, and many of the older tricks aren’t useable anymore. As many were using those with a lot of success, understandably they are upset… and want a solution.
In this article we’ll discuss the most important changes, how that has changed the game and what you can do to adapt to it. How to turn it around and make it work in your favor. Adapt, leverage, grow.
So long, private sharing trick
The issue I’ve heard most about is the removal of the ‘private sharing trick’; a great method for sending out privately uploaded tunes directly to your followers and people you followed. You could include a 140 character message, and recipients would receive a notification and often also an email. The latter was enabled on default in new accounts. One could then switch the upload to ‘public’ while retaining all the traffic. With the cap on people followed being 2000 and the email notification, it was an incredibly effective way to give new uploads an initial boost.
Besides that, they have improved the algorithms that detect spamming in comments and messages. Accounts are now automatically flagged if they place too many similar comments within the same time frame, with the punishment being a mute-period. The more you get flagged, the longer the mute period – until you get banned.
In return, the inter-user messaging system has been improved, including a new method for private content sharing, allowing you to include content that has been uploaded on your profile to private messages to other users. This also works for privately uploaded content.
Changes in content curation
Another less obvious but crucial change is made in the way content is curated to user’s streams, the personalized music discovery tab. Before, it would display content uploaded and liked by those you followed. Now, with the introduction of reposts, it shows solely their uploads and reposts (reposting allows users to post other people’s uploads to their own profile, attracting traffic from their own fans, but directing it back to the original source – the profile of the uploader).
Soundcloud did this because with the older system, streams had become terribly chaotic and crowded, to the extent that people rarely used it to discover new music. As it included content both uploaded and liked by those you’re a fan of, people that followed many active users quickly received too much content to be able to digest. Their streams got flooded and as a result they looked elsewhere for music discovery… blogs, Hype Machine and promotional channels.
I’ve covered music blogs, Hype Machine, and how they can help you build your career extensively in my newest article.
With the new changes, the stream has become a much more filtered source; showing less but higher quality content. As a result they hope to make it a better resource for music discovery, which to me, is a very welcome change.
How do we adapt?
When looking at the bigger picture, you should realize that Soundcloud has forced a shift in user’s focus for promotion within the platform.
Marketing to other users has become less rewarding, with the removal of the private sharing trick and increased anti-spamming rules, whereas marketing to tastemakers and content curators has become much more interesting, with the introduction of reposting and the new content curation system. Instead of focusing on promoting to other users, you are now much better off getting through to the right DJs, labels and music promoters, whom are easier to reach and can publish your content to their audiences.
In terms of practical strategies, the above can be translated into a few strategies which allow you to work with the current set of Soundcloud features;
To cope with the loss of the private sharing trick, which could drive a surge of traffic to new uploads, there’s the alternative of direct email marketing. Hopefully, you were already doing this simultaneously to using the private sharing trick, but if not, this is absolutely the right time to do it. I’m actually convinced that email marketing, and building a solid email list, is the strongest form of online marketing… think about it – when posting to your fans on Facebook and Twitter, only a selection of them sees the post, and it’s also competing with the posts of others, whereas with email you pop up straight into someone’s inbox. And everyone reads their mail everywhere nowadays.
You can easily collect email addresses by offering your fans free downloads in exchange for their email address, using tools such as ‘content lockers’ or ‘pay what you want’ download systems. You often see these for likes, where people can access downloadable content by clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook page. An easy to use email gate system is offered by Bandcamp, and I explain how to set it up in this article. Also collect via adding a ‘sign up’ tab on your Facebook page and website.
Good newsletter services, where you can store your email lists and send out campaigns from are Mailchimp and Aweber. Using these, you can build an audience and send them your latest releases directly. The key here is to develop a relationship and to prime them for your content. That way you’re going to see much better interaction rates. Send them content regularly, but not too often, and whenever you have a big release coming up, give them a heads up before dropping it on their laps. Good design goes a long way too, and this is where Mailchimp is the definitive king.
Reach the tastemakers
With the introduction of the reposting and new private messaging features, Soundcloud has empowered tastemakers; whether labels, DJs, music promoters and blogs. That can be to your advantage, if you know how to get through to them.
Reposts allow them to curate content on their own profiles, providing exposure to other accounts, and encourage interaction between associated accounts. You now see many labels reposting releases of their artists, whom in turn repost uploads of the label, and then lastly there’s blogs who then repost a lot of that content as well. It’s an interesting dynamic – one you can use to your benefit.
Firstly, you need to cultivate this interaction within your crew. Get your label, associated artists, remixers and any blogs you’re close with to repost your stuff, and then repost their uploads in return. Everyone benefits.
Secondly, this is all the more reason to develop strong relationships with blogs and music promoters. There are many with Soundcloud accounts with huge followers, each focused on a different subset of music. Think about house.NET, dubstep.NET or Mr. Suicide Sheep. You should build a list of blogs that are applicable to your sound, trace the founders, cultivate relationships and start updating them on your music. Support that by sending out newsletter mailers to larger selections of blogs, using services as discussed before. Find an extensive guide on how to reach these bloggers here. When you get blogs or promoters interested, ask them to repost or upload your content. In the latter case, repost it yourself.
Then there’s the new messaging system, which allows you to include audio to direct messages to direct messages to other accounts. This also works for private uploads. In my experience, this is a very solid way to get through to DJs, labels and tastemakers – as many have large Soundcloud accounts which they maintain themselves. Also the barrier to checking messages is low and with the audio being embedded, I find that response rates are surprisingly good. Use this as a way to get DJ promo, to get your demo through to labels or to get support of those blogs.
When sending these messages, make sure your profile looks slick, your message is acute and that the content you’re sending over is of top notch quality. Don’t over-do it on the sending out too many messages within a short time span though, as Soundcloud will impose that mute on you. 10 every hour or so has worked for us.
Using these strategies you should be able to compensate for the loss of the features that we all so loved. For more strategies on how to dominate on Soundcloud, check out my book – The Soundcloud Bible.