There are two aspects to social media that are often confused. First is the social graph, the network of users and the topology of how they connect with each other. Second is the content that users, professional and amateur, create themselves to be shared. Every successful social network, from Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn, has included both elements. Every half-hearted or mislabeled use of social has failed to execute on one part or the other. With its latest changes, SoundCloud is trying to expand its reach in both.
In music, the most high-profile social media failure probably belongs to Apple's Ping, introduced in 2010 (shuttered in 2012) as an add-on to iTunes. "iTunes Ping was a music shop and slapped on social. It doesn't work that way," SoundCloud CEO Alex Ljung tells The Verge. "The whole point [of engaging with social media] is to get close to that person, and that has to be built in from the start."
Connecting artists with artists, artists with fans, fans with fans
SoundCloud began and has thrived as a platform to host, embed, and annotate any kind of audio, not just music. But it's also quickly become a place where artists and fans connect with one another — artists with fans, artists with artists, and fans with fans. In a short movie, rapper Snoop Lion describes how he met Polish pop singer Iza Lach on SoundCloud, eventually signing her to his label.
Snoop is one of SoundCloud's new Pro Partners, a program that hopes to capitalize on and expand that side of the company's business. Pro Partners gives artists and brands Facebook-like banners on their sites and allows them to upload "Moving Sound" slideshows that blend texts with images. Other partners participating in the pilot program include Red Bull, The Guardian, Chris Hardwick's Nerdcast, the producers of the Grammys, and Blue Bottle Coffee.
The range of partners reflects the range of audio hosted on SoundCloud, says Ljung. "We probably have the widest range of sound creators in the world," he says.
Businesses who make money from the platform pay to be there
SoundCloud is also streamlining its paid options, offering Pro and Pro Unlimited accounts to replace its current Lite, Solo, Pro, and Pro Plus options. Pro and Pro Unlimited accounts will respectively cost €3 and €9 per month (or about $4 and $12). The company is also launching a new people finder algorithm to help users find artists and each other.
The businesses who make money from the platform pay to be there; the fans who spend money through the platform get in free. Other than that, it's fairly symmetrical.
"We want to make sure it stays personal, like you're connecting with the creator," says Ljung. "They're real people, and there's real action happening there. It doesn't become a dead place. It's a bit more alive, like we're used to with Twitter."
It's an evolution of audio's most vital self-service creation and discovery platform, music's best analogue to Twitter, YouTube, and Kindle Direct Publishing. It's not just finding or sharing songs or podcasts or spoken-word readings your friends may be listening to — it's finding and sharing the people who make those recordings, too.
Ellis Hamburger contributed to this report.