There’s an interesting interview with SoundCloud co-founder Eric Wahlforss in the Financial Times this week, which focuses mainly on the necessity (or otherwise) of major label licensing deals for the company.
“SoundCloud is not dependent on a full catalogue as much as other players in this space are,” he says. “We have a lot of creators on the platform and only a tiny fraction of those are signed to major labels. We have a much broader content base. It’s really the depth of the content that differentiates the platform.”
It’s all good, clean negotiations-in-public fun, just as it was earlier this year when label sources were hinting in the media earlier this year about their patience running out for SoundCloud to ink deals.
But a couple of other things in the new FT piece caught my attention. First: “Alex Ljung, chief executive, regularly speaks to Jimmy Iovine, the music industry figure who co-founded Beats, the headphones and music streaming company that was recently bought by Apple for $3bn.”
Second: “One source close to the company said up to 10 companies had approached SoundCloud about a potential sale in the past 12 months.”
Without wishing to put two and two together to make five, is it time to start wondering whether Apple might be tempted to buy SoundCloud? Because the more I think about it, the better a fit such an acquisition seems than – to quote the most prominent rumour – Twitter buying SoundCloud.
It’s clear that Apple is preparing its full move into the streaming music market for 2015, using Beats Music as the base, but (if recent leaks are true) likely rebranding it under the company’s existing iTunes brand. Let’s call that new service iTunes Beats, for want of a better moniker.
What price Apple buying SoundCloud – even if its $700m valuation from January has increased, it would still be relatively small beans for Apple and its current cash pile – and rolling it into the new service too?
So iTunes Beats would be the listener-facing element of the platform, with playlists and discovery features and an app preloaded on every single iOS device. But then SoundCloud would be the artist-facing element, providing musicians with a way to get their tracks onto iTunes Beats, plus the social aspects that Apple has traditionally struggled with.
Apple also has the clout and coffers, should it so desire, to help SoundCloud solve one of its thorniest problems: the difficulties of establishing a fair licensing structure for mixes and mashups, which are such a key part of SoundCloud’s current service.
SoundCloud could even live on as a separate app: the weird, wonderful, cutting-edge source of new songs to iTunes Beats’ more mainstream offering – but with artists and tracks breaking through on the former able to then be promoted by the latter.
From my standpoint, it seems like an exciting prospect. But I’m prepared to be told I’m talking rubbish. Why shouldn’t (or wouldn’t) Apple buy SoundCloud? Is Twitter really its likeliest suitor? Or Could Apple + Beats + SoundCloud be a big win for artists and the music industry alike?
The comments section is open for your thoughts.