Musicians have always been able to upload their tracks directly to SoundCloud without needing a distributor or label. Now the company is adding a new feature: distribution of those tracks to rival music-streaming services.

This is part of the SoundCloud Premier program, which has so far focused mainly on getting artists paid for usage of their music on SoundCloud itself. Now the company is offering to distribute that music on to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Tencent and Instagram, among other services.

SoundCloud has teamed up with distributor FUGA for the new feature, which is in open beta from today. “FUGA’s technology powers a portion of SoundCloud’s distribution setup,” explained a spokesperson, when Music Ally asked if any external partners were involved.

Caveats? It has to be original music (i.e. not covers or remixes) where the artist “owns or controls all applicable rights”. The artist also needs to be a SoundCloud Pro or Pro Unlimited subscriber; be of adult age in their country; have no copyright strikes at the time of signing up; and have at least 1,000 plays of their music in the last month in countries where SoundCloud has subscriptions and ads up and running.

(That’s the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands and New Zealand, at the time of writing.)

Artists won’t have to pay a flat fee to use the distribution feature – it’s part of their Pro or Pro Unlimited subscription –with SoundCloud saying they will retain 100% of their rights AND keep 100% of the royalties from their tracks distributed to those other streaming services.

This all aims to capitalise on the fact that a number of artists (the now-ubiquitous ‘SoundCloud rappers’ category included) have started their careers by uploading music to SoundCloud.

Adding distribution will keep them close to SoundCloud, and also give it a potentially-valuable insight into how their popularity is growing on other streaming services over time. What Spotify, Apple and co will think of a rival acting as a pipeline into their platforms remains to be seen.

SoundCloud has been testing the new feature with artists including Leaf, mobilegirl, Jevon and Thutmose. In quotes provided by SoundCloud alongside its announcement, their emphasis was on the ease of the process.

“It makes distribution an easy one-step process,” said Leaf. “No additional registration fee, and all at the simple reach of a button,” said mobilegirl. “The upload process is straightforward and simple,” added Jevon. You get the picture.

SoundCloud’s news today follows Spotify’s announcement in September 2018 that it was testing a tool for artists to upload their music directly to its platform, and get paid royalties by that streaming service every month.

The following month, Spotify announced that it was making a “passive minority investment” in distributor DistroKid, and setting up a partnership through which artists uploading directly to Spotify would be able to distribute those tracks on to other streaming services via DistroKid.

(Spotify stressed then that it would have no rights to see data from those other streaming services under this arrangement, which shows the potential sensitivities around these companies getting involved in distribution to their rivals. When Music Ally asked about SoundCloud’s access to data, the company replied: “Creators will be able to download a monthly royalty report spreadsheet from each digital music store directly from their SoundCloud account.”)

Both SoundCloud and Spotify’s moves present a challenge to other third-party distributors, if not (yet) an existential one – because just getting tracks onto streaming services is the most basic of features for a distributor nowadays.

Support with marketing; sync licensing; claiming YouTube revenues; playlist pitching and a number of other tasks are increasingly how distributors are judged, when independent artists and labels are deciding who to go with.

Even so, artists with a certain level of momentum can start building teams around them – their own staff and/or independent agencies – to handle these activities. Plenty of artists will thus be willing to give SoundCloud and Spotify’s take on direct-uploads plus wider-distribution a try, to see how it works.

This is also part of a wider disruption for the traditional distribution system, which also includes major labels growing their in-house indie-distribution businesses, and the entry into the market of new players from AI-mastering service Landr to $70m-funded startup UnitedMasters – which was talking this week about its success with exactly the kind of young rap-artist that SoundCloud sees as its core community.

SoundCloud’s CEO Kerry Trainor is certainly optimistic about his company’s new ripple in the distribution pond. “Creators can now spend less time and money jumping between different tools, and more time making music, connecting with fans and growing their careers first on SoundCloud,” he said today.

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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