SoundCloud has been reinventing itself over the last few years. You could say it’s going back to its roots: although it’s still a music streaming service, its focus has returned to tools for musicians, more than going head to head with Spotify and other big streaming services.
As chief content and marketing officer, Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood is one of the senior executives piloting that change. She opened this year’s NY:LON Connect conference with a digital service keynote, in which she was interviewed by Music Business Association president Portia Sabin.
“I’ve known now for quite some time that having the direct connection to fans is what is most important for an artist’s career, particularly when they’re first starting out,” said Wirtzer-Seawood.
“Finding that core group of fans is what’s going to be the most important for the longevity of the artist’s career.”
Her own career has taken in Def Jam, social games firm Zynga, Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, Instagram and UnitedMasters, before moving to SoundCloud in June 2021.
Wirtzer-Seawood said she’s been particularly struck by the strength of the music communities that have grown on SoundCloud. Digicore being one example of a genre that is also a tightly-knit community, which as time has gone on has seen offshoots of its own.
“It’s about watching artists and fans connect. What I find to be so fascinating is the way in which artists are fans,” she said.
“A lot of times these micro-communities come together because the fans that are consuming some of these new sub-genres of music are artists themselves, and they attach themselves to these communities so that they can collaborate and connect with other artists.”
Later, Wirtzer-Seawood elaborated on what she has learned from watching artists and fans interact on SoundCloud and on other digital services.
“The way in which artists connect from the beginning of their careers will always fundamentally dictate how they’re able to grow over time,” she said.
“Today, where you have countless social platforms to connect on, the ones that I’ve seen really well is artists who have consistency and who always remain authentic. To me, that is just the most important thing for an artist to think about. How do you retain authenticity, particularly in a world where everybody’s trying to get a viral hit on TikTok?”
Wirtzer-Seawood also talked about the importance of “cadence and consistency” to the way artists engage with fans, while stressing that “this doesn’t mean you have to make a new song every week: no, not at all!”
“Even if it’s just engaging in replying to fans on socials, or commenting on someone else’s SoundCloud upload, or just creating that connection so that you’re always top of mind,” she added. “And of course, good music matters!”
Wirtzer-Seawood also offered a few hints about what SoundCloud’s next moves might be. For example, when she talked about the role analytics play in modern artists’ careers.
“Data and analytics are so important. What’s become a little bit hard for artists is the fact that every platform now provides you with some sort of data. It tells you, generally speaking, where your audience is located, what age range there is, what other artists they listen to,” she said.
“That’s really helpful. The question then becomes what next? What do I do with this information? How do I action it… what does this all mean? As an industry, we are going to see – and SoundCloud is investing in – more educational opportunities to help inform artists as to what to do with this information that actually moves the needle.”
One of SoundCloud’s big moves in 2021 was the launch of its ‘Fan-Powered Royalties’ [FPR] system, which adopted a ‘user-centric’ approach (explanation here) to royalties for artists who upload and make money directly on SoundCloud.
Wirtzer-Seawood suggested that the traditional ‘pro-rata’ system “mostly benefits the majors and not independent artists”, and pitched FPR as a “more equitable and transparent” approach to paying royalties.
“The focus here is that payouts are driven directly by an artist’s fanbase. If an artist works really hard doing all the things we talked about [earlier in the session], if you have really engaged people, you should be able to benefit off of that,” she said.
“We’ve really seen the model work since we launched. Those artists monetising on SoundCloud have earned about 60% more through FPR than they did on the traditional pro-rata model.”
“We’re excited about moving forward to what’s next around this model… not just offering more and more artists access to FPR, but so we can build on top of it.”
Around 125,000 artists are currently part of SoundCloud’s ‘monetisation’ system for paying musicians, added Wirtzer-Seawood, although the company is keen to continue growing that number, and to expand FPR further.
“As we continue to roll out and work with more partners who have different kinds of artists, we will start to see how FPR fundamentally changes the nature of artists’ ability to make real streaming revenue,” she said. “Which right now most don’t, as we all know.”
Wirtzer-Seawood’s keynote was part of the ‘Streaming – Making The Business Work Internationally’ track at NY:LON Connect, which was co-sponsored by Chartmetric and Feed Media Group.