On-demand streaming is quickly becoming the predominant cultural medium for music consumption. Spotify and Apple Music have more than 40 million paid subscribers between them, and their competition to be top dog is ramping up on both sides. But these two behemoths control a lion’s share of the market, and the cadre of other companies vying for leftover customers has become increasingly desperate to remain relevant. Pandora just fired its CEO, for instance, while TIDAL needed exclusive rights to Kanye’s and Rihanna’s new albums just to break 3 million users. And now SoundCloud, perpetually mired in financial and legal trouble, has unveiled its own new paid subscription platform, SoundCloud Go.
The new tier’s main selling points are an expanded catalogue, offline functionality, and no ads. The new service is available on the SoundCloud app for iOS and android, as well as in-browser, and it costs $9.99 a month with a free 1-month trial. If you’re still debating whether the new service is worth it, we’ve got a hands on review of the SoundCloud Go.
The first thing one notices about SoundCloud Go is that it looks and works exactly the same as the previous version. This is one of the platform’s better aspects, as there is no learning curve to tackle when making the transition. But the aesthetic and operational sameness also prove to be a fitting portent for the lack of improved uniqueness, functionality, or convenience that SoundCloud Go offers.
The first thing SoundCloud advertises about Go is its ‘expanded catalogue,’ and, to their credit, the new tier does offer a lot of songs that didn’t used to be on SoundCloud. A less-than-cursory search revealed that names like Taylor Swift and Adele have, as a result of SoundCloud’s recently inked deals with major labels, had much of their catalogue uploaded to the platform, where they had no presence before. But the relative paucity of their followers, (when last we looked Adele had 1,316 followers, Swift only 839) is illustrative of one of the larger problems SoundCloud Go has. In an effort to get the platform out as soon as possible, SoundCloud launched Go without its full catalogue available for access. Resultantly, they have been uploading content in waves since the platform was launched on Tuesday. While a search for Charlie Parker done at 8pm would yield nothing, a search at 9am the next morning would reveal a handful of songs. A third search at noon might proffer up a full discography. And, while this may be a minor complaint considering the uploading process will be over soon, it’s emblematic of how rushed the launch of SoundCloud Go has been.
Another, and more significant, problem with the expanded catalogue is that a large portion of it come not from new songs being added to SoundCloud, but from tracks that were already there, and used to be accessible for free.
Less-than-ideal offline functionality
The offline functionality is a welcome feature, but it does nothing to improve upon the offline playback Apple and Spotify have been offering this whole time. It is, in fact, impeded by SoundCloud’s single-track-only modus operandi. Whereas with other platforms one can listen albums and EPs as albums and EPs, SoundCloud uploaded everything as a single, unique track. If you want to listen to a whole album offline, you have to add each track individually to a playlist and then make that playlist available offline.
Ad-free but overpriced
Ad-free is always a nice touch, but if, like us, you already have SoundCloud Pro, then you’re already getting an ad-free experience. And if you’re thinking that the $14.99 per month you pay for SoundCloud Pro Unlimited would logically include access to Go’s new features and content, you’d be wrong. Pro Unlimited subscribers still have to pay an extra $4.99 per month to access Go, bringing the total cost to $19.99 a month for music that’s already on Apple and Spotify, or that used to be free on SoundCloud.
Now, the best argument that remains to be made for SoundCloud Go is that, given SoundCloud’s propensity for user-generated content, it’s worth the price to be able to listen to the unlicensed live sets and remixes that can’t be found elsewhere. But a vast majority of this unlicensed content will not go into Go’s exclusive library, and remains accessible for free.
The Bottom Line
SoundCloud has been under enormous strain lately, facing consistent, heavy revenue loss and long legal battles with labels. As music streaming takes over the industry, the pressure to monetize content and bow to corporate interests has backed the company into a shrinking corner. The new Go platform is SoundCloud’s last ditch effort to compete with Spotify and Apple, but it needs serious improvement before it can be a viable alternative.