It caused quite a stir on Friday when we published for the first time anywhere in English the words of Eric Wahlforss, SoundCloud’s co-founder, announcing that the service would no longer be taking DJ mixes down – a huge U-turn against previous company policy. Our exact translation from the original German interview for Groove Magazine was picked up far and wide.
We immediately advised caution in our original piece, though – unlike most of the outlets who took their story from ours. We did so because we could see some obvious unanswered questions, and because it is never wise to treat a single source of news – even if it is from the founder of the company – as irrefutable fact. And over the weekend, based on the scant facts from that original interview, the industry has debated fiercely what it all means. Of course, as a DJ or DJ/producer, what you want to know is where it leaves you. That’s what we’ll deal with today.
What has brought about this change?
The big question is: How can Eric Wahlforss justify this change? What has changed at SoundCloud to make this possible? Let’s look at that first.
It all stems from SoundCloud’s service SoundCloud Go, which was launched earlier this year in the USA, and is rolling out to other territories too. Think of it like SoundCloud’s take on Spotify or Apple Music. Kind of “all the world’s music in one place” – but in SoundCloud’s case, that means not only major label stuff, but also stuff from unreleased producers, and everything in-between (including DJ mixes, unofficial mashups etc).
The basic underlying business idea is this: If you can get as many of the world’s record labels as possible to sign up to your service for streaming, like they sign up to Spotify etc, then who cares if the tracks thus licensed are used in DJ mixes, or unofficial mashups and the like? The “raw parts” of those DJ mixes, remixes and so on are already legal on the service, so it’s all good. And SoundCloud’s systems ought to pick up the tracks within those mixes, so you get paid when the mixes are streamed, just as you would if the individual track were streamed, out of the subscription fees charged to users of Soundcloud Go (or the adverts played against streams by users who don’t subscribe). Everyone wins – don’t they?
Not quite. If you don’t happen to be a label that signs up to Soundcloud Go for legal streaming of your product on the service, you are still losing out if people use your tracks in their DJ mixes (or sample them for their own productions that they then post on the service).
So the next question is: What will happen if small labels that don’t sign up to SoundCloud Go put in copyright claims against their music being used in DJ mixes? It certainly appears as if Eric Wahlforss is saying that the offending mixes won’t be taken down. So what will happen instead? Will those labels just be encouraged to sign up (of course, that comes at a cost)?
From the point of view of a certain segment of producers and labels, especially independents who would really benefit from collecting fees but who don’t join SoundCloud Go, this doesn’t appear to be good news.
Of course, in one sense, none of this may matter to to DJs looking for somewhere to stream their mixes. But perhaps it should. After all, many of us are also producers. A healthy music industry means better music for us to play. And while many are just happy to see shares, likes and exposure for our stuff anywhere, that’s not a long-term business strategy that is bought into by everyone. And what of download links on DJ mixes, and derivative tracks? No word on whether they’ll be unavailable (ethically, they surely must be turned off: It’s just free, non-DRM protected music otherwise).
The bottom line for DJs and producers
DJ mixes show off your skills. Mashups and sample-driven productions are a welcome part of the music world, having driven DJing and DJ culture for decades. Both deserve a platform. It appears that SoundCloud is now saying “we are that platform”. As SoundCloud has unrivalled reach and is the most likely to get you shares, likes, listens and so on, many DJs will be delighted at this news. For every DJ who has had their account revoked, their mixes flagged, or their tracks removed, there is another DJ who has used the service for similar purposes for years without issues. And by the way, we’ve checked with our community: Few people appear to have had anything taken off of SoundCloud for the last few months. So it appears Eric is saying it how it is right now – at least in practice.
But there are still unanswered questions – practical and ethical. Producers still need to be paid. Labels still need to make money. The balance between small, independent concerns and the big labels needs to be fair. And what of the elephant in the room, that download button? You don’t get that on Apple Music and Spotify, for good reason. It can’t, surely, continue on SoundCloud for anything containing copyrighted material – can it?
We say: Buy the music you DJ with. Then, use it to make mashups, your own remixes, DJ mixes whatever. You are allowed to be creative. When you want to show off that work, host it in places like Mixcloud (it’s always been legal for DJ mixes), SoundCloud (still to all intents and purposes the only place for mashups, remixes etc), YouTube, or anywhere else that’ll leave it up and let you show off your talents, and help you both promote that music and your own skills.
But just remember that it can never be right to look for loopholes to have a “download” button on that music, or tick the option if it’s indeed that simple. That crosses a line.
And finally, be sure you don’t rely on any individual service: Treat them all as ephemeral. Because whatever they tell you, it is a shifting landscape out there – and there are a considerable number of shades of grey.
What do you make of all of this? Are you a label, producer or DJ with a particular viewpoint on it? Have you had your stuff removed from the service recently, or have you suddenly found it all stays up there? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.