SoundCloud’s subscription service is a mess
SoundCloud first tipped its hand for a music streaming service in late 2014, and after wrapping up a series of licensing deals with labels, it’s finally here. The subscription plan, called SoundCloud Go, cost $10 a month, and includes a library of additional content in addition to the usual remixes, emerging artists and podcasts. SoundCloud’s variety of music and its community of creators could make Go an attractive option for listeners willing to pay for a monthly subscription. Right now, though, it’s difficult to use and lacks many songs that other services offer.
To start the 30-day free trial of SoundCloud Go, just fire up the regular SoundCloud app on iOS, Android or in your browser. If you’re an iPhone owner, you’ll want to enter your payment info on the website to avoid paying an extra $3 for Apple’s transaction fee on in-app purchases. Once you’ve handed over all of your details, you’re good to go. Start searching for an artist or song that you want to listen to, just like on any other service. From there, unfortunately, is where SoundCloud Go’s flaws start to surface.
When I searched for the band Thrice, for example, SoundCloud only offered up 37 tracks. Hop over to Spotify and there’s a dozen albums to choose from and various singles. What’s more, of those 37 songs, five are the kind of one-offs SoundCloud is known for while the rest come from two albums and an EP. Since this particular band has 12 albums to their name, this means Go has about a quarter of their catalog. That doesn’t bode well if SoundCloud hopes to lure customers from another service.
Since Thrice is only moderately popular, I tried some bigger names to see if they were available. I only found more disappointment. A search for Lady Gaga turned up a single song snippet that Interscope Records posted to its account some time ago. Names like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Jack White are either completely absent, or the artist page only lists a handful of remixes. You can’t listen to album tracks from any of those well-known artists. SoundCloud says its library includes 125 million songs, but as The Verge notes, around 110 million of those were the kind of remixes and other user-uploaded tracks that were already there. This would leave SoundCloud Go with 15 million tracks, or about half of what Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and others offer.
Let’s talk about how you use SoundCloud Go. The streaming service was added on top of SoundCloud’s existing mobile apps and website, so the interface is the same. The difference is, when you search for an artist or song title, the results now include songs from the paid subscription mixed in with any free tracks. Unless you have some knowledge of the musician, then, there’s not really any way to tell which songs are which. My biggest gripe with SoundCloud Go is how it still relies on a single-track approach to listening. Songs aren’t organized into albums, and if you want to listen to a full-length track without having to manually play each song, you’ll have to make your own playlist track by track.
The single-track format works great for SoundCloud’s library of remixes and unique content, as those songs are usually posted one at a time. It becomes a chore to use when you try to employ Go like any other streaming service. I skip around genres so much during a typical work day that I’d have to spend hours making playlists to cover my go-to favorites. And that’s if I could find them all.
Similar to Spotify and others, SoundCloud does have a stations feature to help you find new music. You can start with any track and the service will create a mix based on your selection. When I started a “track station” based on The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid,” the second song that popped up was Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper.” A good song, no doubt, but it wasn’t listed under the artist as a SoundCloud user had posted the song. The same was true for the third and fourth songs in the collection. It took until the fifth song to get one that was seemingly posted properly, and it was listed under a label, not the artist.
SoundCloud is touting its massive library of remixes and user-submitted content alongside more common streaming options as what makes Go unique. While that could certainly be an attractive lineup of content, it’s difficult to use right now and lacks the selection the competition serves up. Being able to view an artist’s music by album would help, as would the ability to easily make entire albums playlists rather than having to add each song individually. With some work, SoundCloud Go could indeed be a solid streaming option, but for now, it’s a pain to use when you want to listen to more than just one song.