SoundCloud, I love you, but you’re terrible

I finally started using SoundCloud for a new jazz/electro project called Fynix. I casually used it in the past under my own name, in order to share WIP tracks, or just odd stuff that didn’t fit on bandcamp. But I never used it seriously until recently. Now I am using it every day, and trying to connect with other artists. I am remixing one track a week, listening to everything on The Upload, and liking/commenting as much as I can.

SoundCloud is the best social network for musicians right now. But it still has a terrible identity crisis. Most of the services seem to be aimed at listeners, or aimed at nobody in particular.

So in this post, I’m going to vent about SoundCloud. It’s a good platform, but with a few changes it could be great.

1. I am an artist. Stop treating me like a listener.

Is it really that difficult for you to recognize that I am a musician, and not a listener? I’ve uploaded 15 tracks. It seems like a pretty simple conditional check to me. So why is my home feed cluttered up with reposts? Why can’t I easily find the new tracks by my friends?

This is the core underlying problem with SoundCloud. It has two distinct types of users, and yet it treats all users the same.

2. Your “Who to Follow” recommendations suck. They REALLY suck.

I’ve basically stopped checking “Who to Follow” even though I want to connect with as many musicians as possible. The recommendations seem arbitrary and just plain stupid.

The main problem is that, as a musician, I want to follow other musicians. I want to follow people who will interact with me, and who will promote my work as much as I promote theirs. Yet, the “Who to Follow” list is full of seemingly random people.

Is this person from the same city as me? No. Do they follow lots of people / will they follow back? No. Are they working in a genre similar to mine? No. Do they like and comment on lots of tracks? No.

So why the heck would I want to follow them?

3. Where are my friends latest tracks?

This last one is just infuriating. When I log in, I want to see the latest tracks posted by my friends. So I go to my homescreen, and it is pure luck if I can find something posted by someone I actually talk to on SoundCloud. It’s all reposts. Even if I unfollow all the huge repost accounts, I am stuck looking at reposts by my friends, rather than their new tracks.

Okay, so let’s click the dropdown and go to the list of users I am “following”. Are they sorted by recent activity? No. They are sorted by the order in which I followed them. To find out if they have new tracks, I must click on them individually and check their profiles. Because that is really practical.

Okay, so maybe there’s a playlist of my friends tracks on the Discover page? Nope. It’s all a random collection of garbage.

As far as I can tell, there is no way for me to listen to my friends’ recent tracks. This discourages real interactions.

Ultimately, the problem is data, and intelligence. SoundCloud has none.

You could blame design for these problems. The website shows a lack of direction, as if committees are leading the product in lots of different directions. SoundCloud seems to want to focus on listeners, to compete in the same space as Spotify.

But even if that’s the case, it should be trivial to see that I don’t use the website like a regular listener. I use it like a musician. I want to connect and interact with other musicians.

And this is such a trivial data/analytics problem that I can only think that they aren’t led by data at all. Maybe this is just what I see because I lead our data team, but it seems apparent to me that data is either not used, or used poorly in all these features.

For instance, shouldn’t the “Who to Follow” list be based on who I have followed in the past? I’ve followed lots of people who make jazz/electro music, yet no jazz/electro artists are in my “Who to Follow” list. I follow people who like and comment on my tracks, yet I am told to follow people who follow 12 people and have never posted a comment.

The most disappointing thing is that none of this is hard.

4. Oh yeah, and your browser detection sucks.

When I am browsing your site on my tablet, I do not want to use the app. I do not want your very limited mobile site. I just want the regular site (and yes, I know I can get it with a few extra clicks, but it should be the default).

DIY Music Branding

Branding, marketing, advertising … they’re necessary evils. Whenever I start a new project I take time to think out the image I want to project. I wish that music could just be music. I wish it could just be sound heard and not seen. But that’s naive. We live in a post-MTV world where music listeners connect their music with a lifestyle, an image, and a brand.

When I started a new beat-driven music project, I was thinking of making trancey electronica under the name of Fynix. So I created a sleek, futuristic logo based on similar designs on groups such as Odesza, and Armin van Buuren.

I’m pretty proud of it.

But after making more music, I have drifted away from trance into a more soul-influenced, keyboard-based style. So the old branding makes no sense.

So how can I connect my image with soul music and soul-inspired electronica? I started by looking at similar acts. I like this art from Faking It by Calvin Harris.

Faking It by Calvin Harris

I also like the branding for Charles Bradley. The image for Spotify Sessions is particularly nice.

Charles Bradley Spotify Sessions

I also want to connect with older soul artists like Sam Cooke and James Brown. Even though my music may not share many qualities with theirs, I want my imagery to put me in the same bucket.

Sam Cooke Wonderful World

After looking at a bunch of images of Sam Cooke, James Brown, Charles Bradley, and some electronica acts, I came up with a few guidelines.

  • Warm colors. James Brown and Sam Cooke use a lot of oranges, browns and reds on their album covers. Using the same color palette will help.
  • Cosmopolitan. Charles Bradley and other funk artists use a lot of images of the city. Maybe this is an artifact of the association with Detroit. Whatever the cause, I’d like to project a cosmopolitan image.
  • Natural Fabrics. Leather jackets are big in the Charles Bradley and James Brown branding. I don’t want a picture of myself in my branding, but if I could connect with something physical that would be good.
  • Sans Serif Fonts. Flat-colored text using basic fonts.

The funk and soul branding also prominently features portraits. Mostly artists looking at or near the camera, with strong lighting. Often the artist is wearing a suit, or a leather jacket. I might do something like this in the future, but I would need a photographer.

For now, I executed my branding guidelines pretty directly. I am from Pittsburgh, so I found a warm-colored picture of Pittsburgh on Wikimedia Commons. Then I wrote “FYNIX” in the middle using a Sans Serif font. Then I applied the newsprint effect to associate my brand with newspapers, which have a real-world physicality that unifies the ideas of the city and natural fabrics.

Here’s the result.

Fynix Branding

I like this because it is legible even when scaled very small, and it looks like the Calvin Harris branding, while subtly calling to mind soul acts of the past.