Although Apple Music may bill itself as a one stop shop for all things music related, combining streaming, radio and social networking into one, SoundCloud remains a more universally accessible and, more importantly, free option for both fans and musicians.
With much elation and a few bugs (which are, I’ve heard, fixed) Apple Music is now available—here’s why music fans and creators are better off with SoundCloud.
Apple Music is here—combining a streaming service, music library, radio station and social network—and it looks like Apple’s new baby could potentially provide pretty much all the musical entertainment and connectivity you need. However, SoundCloud is just too free, universal and social to be topped as a medium for music lovers to discover new music and for music creators to find fans.
Apple Music will be a roaring success, of course, and everyone’s favorite company will make their buck—but if you want to find listeners who are looking for just what you’re producing, the perfect artist for you, or a track that is just right but no one has ever heard, SoundCloud is and will remain for a long time the prime means by which to do so.
So, let’s count the ways in which SoundCloud excels beyond the hundred-billion dollar corporation’s offering.
Getting Music Out There
From the perspective of a music creator, control and freedom are everything. Apple Music runs off the iTunes library, according to Cnet, so if you want to get your music on Apple Music, you need to get it on iTunes.
If you want to work directly with Apple, you’ll need to fill in the iTunes application and either meet their stringent criteria or work with an aggregator. Once you’re done applying, you’re not even guaranteed to be accepted. If you are accepted, each release will take one to three days to go live, according to Apple.
Admittedly, this is faster than most other online stores. With SoundCloud, however, you upload your music and it goes live instantly—it will go up as fast as your internet connection.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that SoundCloud can replace iTunes or Bandcamp, these sites are stores. But, if the one thing you want to do is get your music up there where people can hear it, SoundCloud is the tool for you: no application, no waiting, freedom. This does mean that there’s a fair amount of dross up there, but the popularity of SoundCloud proves that the freedom is worth it.
From the listener’s perspective, the equation is the same—on SoundCloud you have access to every bedroom DJ, guitar nerd, chiptuner and their cats—people who may not even want to be on Apple Music, but might break through one day. SoundCloud makes it so easy to upload music that you will never be stuck for a new sound that pushes the envelope.
The one aspect wherein there is almost a close match between the services is automatic recommendations. Apple Music’s ‘For You’ tab, incorporating ideas from Beats Music, is an excellent one stop shop for finding music that you like. Having told the system what you enjoy, Apple Music will generate recommendations for you: the process is easy and can be repeated.
On SoundCloud, as usual, the equivalent is integrated into the music system. Play a new track (actually go to the track’s page rather than listening to it within a list) and SoundCloud will autoplay recommendations after the track has finished. This makes the process of finding new music seamless and often accidental, which is useful for artists in that a user who might normally ignore your profile could have a track auto-played to them and find themselves enjoying it.
It would still be handy for SoundCloud to create a smart recommendation system that we can use on its own. I’ll explain how SoundCloud’s social side makes up for this, later.
Imagine an app or program that you don’t have to install, can use anywhere with an internet connection and on pretty much any modern device—that’s right, I’m talking about a website. This is another of the chief advantages of SoundCloud: its universal, and you can be finding new music on your work computer during lunch or on your geeky friend’s Linux computer, just as long as it has a web browser. And, aside for a three-month trial, Apple Music does not have a free option as opposed to SoundCloud and some of its other competitors.
As a musician you have to realize that many people can’t or won’t use iTunes, Apple Music or Apple products—but anyone with an internet connection can connect with you on SoundCloud. You never know, that Linux-Nerd who built their own PC might be your next super-fan.
Apple has really innovated in producing the ‘Connect’ function. This part of Apple Music allows you to visit a music-orientated social network wherein stars can create their own profiles and posts on which listeners can comment.
Excellent idea, right? Well, SoundCloud doesn’t feature a social network, it is a social network—the music itself is socialized, with creators and fans able to comment on any point in the song, visualized as a wave-form.
Rather than, as with Apple Music, fans being able to comment on posts by their favorite artists, with SoundCloud, they can express their feelings on pretty much any aspect of a musician’s creation, on that creation itself. This is an invaluable source of feedback to any artist who’s keen to improve their sound.
This is what makes SoundCloud really special: fans, rather than having to switch to the ‘Connect’ tab in order to interact with an artist, have the ability to comment the moment they hear a song: the listening and social aspects of the medium are a unity. It is as though Apple Music embodies a separate phone and computer, while SoundCloud is fully-fledged smartphone.
Meanwhile, SoundCloud’s social space is also an organic recommendation engine: the people that users follow will share music that their followers might like, allowing users to create a network that channels good music to them. This works for music producers because they don’t have to bother posting on Apple Music ‘Connect’, all they have to do is use SoundCloud’s features, which is fun anyway because you get to listen to music.
Nearly unrestricted ability to upload and share music, accessible from almost anywhere, with tracks where you can actually comment on the sound: that might make SoundCloud seem like the Wild West. Well, it kinda is: Apple Music is a shiny, air-conditioned shopping mall and SoundCloud is the Wild West, there are cowboys, but you don’t have to worry about getting shot; there’s riff-raff, but you might strike gold.
Apple Music may have a snappy user interface and cool features, but I prefer the freedom that SoundCloud offers, to upload and access music wherever and whenever; I accept the risks and limitations that come with this. Moreover, because SoundCloud is a social network, artists and fans can create the connections that will bring together music and listener, rather than having a company create them for you.