There are so many methods for independent musicians to grow their audience these days, it can be overwhelming to keep track of them all. Sure, not every independent artist needs to take advantage of each opportunity that comes their way, but outreach expansion is a surefire way to attract new fans. SoundCloud is one of many online platforms you can use to build a community around your music, and it’s also a respected music streaming service.
Today, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about SoundCloud as both a creator and a listener.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on May 10, 2021, to include information about SoundCloud Go and the ad-supported listening streaming qualities.
What is SoundCloud?
SoundCloud is a music streaming service and a platform where independent and established artists can spread their music—be it for free or as pay-to-listen content. When you create an account, you don’t need to choose between setting yourself up as an artist or as a fan, since both are combined into one account. Regardless of if you pay for premium features, the platform lets you customize your music library and your own music releases.
SoundCloud also features a host of tools for artist development like audio mastering, which is discounted for people with paid creator subscriptions. You also get access to a distribution service called Repost by SoundCloud ($30/year or free with Pro Unlimited), and monetization tools. The SoundCloud Playbook is an online information hub with embedded intro videos that give detailed and digestible instructions on how to use different aspects of the platform. In a similar vein, the SoundCloud Help Center is a troubleshooting hub full of frequently asked questions.
Paid subscriptions at a glance
There are two paid subscription options for creators:
- Pro Unlimited: $144/year, and includes all Repost by SoundCloud tools alongside unlimited uploads of any audio quality.
- Repost by SoundCloud: $30/year, and lets you distribute unlimited music to the most popular streaming and social services.
There are two paid subscription options for listeners:
- SoundCloud Go: $4.99/month for ad-free listening, and you can save unlimited tracks for offline playback.
- SoundCloud Go+: $9.99/month for ad-free on and offline playback with complete access to the platform’s catalog. You can enjoy high-quality audio and access DJ tools.
How do you use SoundCloud for creators?
Independent artists will appreciate SoundCloud for its intuitive user interface, the multiple ways you can connect with fans, and the varying degrees of customization.
To release a track, EP, or LP, simply upload your audio files and album artwork, and input track details. SoundCloud recommends that you upload lossless stereo files like WAV, FLAC, AIFF, or ALAC, among others, but it transcodes these into AAC 256kbps files that are only accessible to listeners who pay for a SoundCloud Go+ subscription. SoundCloud doesn’t state the streaming quality for its other tiers, but a SoundCloud representative shared that its SoundCloud go and ad-supported experience offers 128kbps MP3 streaming quality.
If you choose not to upload album artwork, your track’s artwork in the media player will default to your profile picture. You should meticulously input the metadata, so if you decide to monetize your music, everything can run smoothly and you can keep track of your royalties.
You can choose to make your release public or available by link only, enable or disable direct downloads, as well as track embeds. With SoundCloud Pro, you can disable comments and can even replace a track while retaining its plays, comments, and reposts information.
Related: How to write a song
When you upload a track, you can select which snippet of the song you want to use for your “artist shortcut”—a song preview that will display on your followers’ mobile app homepages when you release the track. It’s best to select a section of the song that is exciting and representative of the track as a whole.
Will you retain all the rights to your uploads?
In compliance with United States copyright law, SoundCloud will not confiscate any of your rights to your music. In fact, SoundCloud has a policy in place that if you report someone for copyright infringement, the company will investigate and remove the upload. If the infringer cannot resolve the dispute with you, the rights holder, SoundCloud will issue the infringer one strike. After the person receives three strikes, they’re banned from the platform.
Can you upload a podcast to SoundCloud?
Yes, you can upload audiobooks and podcasts, and categorize them accordingly so it’s easier for listeners to discover. Monetization options are only available for music uploads, but this is a great way to build a fanbase for your budding podcast.
How do you monetize your music?
We all have bills to pay and food to buy, and music monetization will advance your career and keep you fed. The service offers two avenues of music monetization: Soundcloud Premier and Repost by SoundCloud. These two programs are quite different from one another, but they both get your hard-earned money safely into your wallet. In addition to these monetization options, you can purchase advertisements on SoundCloud.
What is SoundCloud Premier?
SoundCloud Premier is an invitation-only monetization program for independent musicians. To qualify for it, you must be a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited subscriber and own 100% of the rights to your music. You also need 500 eligible streams in the past month, must be at least 18 years old (or the age of majority in your country), and cannot have any copyright infringement strikes against you. Only under these circumstances will you receive an invitation to join Premier.
Once you’re enrolled in SoundCloud Premier, all you need to do to monetize a track is input its international standard recording code (ISRC) and select the countries from where you want to monetize streams. This qualifies the track to collect royalties from streams in the available countries, adhering to a dollar-following principle. The revenue from the individuals who stream your music specifically goes to you, and not into a pool with other artists’ streams. SoundCloud Premier delivers payouts roughly at the end of every month through PayPal, and it pays in US dollars only. If you live in a country other than the US, you can just instruct PayPal to accept US dollars.
The more that fans stream your music, the more you get paid.
The more that fans stream your music, the more you get paid.
As soon as you publish a monetized track, it will immediately be available to stream. You can enable monetized tracks for free download, but downloaded plays don’t generate revenue with Premier. Streams that occurred before you signed the SoundCloud Premier agreement don’t count towards monetization either, but you can go in and enable old uploads to start monetizing as soon as you join the program. You retain all the rights to your monetized tracks, so you can distribute and monetize them with other platforms through a separate distribution service too.
Besides monetizing your music, SoundCloud Premier verifies your work as original to help you avoid copyright issues. It also allows you to pitch your tracks to SoundCloud playlists, and access Promote on SoundCloud (more on this in a bit). You can stop monetization through Premier by disabling specific tracks for monetization. If you want to leave the program, you have to contact SoundCloud.
What is Repost by SoundCloud?
Repost by SoundCloud is a subscription-based distribution service similar to CD Baby or Distrokid. It’s available to anyone for $30/year. When you register a song to Repost, you can distribute it to platforms like Instagram, Spotify, Apple Music, and TikTok. Repost will then collect revenue from streams on these partner platforms. You can easily split royalties with your collaborators by percentage, and in total you retain 80% of the revenue generated from the partner platforms. Repost by SoundCloud is bundled into a Pro Unlimited subscription.
Like SoundCloud Premier, Repost generates revenue from your SoundCloud streams, but only Repost distributes your music to other platforms. A contract with Repost means you’re beholden to Repost as your sole distribution service for 12 months. This differs from a contract with Premier, which lets you use a different distribution service to monetize streams from other platforms.
The primary difference between Repost by SoundCloud and SoundCloud Premier is that only Repost distributes your music to other platforms.
There’s a higher tier of Repost by SoundCloud called Repost Select, which is available by application and invitation. If you’re a member of Repost Select, you can work with a dedicated artist representative to help you develop your career. Repost Select members have access to tailored promotional tools and support. These members also have more opportunities to get placed on streaming platforms and radio playlists. Members also are in the pool of artists SoundCloud considers for their artist accelerator fund, which can help fund a whole recording project from start to finish.
Adding a fundraising link to your SoundCloud page
If the past year hindered your music career and financial situation, you can add a fan support button to your profile page, which fans can use to donate money to you (PayPal or GoFundMe). Regardless of if you have opted into Repost by SoundCloud or were invited to join SoundCloud Premier, a fundraising link on your profile provides an easy and direct way for fans to support you.
How can you promote your music on SoundCloud?
SoundCloud is as great a music discovery service as it is a music exposure service. Even if you are using the free version of SoundCloud for creators, you can access promotional tools and get your song on your Instagram stories. You can also share a song privately via link to certain labels, radio stations, or blogs prior to release. Similarly, you can send embed codes to blogs that will report statistics, so you can track which ones funnel fans back to you. Although only paying members can pitch songs to SoundCloud’s editorial playlists, some algorithmically personalized playlists (SoundCloud Weekly) will feature trending and popular tracks regardless of who uploaded them.
If you have a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited membership and have the potential to be invited to SoundCloud Premier, or if you use Repost or Repost Select, you may access Promote on SoundCloud. Promote contains a suite of tools that let you pitch tracks to SoundCloud playlists and create promotions. With promotions, you can target specific demographics for a specific duration. You can also pitch your songs to partner playlists, like those on Spotify and Apple Music. You can create pre-save links to generate commotion around your upcoming release, and once the release drops, the link will convert into a Smart Link for you to track.
What is SoundCloud Pro?
SoundCloud offers three different subscription plans for artists: SoundCloud Basic, SoundCloud Pro, and Repost by SoundCloud.
SoundCloud Basic is the only free version of the service, and you can upload up to 3 hours of music and access basic listener insights. SoundCloud Pro Unlimited costs $12/month if you pay annually, and $16/month when billed monthly. With Pro Unlimited, you can upload endless hours of music and access exclusive features like SoundCloud Premier. You can also schedule track releases ahead of time, and enable Quiet Mode on a track, which will make the statistics and comments visible only to you. SoundCloud Pro Unlimited also includes all the features of SoundCloud Basic and Repost by SoundCloud. Here’s a detailed table of the differences between the three different subscriptions:
|SoundCloud Basic||SoundCloud Pro Unlimited||Repost by SoundCloud|
|Price||Free||$12/month billed yearly|
$16/month billed monthly
|Upload time||3 hours total, each track 4GB max||Unlimited hours total, each track 4GB and 6 hours and 45 minutes max||N/A|
|Track replacement||✗||Can replace a track while leaving stats and comments unchanged||N/A|
|Schedule releases in advance||✗||✓||N/A|
|Instantly release tracks on website or mobile app||✓||✓||✗|
|Access to Dolby powered audio mastering||$4.99/track||3 free tracks per month, $3.99/each additional track||✗|
|Create and customize your SoundCloud profile and URL||✓||✓||✗|
|Disable commenting and manage public stats||✗||✓||N/A|
|Direct messaging with fans||✓||✓||✗|
|Notifications when fans interact||✓||✓||✗|
|Promote tracks on SoundCloud discovery pages||✗||Yes, by invitation for SoundCloud Premier, through Promote on SoundCloud||✓|
|Customizable player for website embeds||✓||✓||✗|
|Enable track downloads||100 downloads per track||Unlimited downloads||N/A|
|Listener statistics||Basic Insights||Advanced Insights||✗|
|Monetize plays on SoundCloud||✗||✓||✗|
|Monetize plays on other streaming platforms||✗||✓||✓|
|Distribute releases to other streaming services||✗||✓||✓|
|Split payment with collaborators||✗||✓||✓|
|Select monetizable countries||✗||✓||✓|
|Accept fan donations||✓||✓||✗|
|SoundCloud playlist pitching||✗||✓||✗|
|Other streaming services playlist pitching||✗||✓||✓|
|Promotion by SoundCloud's artist relations team||✓||✓||✓|
|Discounted pricing for audio production from partner companies||✗||✓||✗|
|Access to Gobbler-SoundCloud suite of audio plugins||✗||✓||✗|
|Access to Creator Guide, SoundCloud 101, and other resources from industry professionals||✓||✓||✓|
|1-day responses from SoundCloud Team||✗||✓||✓|
How can artists and fans communicate?
SoundCloud bridges the gap between artists and fans, and this connectedness goes all the way down to how the accounts are set up.
Once you open a SoundCloud account, you get automatic access to both the free version of SoundCloud for creators and for listeners. This is important: artists can build connections with each other by commenting on tracks, reposting them, and directly messaging fellow artists. Your profile will display all of this information, save for private messages. You can also create public playlists that your followers can check out.
When listening to a track, you can comment on specific timestamps of a song, which is a feature I’ve never seen on any other streaming platform. If you really like one line an artist sings, or you really like the bass drop of an EDM song, you can let them know right where it happens. In addition, you can send direct messages to your followers. Let’s say, for example, you’re reading through your statistic report and one follower has consistently been listening to your music the most. You might want to send them a message to thank them, or even send them a link to free concert tickets.
How do you use SoundCloud for fans?
If you’re not a musician and you were hoping this review would be about using SoundCloud as a music-listening platform, this is the section for you.
Even if you never intend to upload a track, you can still accumulate followers on SoundCloud if people like the things you repost and the playlists you make. It’s also a wonderful platform for directly supporting the musicians you like since you can donate money and directly repost their releases.
Your SoundCloud home page will feature recommended releases based on your listening history, different genres, new releases, top tracks, and editorial playlists. You’ll get recommendations of people to follow including artists who first made it big on SoundCloud. Your stream page displays new releases from artists you follow and anything reposted by people you follow. On your library page, you can view your recently played tracks, the songs you’ve liked, any albums, playlists, or stations you’ve saved, and a list of the artists you follow.
What is SoundCloud Go?
The unpaid version of SoundCloud for listeners is ad-supported, and sometimes ads will play in the middle of a track. This is pretty obnoxious, but you can register for two ad-free subscriptions: SoundCloud Go and SoundCloud Go+. Both subscriptions will rid your experience of ads, and enable offline listening. Here’s a chart explaining the details of the differences:
|Free, ad-supported version||SoundCloud Go||SoundCloud Go+|
|Ads||Yes||No ads||No ads|
|Save unlimited tracks for offline listening||No, cannot save any tracks for offline listening||Yes||Yes|
|Access full catalog of Premium Go+ tracks||No, only 30-second previews||No, only 30-second previews||Yes|
|High quality audio||No||No||Yes|
|Price||Free||$4.99/mo after 7-day trial||$9.99/mo after 30-day trial|
|Student plan||No||No||50% off|
If you get a SoundCloud Go or Go+ subscription, you can use it on up to three devices, in addition to the SoundCloud web app. The high-quality audio available on SoundCloud Go+ is 256kbps AAC, which is roughly equivalent to 320kbps MP3. Do keep in mind, however, that you can only stream in the audio quality if the file the artist uploaded is lossless.
SoundCloud Go+ lets you access mixing SoundCloud tracks with some DJ apps, which is otherwise available through a SoundCloud DJ subscription. A DJ subscription offers everything SoundCloud Go+ offers, and allows you to download unlimited tracks for offline playback within some DJ apps. A DJ subscription is the most expensive SoundCloud subscription available, as it costs $19.99/month.
How does SoundCloud compare to Bandcamp?
SoundCloud is a unique platform because of how it integrates social media features with its music streaming service. There are no direct alternatives to SoundCloud out there, but Bandcamp often comes up in the same conversations.
Bandcamp is an online storefront for artists to sell their music, merch, and concert tickets, and it’s a platform for fans to make generous donations to their favorite artists. It also functions as a music streaming service, but unlike SoundCloud, Bandcamp artists can upload unlimited hours of their music for free. Bandcamp makes its money by taking a 10-15% revenue share from artist sales. We recommend independent artists to get involved with both platforms, and music lovers to support their favorite artists through both platforms.
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Should you join SoundCloud?
No matter who you are, what you make, or what you listen to, you’re bound to find a pleasant home in SoundCloud. Yes, the free listening experience has annoying ads, but that’s nothing new to the world of music streaming. Both industry rookies and veterans can benefit from a strong SoundCloud presence, and there are plenty of budget-friendly tiers to accommodate nearly everyone’s needs.