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 June 22, 2021, to address an FAQ about DistroKid.

What is SoundCloud?

Screenshot of SoundCloud home page.

With SoundCloud, you can make a combined artist and fan account.

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

The SoundCloud mobile app open on an Android smartphone as it rests on top of an HP laptop.

SoundCloud is for both creators and music enthusiasts.

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?

Screenshot of SoundCloud interface profile editor.

To access the full suite of editing functions for your profile, you need SoundCloud Pro Unlimited.

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?

The mobile SoundCloud app icon on a smartphone display.

You can report suspected copyright violations directly to SoundCloud.

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?

Pennies spilling onto a table from a glass jar.

SoundCloud Premier is by invitation only, but anyone can sign up for Repost by SoundCloud.

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.

Related: ASCAP: An invaluable resource for every independent musician

What is SoundCloud Premier?

A woman listens to a song on SoundCloud from her smartphone.

In order for eligible listeners to enjoy high-quality versions of your tracks, you must upload lossless audio files.

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.

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.

Don’t miss: Home studio recording: Everything you need to record on a budget

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?

The SoundCloud mobile app on a vertical, free-standing smartphone.

If you sign up for Repost, you’re locked in for 12 months.

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?

A rock performance in a crowded bar with ambient lighting.

Whether or not you pay for a SoundCloud creator subscription, you’ll have access to promotional tools.

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?

A white cassette tape against a light blue background.

SoundCloud Pro Unlimited gives you access to a ton of artist development tools.

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 BasicSoundCloud Pro UnlimitedRepost by SoundCloud
PriceFree$12/month billed yearly
$16/month billed monthly
Upload time3 hours total, each track 4GB maxUnlimited hours total, each track 4GB and 6 hours and 45 minutes maxN/A
Track replacementCan replace a track while leaving stats and comments unchangedN/A
Schedule releases in advanceN/A
Instantly release tracks on website or mobile app
Access to Dolby powered audio mastering$4.99/track3 free tracks per month, $3.99/each additional track
Create and customize your SoundCloud profile and URL
Disable commenting and manage public statsN/A
Direct messaging with fans
Notifications when fans interact
Promote tracks on SoundCloud discovery pagesYes, by invitation for SoundCloud Premier, through Promote on SoundCloud
Customizable player for website embeds
Enable track downloads100 downloads per trackUnlimited downloads N/A
Listener statisticsBasic InsightsAdvanced 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?

Screenshot of SoundCloud track player.

A unique feature of SoundCloud is the ability to comment on specific timestamps of a track.

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.

Screenshot of SoundCloud interface artist profile.

Your followers will be able to view your reposts, liked tracks, artists you follow, and comments you’ve made on other artists’ releases.

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?

Screenshot of SoundCloud interface library tab.

SoundCloud keeps the music you like organized.

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.

Screenshot of SoundCloud interface station based on an artist.

SoundCloud has a lot of intelligent music discovery features which are great for both artists and listeners.

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?

Two women sitting against a wall sharing a pair of wired earbuds.

SoundCloud Go and Go+ are great for listeners who want to listen to music without any ads.

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 versionSoundCloud GoSoundCloud Go+
AdsYesNo adsNo ads
Save unlimited tracks for offline listening No, cannot save any tracks for offline listeningYesYes
Access full catalog of Premium Go+ tracksNo, only 30-second previewsNo, only 30-second previewsYes
DJ toolsNoNoYes
High quality audioNoNoYes
PriceFree$4.99/mo after 7-day trial$9.99/mo after 30-day trial
Student planNoNo50% 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?

The Bandcamp logo against a white background. 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.

Read next: Best microphones for recording

Should you join SoundCloud?

A hand holds a smartphone with the Spotify app open to a specific artist page.

SoundCloud is a far-reaching music streaming service with plenty to offer, but it can be overwhelming at first.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use Repost by SoundCloud instead of DistroKid?

Repost by SoundCloud costs $10 more than DistroKid per year and you only retain 80% of your revenue versus the 100% that you retain with DistroKid. However, DistroKid contains a lot of hidden fees such as the fee for monetizing your music on YouTube, and this is included in a Repost by SoundCloud subscription. An additional reason we'd recommend Repost by SoundCloud over DistroKid is if you are already a member of SoundCloud Pro Unlimited since Repost is included in that subscription.