Over a year ago, as SoundCloud began the first motions of a purge of DJ mixes which continues up until this day, we wrote a post which surveyed the Soundcloud Alternatives and DJ streaming sites on the internet these days.
It was written quickly, and breezily, but it’s remained one of the most popular posts we’ve ever done, which says something about both the thoroughness of SoundCloud’s purge of DJs from the streaming site. In fact, publicists for new streaming companies hit us up all the time asking if we can review and include their company in our list of SoundCloud alternatives.
So we are. We’ll be going through every streaming company known to man, and probably loop back around whenever it feels necessary. Part one here is going to be a bit longer based upon the more than a year we’ve spent on the would-be “SoundCloud Killer,” HearThis.
But first: some facts:
Fact #1: Most streaming sites don’t want your mixes.
The truth is that 95% of streaming is about individual tracks. While Spotify is opening up to DJ mixes, company strategy seems mainly aimed at fucking with SoundCloud’s market share rather than being truly DJ-friendly.
Like SoundCloud, many have concluded that hosting large files is a drain of resources for little payoff (auxiliary fact: most DJ mixes don’t have many listeners).
Fact #2: The network effect is dying.
If you haven’t noticed, Facebook has been quickly gobbling up the internet as we know it. Facebook is quickly becoming the one-stop site for livestreaming, recorded video and the kind of microblogging that Twitter pioneered. As a result, the “network effect” is diminishing.
What do we mean by that? Put simply in this case, the “network effect” is the potential for people to discover your music on SoundCloud simply because SoundCloud itself is so big and people spend a lot of time on it. In some cases, it’s been a steep and precipitous decline as certain “SoundCloud Superstars” or people with large SoundCloud or Mixcloud followings find their plays falling off dramatically.
If this has happened to you – no, you’re not crazy, and you don’t suddenly suck. It’s just that people are spending more time on Facebook than anywhere else, and Facebook is working very hard to keep them there.
So streams are increasingly becoming just a Big Play Button in people’s Facebook feeds, and dominating other platforms to the extent that much of the internet is becoming just another feature of Facebook.
As a result, it matters less whether that big button in their stream is orange, or red, or blue, or white. All that matters is that it plays quickly and responsively and entices people to click on it. I wouldn’t trade a million subscriber base on SoundCloud for nothing, but there’s no question that without another million on FB, your plays might start declining quickly. That’s where they’re coming from.
Fact #3: You should still cover your bases.
The best place to post your mixes? Wherever someone might listen to them. You wouldn’t care if a track you wanted to buy is only being sold on iTunes – unless you preferred to use Beatport, in which case said track may as well be invisible to you. Nobody is charging much money for DJ streaming sites, so it’s not a big investment. And you have to be prepared for Fact #4:
Fact #4: All of this could change tomorrow.
… and it probably will. Facebook drives people mad by changing their algorithms constantly, so the best techniques to assure maximum post reach yesterday could be useless by tomorrow. Right now, Facebook loves video that it hosts. It doesn’t like video hosted elsewhere. All this is to encourage you to post video to Facebook. One day it’ll have enough to chew on, and you’ll regret having ditched your YouTube channel because “it’s all coming from Facebook anyway.”
HearThis: The Would-be SoundCloud Killer.
HearThis (website: HearThis.at) was founded in just three years ago by a team in Chemnitz, Germany. (Its youth and foreign origin is still visible in a number of comical misspellings and awkward phrasings that you’ll find throughout the site.)
HearThis was thrust into the spotlight relatively quickly as the SoundCloud purge revved up in 2014. The site boasted a format and look and feel that was fairly close to SoundCloud – or at least closer than any other sites for DJs to post their mixes – as well as an open format that enabled users to upload practically anything, from short snippets to multi-hour DJ mixes.
These attributes as well as a reputation for being “under the radar” lead to a fairly substantial exodus from SoundCloud, as well as the rise of a number of user-created groups on other social media (mostly – do you believe me now? – on Facebook.)
A lot has changed with HearThis since the SoundCloud purge began. Most of it’s for the best, but there are a few things to be cautious about.
Hearthis: What It Costs and What You Get.
HearThis is remarkably cheap for a pro account, yet the free account offers more than practically any other freemium service out there. A free account will cap your uploads at 1.5 GB of data per week – a pretty huge (though by no means infinite) amount of music for an individual artist. With a pro account, you can stream in lossless, hifi audio as well as remove the few restrictions you might bump into. It’s really a nothing charge: €4 per month (about $4.50) or €33 per year (about $37 – a third of the price of a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account).
The stats on either version are terrible, with an unusable UI that displays each individual upload (and how many times it was played today) rather than a simple descending list of what was played, how often and where.
There are however some very good features. Most recently, HearThis added “groups,” a feature familiar to many SoundCloud users, within a few days of SoundCloud itself abruptly deleting them. It’s yet another case of HearThis listening to users (if opportunistically) in a way that SoundCloud often no longer does.
One of the best features is multiple uploads. We have about 11 years of mix archives to upload, and we made a fair dent in it by uploading 10 mixes at a time. You can also direct HearThis to import from SoundCloud, Mixcloud and even your own server from the upload screen.
Files are transcoded and it’s never taken us longer than about 10 minutes for the process to take place. In addition, HearThis is surprisingly robust. While you sometimes experience a few seconds delay when you’re playing a longer DJ mix, the site (and streams) have actually been down less than SoundCloud.
Obviously, this is of huge importance if that Big Play Button is going to be a red HearThis one.
The HearThis Community is Small But Vocal.
Being a HearThis Superstar is pretty much pointless. While there is an active community (and it appears to be growing), it’s probably a tenth or even smaller than that of SoundCloud. And while network effects are diminishing, they still can play a role.
If you’re going to be posting DJ mixes, you’re going to want to post HearThis streams on other social networks, not direct traffic from (say) Facebook back to HearThis.at itself.
The exception is the edits community, and HearThis has a big one. We’ll have more on that in a moment, but one aspect of it which directly impacts the community is the detrimental effect on the feed. HearThis has a number of parameters you can set to enable downloads. For 5 Magazine’s streams, we enable “Follow To Download.” It’s mostly to discourage bots who download and auto-upload your content on different services (and sometimes try to charge people for the pleasure of what they can get for free.) It seems pretty painless for someone who likes what you’re doing to click a button to see more of what you’re doing, right?
HearThis also has a “Share To Download” parameter, and while well-intentioned, it’s effectively turned the working DJs on the site looking for edits for their sets into resharing automatons. Everyone’s feed is a mess because it’s filled with people resharing everything to download it. And this is also true of the more blatant copyright violations (and by this I mean people literally uploading untouched, unedited, unremixed tracks by other people). It’s impossible to avoid and has made a mess of using HearThis for discovery.
Also Bad for Discovery: Hearthis Mobile.
When we first wrote about HearThis, we described their mobile apps as a “disaster.” The Trumpian language unfortunately still applies. While streams posted on sites and listened to through a web browser are fine for mobile, the HearThis apps (listed as “Beta,” to be fair) are pretty embarrassing.
Prior to writing this, we tried again. On Android, a test song (a freestyle DJ mix, natch) became lodged in our notifications and the only way to get it out was to delete the app altogether. I’m presuming that most people will do the same.
Copyright and Downloading from HearThis.
The HearThis community is largely split between people uploading DJ mixes on the one hand and disco edits on the other. Many people actually utilize HearThis specifically because a disco edit has a lot longer shelf life on HearThis than on SoundCloud, and with the price and smaller community, a strike is far less dangerous on HearThis.
HearThis has always responded to DMCA requests for taking down copyright material (no legitimate company in the world would ignore one). The company also uses ACRcloud to scan for copyright material and publishes the fact that they do. A fair number of people posting disco edits became butthurt when they received their first takedown notice from HearThis – as if a company was “selling out” by risking their business to the harsh realities of being held liable for hosting copyright material. HearThis is not a “safe haven.”
As far as DJ mixes go, we’ve posted hundreds over the course of a year without any takedowns (knock on wood!) We expect that they will come and we will be irritated when they do, but reality is what it is. DJ mixes have always existed on the boundaries of the recorded music industry and if you think this is a recent development, you’re welcome to talk to some old employees of Dance Tracks and other record stores that sometimes had to stash them under the counter like contraband or drugs when certain company was around.
Is it Worth Uploading To HearThis?
Hell yes it is. If you’re not relying on HearThis’ website or apps to “get discovered” but already have your own fanbase (of whatever size) on different social media, HearThis ticks every box. It’s cheap, it’s reliable, and it’s user-friendly for posting streams elsewhere.
The site itself and its mobile apps have a number of problems and the latter especially just aren’t very good. But the company has been constantly improving (at press time they introduced user groups), and as paying customers, we easily recommend.
Read more from this series on Soundcloud Alternatives.