In our second detailed review of DJ-centered SoundCloud Alternatives, we turn to Mixcloud: the party with many DJs and not so many dancers.
It’s hard to remember now but there was a point when SoundCloud had cornered the market on electronic music. They didn’t sell tracks (why, no one knows) but they streamed tracks, they hosted tracks, they promoted tracks and essentially owned every other part of the electronic music ecosystem. This was a real 360 consisting of tracks, previews and mixes. SoundCloud provided a new center of gravity in an industry which had become confused and demoralized in the wake of the digital tsunami.
All of that’s gone now and everything is scattered everywhere, duplicated across multiple cloud-based services, each of them struggling to reach that same critical mass that SoundCloud once had. SoundCloud’s abrupt and disorienting pivots and draconian and scattershot copyright crackdowns have “unbundled” the vast archive that was once parked on their servers. It’s still the place for original music, but edits have migrated to HearThis and a bunch of other services and – more to the point of this series on DJ SoundCloud alternatives – SoundCloud’s once encyclopedic library of DJ mixes have migrated, largely over to Mixcloud.
Mixcloud is far from a perfect alternative. In fact, Mixcloud is crippled by design. Downloads are disabled (each file is actually transcoded into an .mp4 file), individual tracks aren’t allowed and if you bang too many records from your favorite producer they’ll deactivate your mix altogether. That most of these restrictions are easy to circumvent is kind of beside the point: by having these rules, Mixcloud makes it very clear what kind of service they want to be. They want to be the “SoundCloud of DJ mixes.” Instead they’re kind of the MySpace of Music – interesting, sometimes useful but weirdly incomplete.
What It Costs and What You Get
Mixcloud was founded in 2008, and has changed remarkably little since then. File size restrictions were lifted in 2011, and importing functionality has been added. But these features have been rolled out at most DJ-centric streaming sites. So too are groups (a feature SoundCloud recently discontinued and HearThis added), though I have yet to find too many active ones on Mixcloud. Playlists are also very rudimentary and relatively underused.
Mixcloud requires registration to upload and this unlocks nearly all of the site’s features. Uploads are unlimited (but you can only upload one thing at a time), stats are available (but rudimentary) and you can freely comment, share and shitpost to your heart’s content.
Mixcloud is a party with many DJs, not so many dancers.
Going pro on Mixcloud has always seemed like any iffy proposition. It’s not cheap ($135/year – exactly the same price as a Soundcloud Pro Unlimited account) and it’s not a given that Mixcloud’s Pro features are all that helpful. Their literature indicates that a Pro account offers full stats, a way to measure “listener engagement,” release scheduling, highlighting content via site promotion and customizing your profile and hiding both comments and play counts. While it’s interesting that they consider comments as something seemingly distasteful that can be gotten rid off for a few bucks, it’s more telling that this weird perk is considered one at all – it’s the fourth one listed in their sales teaser (right after “release scheduling”.)
I’ve heard SoundCloud mentioned randomly by many people in day-to-day life, but the only people I know that talk about Mixcloud are DJs.
But we shouldn’t step on the good news here, though. The good news is that Mixcloud offers a hell of a lot for free, and a hell of a lot more than SoundCloud.
The Mixcloud Community
Mixcloud is probably still the second largest music community after SoundCloud. The drop off between #1 and #2 is a steep one, though. According to Google’s Play Store (a somewhat flawed measure of a community’s size, but probably the fairest we can find aside from self-promoted numbers), Mixcloud has between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 installations on Android devices. That’s pretty good – but SoundCloud’s installation base measures between 100,000,000 and 500,000,000. Again, there are many caveats one can hang on these numbers, including the fact that most people that download apps never actually use them. But in terms of popularity, a 10 to 1 or 50 to 1 comparison between these two seems about right. I’ve heard SoundCloud mentioned randomly by many people in day-to-day life. The only people I know that have mentioned Mixcloud are DJs.
And that’s one thing you’ll notice: Mixcloud is a party with many DJs, not so many dancers. Fellow DJs are often the primary but not necessarily the ideal audience for a DJ mix.
The Network Effect, as we mentioned in part one of this series, is dying, and “community involvement” is much less important than it used to be. People on Mixcloud however are pretty kind. Follow a bunch of people and they’ll more likely than not follow you back and check out what you’re up to.
It may read as a backhanded compliment, but I don’t mean to snark when I say it reminds me of MySpace in 2006: lots of people following other people for the benefit of following lots of people.
You Wouldn’t Download a Mix…
Mixcloud’s arcane ban on downloading seems baked into the service at this point and there have been no indications it will ever change. Their mobile apps bridges the gap here a bit, as does the ability to paste a link to a file download URL in the description box.
Mixcloud also has a restriction on how many tracks by the same artist can appear on any single mix. This is a problem not just for egocentric DJ/producers who get high on their own shit but also for longer mixes (3 tracks by an artist in 3 hours is not abominable) or for hot mixing. We ran smack into this restriction on a Ghetto Tech mix from DJ Godfather. It appears that DJs of juke and similar genres which sometimes feature 30+ tracks per mix will find that this restriction annoying and Mixcloud possibly useless. (Also, a playlist is optional, though file recognition is becoming better and better all the time.)
Is Mixcloud Really Worth It?
With such a robust feature menu for its free tier service, there’s not much downside to using Mixcloud. I would never make it my primary music site, however, as it’s too inflexible for most artists who also make music. And even as a simple “DJ’s site,” Mixcloud has its limitations. It would be wonderful if they provided file hosting with their Pro plan – not necessarily for standalone downloads, but to give Apple a real run for its money with the latter’s long-neglected iTunes podcasting service. Imagine uploading a mix to Mixcloud and having it instantly available to people using the app, browsing the site, people using iTunes or Stitcher to follow podcasts as well as anyone that wants to follow your feed on their own. There are tons of music lovers on Twitter that aggregate the feeds of dozens of iTunes podcasts. For a couple of hundred bucks, I would gladly pay to consolidate all of this rather than pump music into yet another proprietary walled-off garden site like Mixcloud.
Flaws and dreams of a One True DJ Streaming Service aside, though, it’s hard to argue with free. We won’t.
Read more from this series on Soundcloud Alternatives.