Was it only yesterday that SoundCloud was trying to shed its reputation as a haven for DJs and other “unsavory” types who uploaded copywritten material and stood in the way of their striking sweetheart deals with the labels? [Editor: No, it was 5 years ago.]
But never mind the history of strikes and general hostility: DJs, SoundCloud wants you back, and they want you to mix entirely from their crates.
SoundCloud’s heavily caffeinated CEO Kerry Trainor took to ADE in Amsterdam to announce that SoundCloud is partnering with a number of DJ software companies to enable live mixing directly from SoundCloud platform. If you were DJing at a club and wanted to play (say) one of the 10,000 remixes of Lana Del Rey, you would tap into SoundCloud live, which would transmit it to your laptop and then to the dancefloor.
“Until recently, digital workflows for DJs were limited to downloads and physical media, but streaming workflows are the future,” Trainor said in an accompanying statement, as reported by noted DJ-centric publication Variety, which was first with the story.
Some Subscriptions Required
Sound quality would be a huge issue here. This explains SoundCloud’s announcement just a few days prior that they would now offer “high quality streaming” from SoundCloud Go+, the company’s failed monthly fee streaming platform meant to rival Spotify. Streaming rates will now be jacked up to AAC 256 kps. Crucially, this only applies to music uploaded in that format to begin with – which most of those 10,000 remixes of Lana Del Rey are not.
… Did you pick up on that? Streaming in high audio quality for DJ sets will require a SoundCloud Go+ account – the service once sold as a Spotify clone for streaming – and not your regular SoundCloud Pro account.
SoundCloud is essentially re-packaging SoundCloud Go+ as a niche streaming service for DJs who will pay a monthly fee to access SoundCloud’s library.
We’re putting the internet into DJing because the internet wants to be in everything, not because it makes sense or makes DJing better.
This would only work with the participation of DJ software companies; integrations with Native Instruments, Virtual DJ, DEX3, Mixvibes and DJuced/Hercules were announced and will only begin “surfacing” in 2019, according to Variety.
Integrating SoundCloud as a music source within primary software already used by DJs is a savvy move. Of course, it remains to be seen if DJs will adopt the feature, especially while DJing live.
Streaming? Join The Club
SoundCloud’s statement is bold, though obviously announcing a product is different than actually delivering it, and their implementation will have to be seen to be properly evaluated.
“What we are offering is an important first step [towards a lossless streaming future for high-quality audio files] and high-quality streaming access,” Trainor told Variety. “It’s a whole different level of convenience as we look to the future, and this a first-of-its-kind offering.”
(It’s actually not; DJay Pro 2 from Algoriddim enables you to DJ from Spotify.)
I mentioned on one of our old Green Room podcasts that I could see something like this working for Beatport, which probably has the most complete library of dance music that exists. A major factor would be reliability, because there are already enough “technical difficulties” in nightclubs even without taking into account a wifi connection in the DJ booth.
Will we see our first club night canceled because a DJ couldn’t reset his password?
But there are a lot of reasons why streaming directly from SoundCloud – which means streaming tracks directly from the internet – seems not to make much sense in a DJ context:
1. What will happen when DJs can’t get a signal? Top Internet infrastructure and reliability are not a given in many countries, areas or even neighborhoods of cities. If you can “stream offline” pre-selected tracks for your gig in the manner Spotify allows for listening, why wouldn’t you just stream offline anyway? Why insert the internet into it at all?
2. Can the music be pre-selected and backed up in a device? If so, how is that an improvement over the failsafe method of downloading wavs and having them on a memory stick? If you rely on a USB stick to back-up internet streaming… why not just play music from the USB stick?
3. Do a majority of DJs really have no idea what they’re going to play before they play it? If you’re playing a two hour set, will you browse 10,000 tracks from SoundCloud in the booth? Do you know many DJs who are that unprepared for a set? Or will the software allow you to pre-select tracks?
If so – again, why not just play music from the pre-selected tracks?
4. What will the catalog look like? And how would someone integrate their own saved tracks (from their own catalog or library)? Do you upload those tracks to a private SoundCloud account? Is that legal? Or are you bringing the USB stick with those tracks to the gig anyway? And once again – why not just play music from the USB stick anyway?
5. Can you grid and cue up tracks? Would you also need a hard drive in your bag to access pre-set information reliably? Will being locked out of your account result in being totally paralyzed and unable to access any music at all? Will we see our first DJ gig canceled because a DJ couldn’t reset his password?
6. Given the troubled history in this sphere (Beatport streaming, anyone?), what guarantee does the user have that the service will still be around in a year? And never mind long term viability: what about day-to-day? SoundCloud throws up error screens from being “unavailable” more than almost any social media site I can think of. A reliable DJ streaming platform would require a massive expansion of resources that frankly they haven’t shown they can be counted on to secure in advance.
And who would make critical decisions about their career based upon the guarantee of a company that has burned through millions in investment capital, has put itself up for sale with no takers and was in serious danger of shutting down just a year ago?
Whose Future Is It?
It feels like we’re putting the internet into this because the internet wants to be in everything, not because it makes sense. (And because another monthly fee will give SoundCloud a shot at being a profitable company.) If you have to back up everything to some form of hard media, what’s the point, other than possibly saving a few bucks on mp3s?
In case we forgot, Beatport tried to become a 24/7 streaming station for EDM fans during the short but disastrous reign of SFX over the industry. It failed, not just because SFX went bankrupt but because the nerds in charge realized only too late that electronic music listeners already had a streaming service. They’re called DJs. DJs are the “intelligent algorithm” that suggests to the listener what track should follow another and helps them discover new music.
Yet Beatport is also is working on a new service to sell subscriptions to DJs for streaming tracks directly from their catalog. With the working title “Beatport Link,” the service will stream tracks to “leading performance software applications” beginning in the first quarter of 2019. Presumably: alongside SoundCloud.
Would you stream music from SoundCloud in a club? Is this the future? And whose future is it, anyway?