We’re sitting down with leaders on the business side of the creator economy to get their best advice for creators looking to launch and develop their careers. This week, we spoke with two SoundCloud executives, chief content and marketing officer Lauren Wirtzer Seawood and senior vice president of creator Tracy Chan.
SoundCloud is a free-to-upload, subscription-tiered music sharing and social audio platform founded in 2007. It is known for being a launch pad for emerging artists and a place for more established musicians to share casual demos, release unofficial songs, and connect directly with fans via its comments section. Amid a staff layoff in August and the recent departures of executives including its head of creators, the company is pivoting toward a creator-driven music industry with multiple recent hires.
We spoke with Seawood and Chan about the company’s overall direction in the creator economy, its product offerings for creators, its monetization offerings, advice for creators using SoundCloud, and more.
In the past couple years, SoundCloud has made a handful of key hires in a push toward creator-oriented products. In May 2021, the company recruited Lauren Wirtzer Seawood to become the company’s chief content and marketing officer.
Seawood came to SoundCloud with an impressive career background in music, digital media, and the creator economy—formerly working as president of music distribution platform UnitedMasters, Instagram’s head of music partnerships, and head of digital for Beyoncé’s entertainment company, Parkwood Entertainment.
Seawood told Passionfruit in an interview that since her hiring, SoundCloud has focused on building out monetization and audience growth opportunities for creators.
“The last several years, I think the company has been focused on building an open audio platform. The goal at that time has been to create a platform sort of anyone and everyone can kind of use as they wish,” Seawood said. “What we’ve really focused on in the last year I’ve been here is how do we iterate features, products, tools, and services in such a way that we can build opportunities for creators to make money.”
Seawood said while SoundCloud has always been known as a place for independent artists to launch their careers, the company is continually adding new products to provide value to creators at different stages of their professional growth. She is particularly interested in how certain artists come back to SoundCloud for its flexibility and direct upload process, to release something “unique” that they “just can’t do somewhere else”—including R&B singer SZA, who in 2021 shared unreleased tracks on an anonymous SoundCloud account.
“SoundCloud has always been synonymous with sort of the beginning, the nascent part of your career. And now as we grow, we’re starting to build new products,” Seawood said. “We’re adding more and more tools and plans going forward to continue to support artists as they grow throughout that audience building process.”
To assist the company’s improvement in creator product, Tracy Chan joined its executive team in June as senior vice president of creator. Chan came from a creator-centric music background, most recently as Twitch’s head of music, where he led partnerships between Twitch and Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Prior to Twitch, Chan helped develop Spotify’s Spotify for Artists program, which offers profile editing, song promotion, and audience analytics tools to artists. He also founded CrowdAlbum, a platform acquired by Spotify which aggregates fan-submitted photos from concerts into visual concert albums, and helped build out YouTube’s analytics platform for creators.
Chan told Passionfruit he believes SoundCloud’s greatest edge in the creator economy is its ability to release music and audio without the pressure of big marketing or distribution campaigns.
“The problem SoundCloud was trying to solve is: you want to get your music to your fans, you don’t want to go through all the process of figuring out a distributor you have to pay for and all these things,” Chan said. “It really starts at that creation moment. Working creatively with fans, giving feedback, sharing private links, all of that.”
Chan said private link sharing is a big part of SoundCloud’s place in the music industry—allowing artists to test and tease music with their most dedicated fans without publicly sharing it. Overall, he said he thinks SoundCloud stands out from other music sharing platforms because it combines intimate social interactions with distribution capabilities in one combined ecosystem.
“Interacting directly with fans, letting them ask you questions and comments, being able to answer them and acknowledge their feedback, that’s what cements long-term fandom,” Chan said.
Chan said SoundCloud first started pursuing monetization offerings for creators in 2014, launching ad and subscription revenue sharing. In 2021, SoundCloud also launched what it calls “fan-powered royalties.” Fan-powered royalties are the payout of ad and subscription revenue generated from the most dedicated fans of an artist. Fan-powered royalties are dependent upon how much a fan listens to an artist relative to their total listening time per month, how many advertisements they receive, and whether the fan has a subscription membership. A SoundCloud representative declined to share the specific percentages of revenue given to creators when asked by Passionfruit, saying the company does not share that information publicly.
“We rolled out fan-powered royalties last year in which the payouts to independent artists were fully dependent on who actually listened to your music as opposed to some pooled royalty distribution of monetization, so based on that we are thinking about our whole suite of products that build into the notion of fan-powered,” Seawood said. “For us, we’ve really been on this mission to transform our company into a music and entertainment company as opposed to a technology platform.”
Other music service subscription services, like Spotify, often collect all subscription revenue and split the revenue among artists based on their percentage of streams. This model is called the pro-rata model, and it is often criticized by artists as only benefiting the most popular creators on apps. On the flip side, models like SoundCloud’s fan-powered royalties are sometimes referred to as more user-centric or user-driven because they are dependent on a particular user’s listening habits. This model means that smaller, niche creators get larger payouts when they have more dedicated “superfans.”
“You can imagine a hip-hop band of your choosing they get a lot of the stream share. That means that as a listener, even if I’ve never listened to their music, a lot of my subscription revenue goes to that band,” Chan said. “If there’s a fan who listens a lot to a specific artist, that artist should get a lot of their subscription revenue or ad revenue. That’s sort of what fan-powered royalties is all about.”
Not every creator on SoundCloud is eligible to receive fan-powered royalties. Only creators enrolled in SoundCloud Premier and its Repost Network can join in. To participate in Premier, you must be subscribed to Pro Unlimited (which is $12 per month), have at least 500 streams in the past month from a list of eligible countries, produce only original works, and have no copyright strikes.
Repost Network is a $30 per month distribution service which allows musicians to upload and monetize their songs to other music listening platforms—like Spotify, Apple Music, and even YouTube—and provides artists with other kinds of distribution assistance, like artist profile adjustments. Artists can also apply to Repost Select, a program which provides additional marketing, career development, and promotional services.
“If you’ve ever kind of distributed a record, it’s actually not that straight-forward using different services. Sometimes you get attached to different artist profiles that aren’t yours, sometimes you kind of want to change the title or the capitalization of how your artist name is represented,” Chan said. “We help support those changes with the nuances of the platform, each platform does things a bit differently.”
Repost Network was acquired by SoundCloud in 2019. In July 2022, over a dozen artists criticized Repost Network for “predatory” practices in its early days prior to the SoundCloud acquisition—including burying a two-year exclusive license, a 30% cut of all revenue, and an auto-renewal clause in its terms and conditions, according to Billboard. Today, SoundCloud’s Repost Network requires a one-year exclusive license and a more typical 20% cut from revenue on distribution platforms other than SoundCloud.
In response to these criticisms of Repost, Chan said he believes the service is adapting over time to a changing creator and music ecosystem.
“What’s important is the history of Repost. It started as a [multi-channel network] of YouTube. Because it started with YouTube content ID, a 70-30 [split] for MCNs is pretty typical. I think as the music industry has evolved, as kind of we’ve scaled up and we operate to more and more artists, we’ve been able to make those terms more artist friendly,” Chan said.
Chan said he doesn’t want to just serve the biggest “superstars.” He also wants to help out the up-and-coming creators SoundCloud has always been known to support. He also said he wants to continue to push forward to help artists build out long-term careers. He re-emphasized that he believes the future of the music industry is fostering closer connections between creator and fan.
One artist, rapper Kentavia Miller—aka KenTheMan (@kentheman), an influencer with over 418,700 followers on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok—told Passionfruit she enjoys SoundCloud for its ability to connect with her fans in a casual way. She started using SoundCloud in 2014 when she released her first mixtape, and now, she is a part of SoundCloud’s First On 2022 class, a program for nine selected artists to receive career development opportunities. These opportunities include funding, exclusive content, events, photoshoots, and even docu-series spotlighting each artist.
“The experience has been amazing so far. SoundCloud was the first place I put out my music, so to have SoundCloud recognize me and show appreciation for me and my artistry seems unreal,” Miller said. “I think SoundCloud was an easy way to put out music for free since artists don’t know much about distribution starting out. I began dropping my freestyles there.”
Miller said her freestyles are her favorite thing to put on SoundCloud, and she advised other creators to use SoundCloud as a place to build confidence and practice craft.
“Release, release, release! How can people become fans if you don’t give them anything to be a fan of? How will people know your sound if you keep your music hidden in the vault? You have to drop it and be confident in it,” Miller said.
For similar reasons as Miller, content creator and songwriter Siena Chanel (@sienachanel)—who has over 254,000 followers across TikTok and Instagram—told Passionfruit she began using SoundCloud in middle school because it was “the most accessible music-sharing platform” and a fun, casual place for music experimentation, discovery and community.
“SoundCloud was a really great place for me to share my music because it also connected me with other up-and-coming artists,” she said. “In addition to posting new releases, it’s also a great place to find fan [favorites] that don’t make it to streaming platforms or haven’t yet.”
In thinking about advice for other creators, Chanel encouraged creators to try the platform out and see if they can connect with other artists.
“Don’t treat SoundCloud like other streaming services! It’s a great place to share more than official releases; like demos and covers. Spend some time on SoundCloud and you’re bound to find something you love or that inspires you,” Chanel said.
When thinking about advice for creators, executive Seawood encouraged creators to constantly engage with their audiences, consistently upload, and remain true to who they are.
“A lot of times artists feel pressure to figure out their vibe, their style, and a lot of times we’ll see them following into traps of trying to be like somebody else because that somebody else got them a lot of likes on TikTok or a lot of listens on SoundCloud. The reality is that’s hard to maintain. Really figuring out who you are as an artist is probably the most important thing for any artist who intends to maintain a career over time,” Seawood said.
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