My Time in the Clouds: A 2-month Hiatus from Popular Streaming Services
Music has a profound impact on popular culture. Decades are remembered as much for their music as for what actually occurred during that time. Like all art music is an expression of an idea or a belief.
An issue with music, however, is that both production and release are highly commercialized. With this in mind I gave myself a challenge for the month of August and September. I listened to music exclusively on the platform, SoundCloud. SoundCloud is a website and streaming service that allows it’s users to upload music. This feature has proved to make the site a widely used platform by independent artists. This experience made me reflect upon how exactly I consume music.
The first thing I noticed when I made my switch to SoundCloud from more traditional streaming service was how similar most of the music I listened to was. There was very little diversity among the artists in my library. Many of them would be from the same label, or have the same producers working with them. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it did significantly limit the diversity of my music library. For example, Spotify suggested new music to me based upon my streaming history. Therefore, though I would technically be listening to "new" music it would be essentially be the same as what I had already heard.
During my time on SoundCloud I found that I listened to more varied music. I listened to many genres I wasn't very familiar with or did not have as significant bodies of work on other streaming platforms. For example, I discovered and explored Future Funk and Vaporwave. I had some background on Vaporwave, but Future Funk was completely new to me. Vaporwave is a microgenre of electronic music that emerged in the 2010s. Its sound focuses on the sampling of a wide array of 90s and 80s tracks. Future Funk, however, is a subgenre of Vaporwave that incorporates more samples from the 70s and 80s funk and R&B tracks.
These these eclectic song types are only two of the many genres featured on the app that lack widespread representation. This can be attributed to the fact that both having only accrued a cult following rather than gaining mainstream appeal through other streaming services. In addition to this smaller fan base, many of the artists that produce in these genres do it with very little promotion. A perfect example of the lack of representation received is the album "Floral Shoppe" by the artist Vektroid, known for the song "Macintosh Plus". This album was the first Vaporwave release to gain popularity and is considered by many to define the genre. However, despite the album's success, Macintosh Plus cannot be found on Spotify due to its underground presence.
One of the most notable trait of SoundCloud is their extensive catalog of up-and-coming artists. Many of these artists are either rather unknown or in the process of entering the spotlight so to speak. Because their work wasn’t on Spotify or Apple Music I had never taken the time to listen to them. My personal favorite example of this is the rapper Lil Pump. Lil Pump began his career as a rapper when he was kicked out of ninth grade for fighting. In my opinion that’s impressive, not the getting kicked out part, but the fact that he managed to make a career out of that at the age of 16. Lil Pump’s chance at making a career would have been much less without SoundCloud because traditional streaming platforms have higher barriers to entry. The lack of controls SoundCloud’s content is it’s biggest edge against other services. The barriers to entry that other services have limits their content to coming almost entirely from professionally produced and promoted work.
Another area that Soundcloud supersedes other artists is in highlighting many artist’s earlier careers. Artists who now enjoy widespread exposure and success often have Soundcloud pages where you can find their early work which is unlikely to be found on Spotify or Apple Music. When I say “early work”, I mean singles that were practically produced in their friends’ basement, the songs that they wrote back when they were riding the bus everywhere. The music before the fame. Soundcloud is art for the sake of art, which in my mind is the truest form of artistic expression. When there is a profit motive something is lost.
I am not saying that the music that they produce once they are already famous isn’t good, I just think some of the personal nature of it is lost. Art has been and always been about expression and SoundCloud is the platform that promotes expression without the added layers that come from being produced under the corporate umbrella. If you are tired of listening to the same thing, I recommend that you spend some time on SoundCloud for a change.