There’s been murmurs about SoundCloud making the leap into becoming a full-fledged streaming service, competing with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, for a couple years now, and the company recently took the plunge with the launch of SoundCloud Go.
“We’re going to have over 125m tracks on the platform– a lot of emerging and indie artists, major artists and also DJs, remixers and mash-ups – and another bunch of millions of tracks coming straight from the major labels,” co-founder Eric Wahlforss told The Guardian.
“You’ll get an emerging artist that just started making music a year or two ago and now has traction on SoundCloud, next to Adele, next to John Lennon, next to an hour-long DJ set, next to a mash-up – all of that in one place.”
Independent artists, and in particular bedroom producers, are SoundCloud’s bread and butter. They are the go-to destination for digital crate-diggers looking for unknown artists making music independently on their computers, but their push into streaming may damage this reputation.
“Dear Fans, Last week for no reason, our old record label Sony Music blocked our SoundCloud account, stopping all the blogs that wrote about our latest single ‘I Just Wanna Be Somebody Else’ from counting in the Hype Machine charts,” Melbourne duo Gypsy & The Cat recently wrote.
The culprit, it seems, is the scramble by major labels to monetise their SoundCloud content in the wake of SoundCloud Go’s launch. But what that had to do with an act that hadn’t been with this particular label in years is still a mystery.
“Basically what happened was is it wasn’t ‘blocked’… in the sense that you could go on the site and play the song, but essentially what Sony did was put restrictions on the back end of our account,” Gypsy & The Cat’s Xavier Bacash tells Tone Deaf.
“Whenever a blog does a post on a song and embeds the SoundCloud, the API is enabled so that can then be scanned by Hype Machine and register in their charts. But we put the track out and it was around the same day or the day after that SoundCloud became a streaming service.”
“Sony are trying to monetise all their artists and we got caught up in that. It’s not the first time that it’s happened, but for an indie band and you’re employing a publicist within Australia and America and the greatest barometer for traction online is Hype Machine it’s a catastrophic thing to happen.”
The duo’s previous single, ‘Inside Your Mind’, hit number two on the much-revered Hype Machine chart, which aggregates blogosphere buzz for music. “This song had double the blog posts,” says Xavier, “so arguably it could’ve gone number one, but it didn’t even chart at all.”
According to Xavier, he and bandmate Lionel Towers became aware of the issue when a blogger contacted them and informed them that an attempt at sharing the track on his site yielded an error message informing him that the track had been restricted by Sony.
“Some people could embed it, some people had trouble,” says Xavier. “You could go onto people’s sites and play the song, but it wouldn’t register. There was a restriction on the API in the back end and [the blogger] said it happened with a couple of other artists that week.”“It got to the point where I called Sony Australia as a past artist, like the receptionist and was like, ‘Hi, I’m from Gypsy & the Cat, we were signed to your label.'”
But no one could quite figure out how Sony was able to do this in the first place. “We have no affiliation to Sony whatsoever anymore, haven’t for five years,” Xavier says, “and there’s no music on that SoundCloud whatsoever that they have any copyright over.”
Without a clue of where to turn, and with no help from SoundCloud’s end, Xavier began the cold-calling process. “We had someone that we knew from the UK office, because we were signed to RCA, and I basically got an email back from that person who said they’d sent it to internal services who would get back to us.”
“We didn’t hear from them. We had one other contact, who was just an A&R guy at Sony… an absolute legend and he did the best he could and kept us updated and sent the issue into the digital department. But we just weren’t getting enough answers out of [Sony].”
“So it got to the point where I called Sony Australia as a past artist, like the receptionist [laughs] And I was like, ‘Hi, I’m from Gypsy & the Cat, we were signed to your label. I’m having a copyright issue with SoundCloud, you guys have blocked us on the back end.'”
“I got transferred to digital and they were quite helpful, but then we still hadn’t heard anything back.” Xavier and Lionel eventually heard back from the blogger who first alerted them to the issue saying that it had been mysteriously resolved.
“When you go up on the Hype Machine charts, you get 10-15,000 plays a day and from the first track doing that, we had countless A&R and radio pluggers contacting us,” says Xavier, highlighting the impact that Hype Machine can have on an independent act’s career.
At the time of writing, ‘I Just Wanna Be Somebody Else’ is sitting at number 10 on the Hype Machine chart, a testament to the duo’s committed fan base. “Our fans, we’ve got a small but dedicated group of fans that really get behind stuff and they’ve been fantastic about it,” says Xavier.
However, for artists or bands without the kind of dedicated following that Gypsy & The Cat enjoy, having the SoundCloud rug taken from underneath you can potentially be devastating to a single release and ultimately your career.
Tone Deaf have reached out to Sony for comment but they did not respond in time for publication.