Tuesday, September 11, 2018

SoundCloud launches Discover Weekly rival | UNLIMITED | CMU


Plucked from a file titled “things we probably should have launched three years ago”, SoundCloud yesterday unveiled a new personalised playlist service called SoundCloud Weekly. Think Spotify’s Discover Weekly but with one big difference. That big difference being that it’s called SoundCloud Weekly.

“Today, we’re making it easier than ever to discover what’s next in music”, the digital music firm announced on its blog yesterday, “with our new personalised playlist, SoundCloud Weekly. Updated every Monday, SoundCloud Weekly is an algorithmically-based playlist that looks at the music you’ve listened to, liked, reposted and shared, and then makes recommendations on what you may like to hear next”.

Elsewhere in the blog post, it mused: “With 180 million tracks and millions of artists to discover, sometimes SoundCloud can feel like a very big place to explore. We know many of you love the thrill of the hunt – going down a musical rabbit hole and uncovering new tracks and artists to love. But sometimes, you may want great music delivered to you auto-magically with no searching required”.

SoundCloud, you may remember, is still in the midst of its mission to reinvent itself as a more conventional steaming service of the Spotify model, with its ad-funded and premium packages. Its USP remains the size of its catalogue, which is significantly larger than that of Spotify et al thanks to years of user-uploads. Hence all that bragging in its blog post about the 180 million tracks SoundCloud users have access to.

Of course, despite ultimately signing deals with much of the music industry to enable monetisation through advertising and subscription sales, the user-upload element of SoundCloud still relies on the pesky copyright safe harbour that the music community is lobbying so hard to reform in Europe just now. And while those licensing deals meant the music industry stopped publicly griping about SoundCloud’s use of safe harbour protection, it is still a safe harbour dwelling service.

In its review of the new personalised playlist set-up, The Verge focuses on how one track included in its reporter’s SoundCloud Weekly selection is a user-uploaded mash-up that is likely not licensed by the relevant rights owners.

Now, said rights owners might have chosen to allow the mash-up to remain online via SoundCloud’s content management system, or equally they may be ignorant of its presence on the platform. Either way, if those rights owners would rather the mash-up not be available, under safe harbour rules it’s their responsibility to request it be removed.

The aim of the much lobbied for safe harbour reform in Europe is to shift some or all of that responsibility onto the digital services.

Quite how that can be achieved without affecting too much the social media and other digital channels so many people now rely on everyday has been of much debate. And the tech lobby insists that the proposals currently before the European Parliament will have unintended consequences in that domain. Something the music industry denies.

However, one argument says that – while safe harbour protection should perhaps be available to tech companies which provide tools that allow people to upload and share content – maybe those companies’ liabilities should increase if and when they aggregate and re-distribute that content. Like, I don’t know, through some sort of personalised playlist service. So while a tech firm can still plead ‘safe harbour’ when its users upload unlicensed music to their profiles, that excuse isn’t available once the company starts curating that unlicensed content itself.

Just a thought. But hey, personalised curation has come to SoundCloud! Bring on the robots and let’s discover ourselves some damn fine music. Prerequisite licences not necessarily included.

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