The first conclusion I have about Soundcloud Go is that you’re not supposed to use it. You’re not supposed to find it. And there is an overwhelming sense that you’re not supposed to pay for it.

You might think this sounds weird. You might think I’m weird. Both of those are true, but it’s inescapable that Soundcloud Go is the worst streaming product launched in the last five years. It may be one of the worst music apps ever released. A company that has never been accused of being inept has thrown up a bomb, and it’s an estimation of their competence that such a terrible product seems almost suspicious – like a 21st century telling of The Producers, in which a company is forced to release some kind of product by its investors, licensors and possible legal adversaries – and deliberately released the worst one possible.

After test driving Soundcloud Go for a week, I became convinced that the company not only sabotaged their Next Big Thing – they’d prefer you never found out about it at all.

If you’re in the music industry or even just a fan (or a fake fan), you’ve probably used Soundcloud for years. This will not prepare you for Soundcloud Go. Soundcloud Go is Soundcloud (the company’s) new product, aimed at a wider market than Soundcloud (the product you’ve known until now) with a library of millions of both user-submitted but also mainstream popular songs.

Oddly, Soundcloud Go doesn’t integrate into Soundcloud (the product you’ve known until now) very well, if at all. At least right now, Soundcloud sort of exists in parallel with it.

cornerOr rather in the shadow of it: while Soundcloud Go is dominating the company’s communications and promotions, it’s presence on the main site is so slight as to be almost invisible: a simple banner ad in the right rail, with a stock photo of someone jumping into a swimming pool and text that’s wholly illegible.

Indeed: if you don’t enter through the front door, you might not know of Soundcloud Go’s existence at all.

How could a company’s future lifeblood be given such a disreputable launch? It’s not clear – until you try the product itself. After test driving Soundcloud Go for a week, I became convinced that the company not only sabotaged their Next Big Thing – they’d prefer you never found out about it at all.

Even the people who were contacted about Soundcloud Go seem to have been sent an offer that was designed to be refused. Pro users (creators who pay for additional storage) were offered a discount of about 50% – which sounds good until you realize that these people were already paying $10 a month and often had been for years, while ordinary hacks who have never bought anything can click for a 30 day trial. Again, rather than “Try Before You Buy,” the sign on the door seems to read “Stay The Fuck Out.”

Which suggests an interesting question: who are Soundcloud (the business) thinking will use Soundcloud Go? That ideal customer looks less like a paying customer of Soundcloud (the product you’ve known until now) than the average user of Spotify, Apple Music or… Well, basically those are the two streaming companies in the game with any market share, so those two. As they charge roughly the same amount per month as Soundcloud Go, it’s highly unlikely Soundcloud (the company) is going to see any significant defection from those services to Soundcloud Go. Again: this is a product for nobody.

As for the experience of using Soundcloud Go itself: it does everything badly other than play music without crashing. It manages to play well enough, but the rest of what you expect from a streaming service you’re paying a monthly fee for is crippled, broken or just ill-conceived. Artist catalogs are completely disorganized – a major factor given the way that streaming services from Netflix to Spotify have given users the pleasure of “binging” on complete series or, in the case of music, artist catalogs. Music suggestions (which takes forever to set up on Apple Music) are remarkably dull and uninspired – after a week of working with Soundcloud Go, I don’t think it knew anything more about me than it did when I started. If there’s an algorithm at work, it’s certainly not a candidate for turning into SkyNet. It’s hardly even a candidate to replace an Atari 2600.

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The entire service feels like a cleverly coded facade. Users of Soundcloud (the product you’ve known until now) are certainly familiar with how terrible the site’s search function is. You can type in an artist’s exact name, with a precisely spelled track title that you know exists on the site and you’ll still wind up scrolling through a bunch of hot mixtapes from rappers in Akron, Ohio.

This annoying flaw on a website you use for free is downright infurating when you’re paying for a site that boasts access to over 100 million tracks but are impossible to sort through. With Soundcloud Go, you’re better off searching with Google. At which point you’ll probably wind-up on YouTube. You see where this is going?

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This is why I’m clinging to the conclusion that Soundcloud Go was a product set up to fail. It’s a frankenproduct: something forced upon users and maybe upon Soundcloud itself. By whom? Probably a tandem of the company’s long-suffering investors and the music license holders who were saber-rattling for years prior to Soundcloud negotiating licenses with them. It’s conceivable to believe that each of these licensors and major investors insisted on one or another aspect of the overall design, resulting in a product that nobody in particular really wanted. And faced with a broken product, Soundcloud broke it a little further, or at least refused to fix it.

I have no inside information to confirm this, but nothing else makes sense for how badly conceived and designed Soundcloud Go is.

For people who are concerned they might be losing access to either Soundcloud (the product you’ve known until now) or Soundcloud Pro (the creator version), Soundcloud (the company) is now running all of these services together. Whether they can co-exist is in question – as is whether they’ll be allowed to. There’s money behind Soundcloud – a lot of money, the amount of money that mows down dreams and aspirations and takes no prisoners. As easily as you can ignore Soundcloud Go at the moment, I suspect it will become less avoidable as time goes on and targets fail to be met. As they surely will be.

 

Disco, Love and the DJs that brought House Music to the White House: originally published inside 5 Magazine Issue #131, featuring Al Kent, Quentin Harris, The Chosen Few DJs in Washington, Anaxander and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music – on sale for just $1 an issue!