On Soundcloud

If you’ve been a visitor to this place over the years, you’ll have noticed a progression in how the music I make is posted. Originally I used the wordpress.com built-in audio player. I was unhappy with that, so I transitioned over to using Soundcloud. Then I moved from that into using both Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Now I’ve removed all the Soundcloud content from here and moved everything over to Bandcamp. In this egotastic article I’ll discuss some of the choices behind all this.

In the beginning, there was the wordpress.com audio player (this thing):

The wordpress player is a perfectly serviceable thing. It plays audio. The problem I had is that’s all it does. If you show up here, and play one of those, I can’t tell. I’m a relentless statistics and data nerd, and I’d like to know if anyone actually listens to anything. It also doesn’t feature any native download link, which means I have to put a second link in for people to download my music. That’s fine, it’s not like another line of html is going to kill me. I’ve had a lot of problems of readers who actually can’t figure out how to use the audio player. Other than my hate mail, I hear so little from people that I figure if I get a few people complaining they can’t play the music there are probably a lot more who can’t figure out how to email me. Again, it seems pretty obvious to me how play buttons and download links work – but I realize that not everyone knows that facebook is not the internet.

For a long time, the wordpress audio player was the only thing I could embed on wordpress.com that could play music right on the page. I could store music elsewhere and link to it, but given the problems of people who can’t figure out ‘play’ buttons I didn’t think that wasn’t going to work well. This lame-ass blawg is hosted on wordpress.com (not a wordpress.org installation, there’s a difference) and so my options are limited to whatever the wordpress.com admins bless. In return I theoretically get a wordpress site I don’t have to micromanage and isn’t hacked every twenty minutes.

At one point wordpress started providing native support for soundcloud. Meaning I could upload stuff to soundcloud, embed a widget on the page that people could play music directly from, provide download links, and provided statistics too. Soundcloud has tiers of service ranging from “free” to “holy shit that’s a lot of money”, and I’m not really afraid of paying money for service so I signed up in September 2011 and started loading music that way.

This is the soundcloud player, if you haven’t seen it before:

The New Set Layout
The New Set Layout

In this period I was still including everything: download link on the blawg, wordpress audio player, and the soundcloud player. Again, it’s only html but it means I have to upload stuff to two places, which takes a little while on my poor-ass Bell Aliant 1Mbit DSL connection.

The intial problem I had with soundcloud wasn’t with soundcloud, it was with me: too much material. The default “free” level of soundcloud offers two hours of storage. That’s a lot of storage for no money. The fact that soundcloud offers a free tier at all is a gamble on their part. In my case it pays off for them, as I make between four and eight hours of new material a year. My total output since 2009 is about seventeen hours, so I blow right on through the free tier and the bottom two tiers of paid levels of soundcloud (2 hours, 12 hours). I started out with the 12-hour tier (€79/year) but I filled that up and was left with the choices of “only have some stuff on soundcloud”, “do some janky shit with mulitple accounts” and “pay even more money”. Despite how things seem to turn out, I actually want to do less work managing stuff, so I did pony up and move the “fuck that’s a lot of money” tier (€250/year, about CAD$300).

After a while of using soundcloud I stopped using the wordpress audio player, which meant I didn’t have to upload tracks to both wordpress and soundcloud, didn’t have to put as much html (ooo the hardship), and hopefully presented fewer confusing options to the people who get confused easily. With the €250 soundcloud gives “full stats” which satisfied the data nerd.

So here’s where things start to get complicated. I’m not rich, and €250 is a lot of money, especially for a hobby I’ve sunk untold thousands of dollars into for really not much return. Thank fuck I actually do the music for myself and not for anyone else, or I’d have given up years ago. I can justify costs in my head if I think I’m getting some benefit for my money.

At first glance, and for a long time, I didn’t have any issue with the soundcloud statistics – even if they were weird in some aspects. My most poopular track? Booze n’ Snooze, and not by a little – by a wide margin. I have never figured out why it’s the most poopular. I realize that it only has 300 plays total (or 160 plays, depending on how you read things, but I’ll get to that), and your Skrillex-Fire-Engine remix has 100,000 and wub-machine-people-fucking has 315,000, but I’m talking about my shit here not yours.

With soundcloud, the “fuck that’s a lot of money” tier gives me (supposedly) “all” the stats. Meaning I get lists of people (who have soundcloud accounts) who listen, the geographic regions of listeners, and the source of the play (widgets on websites, etc). That’s how I realized Booze ‘n Snooze was inexplicably poopular in Poland. What’s up, Polish types, why do you listen to that?

Here’s where things start to fall apart. Soundcloud’s stats say that for “all time” (since September 2011) Booze ‘n Snooze has “160 (of 299 total) plays”. So which is it, 160 or 299? What’s the difference? No idea.
booze n snooze plays

So from where were all these people discovering and playing Booze ‘n Snooze? According to the soundcloud sources stats: Six plays total. Four from this lame-ass blawg itself, one (and only one) from some other website, and one from exfm. So my only conclusion I get is that the rest of the 154 (or 293) plays came from people playing it directly on the Soundcloud website. There’s no more detail available than that. I can’t glean any insight into why that one is more poopular than the rest. The plays don’t carry over into adjacent tracks so I infer they’re not on any of my profile pages looking at stuff, which implies they’re finding it via search. I have another (older, unrelated) track called “Booze” which has a total of ten plays, so I conclude it isn’t people searching for Booze. Why would you search for booze, anyway?

I’m using Booze ‘n Snooze as the example only because it has the most plays, but this pattern carries through for the rest of my tracks. My total plays for all-tracks all-time (since September 2011) is either 3594, 3612, or 3452 depending on which stats page I look at. According to the sources information 140 plays come actually from this lame-ass blawg, 209 from exfm, 135 from the souncloud iOS apps, 3 from tumblr, and 3 from soundcloud’s android app. That totals about 490 plays from known sources, so the rest (almost 3000) must be “on soundcloud’s website”. Let’s start with the obvious fact: nobody is listening to the music on this lame-ass blawg, and I’ve always known that from the wordpress.com’s stats. Everyone visits this lame-ass blawg looking for me to do their homework for them, not to listen to crappy music.

The Soundcloud stats have always been puzzling like this, and I just figured the soundcloud reporting isn’t fine-grained enough. Then a few months ago I realized something pretty obvious that I should have noticed from the start. What on Soundcloud counts as a “play”? How much of the track do you have to get through for it to count? When I first joined soundcloud my own plays counted towards the total, but thankfully they fixed that, at least making one more step for people trying to game soundcloud. I did some tests as a not-logged-into-soundcloud user and I found that if you press the “play” button, let it play less than five seconds and press stop, that counts as a play.

Well, shit.

So of 3612/3594/3452 plays, how many are “real” plays? How many people click play by accident? How many are the people who can’t figure out the internet and click on everything and immediately stop? How many start playing, hate it, and stop? I can’t tell. I’m going to bet “a large number” though.

Here’s an example how the stats don’t really provide insight. For a brief period of about a week, inexplicably “Hey Man Do You Know Anything Else” surged in poopularity (I use “surged” in the context of the comically few plays my stuff gets, it’s not shit beef level). It got 112 plays over the span of about a week, in a constant and consistent rate during the day. The stats give me a long list of soundcloud users, most of which played it one time, from all around the stupid planet with no trend in country and most importantly – no sources listed at all on the source tab. So I can gain zero insight into why people were playing it. Was it on a website? Was it on tumblr? Probably not, according to the tumblr stat of 3. If no source is listed I have to conclude they’re using the soundcloud website. If it was directly on soundcloud’s website how were people getting to it? Mailed around as a link? Posted a joke on forum? Just as inexplicably as it started it ended, and it hasn’t had a play since. Given context I can’t even tell who listened to the whole thing. For all I know of the 112 plays 111 clicked “play” and immediately clicked “stop”. I’d almost say “spam” except there didn’t seem to be any point why someone would.

Hey man do you know stats

Since I said that “s” word, in another tangent, let’s talk about soundcloud spam. Since it started, and especially with the new redesign of soundcloud, in which soundcloud wants to be the new tumblr of audio, spam is a pretty easy thing to do. Make an account, don’t make any music yourself, “repost” other people’s stuff (what’s the point of that feature, anyway?), comment on tracks with random statements like “HUGE DROP!” and usually a spam link to join your spam facebook group. Interestingly I got rid of a lot of that just by not tagging my stuff as “electronic” anymore. That, and I don’t join groups promoted by spammers and delete spam comments so they probably realize it’s not worth the bother. The culture of soundcloud really is based around the Skrillex-fire-engine-remix/wub machine people fucking/novelty shit beef crowd and everyone calling everyone else a producer. That’s fine, I just delete the spam comments and other people can do what they want.

So back to stats. I figure a better metric is “downloads” since you have to do work to download a track from soundcloud (find the small download button), so fewer downloads are probably accidental. All time downloads for all tracks is about 248, Booze ‘n Snooze being 16 downloads. In both cases the download rate is around 5-7% of the number of plays. I can’t see any reason you’d download a track if you didn’t actually listen to it/like it. So I’m inferring from this that most of the 3612/3594/3452 plays are people who do it by mistake, or don’t like it and give up.

So where the fuck am I going with all this? If I was still in a free/cheap soundcloud tier, I probably wouldn’t care as much. My soundcloud bill is due on the day I’m writing this, and if I don’t cough up €250 my stuff falls back to a free-tier account, I lose the stats, and only the last two hours of stuff remains. If I was relying on soundcloud as the embedded player on this lame-ass blawg I’d be up shit creek, as those would all disappear. In context though, nobody listens here anyway so I probably wouldn’t notice. (In fact, since I removed all the soundcloud stuff from this place I haven’t noticed any change in soundcloud play traffic anyway, which agrees with the low number of on-wordpress blawg plays from the stats).

How much do I want to pay for nobody to listen? That’s what it really comes down to. €250/$300 is a lot of money to support 248 downloads. I really only have one consistent listener, so for $300 I could send them a CD every time I make a new track, save money, and get just as much exposure.

Let me back up here a little bit. I want to make a point that I’m not really on a “I hate soundcloud” path here, because I don’t hate soundcloud. I think it’s great, I think it provides a great service to people who actually want to make music and have people listen to it. If I was a doofus who made five tracks a year and loved dubstep soundcloud would figuratively be the best thing since sliced bread. My personal situation makes soundcloud a pricy service. If I had a huge audience who were big soundcloud users maybe I’d care more. I don’t think that I have no listeners because of soundcloud, I think I have no listeners despite soundcloud.

At the €250/$300 level I get lots of other things that I’m not interested in. Stuff like Dropbox support (don’t care), pro support (I only ever had one problem, and that was a minor issue when they did the new redesign, which they happily responded to and did get fixed), groups (I don’t even know what the groups are for), and spotlight tab (which they got rid of with the redesign, then had to bring back. I don’t think anyone sees it anyway).

Also if I didn’t have an alternative, I’d definitely be sticking with soundcloud. In Dec 2012 I started putting stuff on Bandcamp, which overall is cheaper ($120/year), has no storage limit (at least none they’ve tried to impose on me, and I have everything I’ve made there now), and is geared towards people who want to download stuff, as they will generate a variety of mp3/aac/alac/flac/boogityboogity formats. My stats on bandcamp are terrible compared to soundcloud – if you believe the 3500+ plays are real plays. If you believe the true value is much much lower, then the bandcamp stats are probably right in line.

So in case of my limited finances and not enjoying having to duplicate things, I’m going to let soundcloud expire, save my €250, keep my bandcamp account, and see where that takes me.

I know this entire thing was not interesting to you. That’s why it went into “administrivia.”