Blue Bottle Coffee

What SoundCloud learned from Snoop

March 11, 2013: 10:57 AM ET

Audio sharing platform SoundCloud is simplifying its payment options and partnering with a handful of big names by promoting their user profiles.

By Omar Akhtar, reporter

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 11.23.22 AMFORTUNE -- The online audio sharing platform SoundCloud is simplifying its user pay structure and rolling out a handful of "Pro Partners." These are brands and artists who have partnered with SoundCloud to receive promoted user profiles and certain advanced features to display content.

"We get a lot of incoming requests from larger brands for promoting their profiles," says Alexander Ljung, co-founder and CEO of SoundCloud. "This is our way of trying it out, allowing them to be more open, and be seen as creators within the existing community."

Often called the "YouTube of audio," SoundCloud currently has 180 million unique visitors every month with 10 hours of sound being uploaded every minute. It operates on a "freemium" model where basic user profiles are available for free, and advanced features are available at different price tiers. By forming partnerships, it gains an additional revenue stream and allows a corporate presence without compromising the look of the platform with outright display advertising.

"This might be less intrusive from the consumer's perspective," says Gartner analyst Mike McGuire. "Commitment and engagement are what brands are now looking for as they move beyond traditional advertising, and at SoundCloud, they are looking at a set of varied, highly engaged users."

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The full list of Pro Partners includes brands from all ends of the spectrum such as Red Bull, rapper and producer Snoop Lion, comedian Chris Hardwick, the Grammys, musician The-Dream, director Kevin Smith, The Guardian, Blue Mic, KQED, and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Some of the brands have obvious uses for the audio platform, such as Snoop Lion who regularly shares demo tracks and new releases with fans through his SoundCloud profile, and Warner Bros., which will use it to share sounds from upcoming movie soundtracks.

Other brands might be a little harder to envision as audio creators, but they've come up with some interesting uses. Red Bull plans to use SoundCloud to showcase performances from artists performing on the Red Bull Sound Select platform at SXSW this year.

Blue Bottle Coffee intends to use it to spread a little more knowledge about its product. "We're hoping to [use SoundCloud to] tell a story of the steps that go into making a delicious cup of coffee," says Byard Duncan, a representative for Blue Bottle Coffee. "That involves talking to the farmer in the country of origin for the coffee beans, to showcasing quality control, and finally to roasting and serving the coffee."

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Previously SoundCloud had offered Lite, Solo, Pro, and Pro Plus accounts ranging from 29 to 500 Euros a year. The model has now been streamlined to only offer two options, Pro and Pro Unlimited accounts. These are priced at 29 Euros and 99 Euros a year respectively. Users who sign up with those accounts will get more uploading and downloading capability, analytics, and additional features to promote their content.

The Pro Partner option is the next level up from the previous two where SoundCloud works out individual deals with companies or artists to promote their brands. Pro Partners can take advantage of larger picture displays on their profiles, promoted visibility on the "Who to Follow" section of users' pages, greater analytics about their audience, and the "Moving Sound" widget which allows a series of pictures to accompany a streaming audio file.

Co-founder and chief technical officer Eric Wahlforss says this is a way for SoundCloud to test out the advanced features before offering them to ordinary users. "Over the coming months, we'll be iterating on new features to see which ones resonate with our community and making the best ones available to our Pro and Pro Unlimited subscribers."

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