When Spencer Claiborne was in the hospital being treated for leukemia, he turned to music to help him relax.
“I took a lot of comfort in an artist called Cloud,” said the 20-year-old from Missouri. "The music got me through a lot of difficult nights and days."
Once he recovered, Claiborne went onto SoundCloud and sent Cloud, the musician, a message thanking him. And Cloud wrote back.
"That’s something that doesn’t really exist; the ability to communicate one on one, with an artist that you love," he said.
Vickie Nauman, a digital-music consultant and owner of CrossBorderWorks, says that kind of community is one of the main reasons SoundCloud has such a large and loyal following -- 175 million users.
Now SoundCloud is hoping to monetize and grow that audience with SoundCloudGo. The long-awaited subscription service costs $9.99 a month and lets users access Soundcloud's huge library, without have to deal with ads. Users also have the ability to save songs to their mobile devices and upload their own music.
“When I heard going to launch with 125 million songs, I thought that’s sounds awful,” joked Nauman. But she says that's what makes SoundCloud SoundCloud.
"They have a lot of mixes and special content that isn’t available anywhere else," she said.
Musicians don’t have to go through a record company like they do on other streaming sites. And lots of SoundCloud users also upload remixes and mashups.
When it comes to differentiating its brand, SoundCloud has done a good job, said Susan Federspiel, a strategy director with Landor, a global branding firm
“I don’t think that Apple or Spotify or some of the other brands have really built their community around their brand the same way that SoundCloud has been able to do it," she said. "Certainly influential music bloggers go there to find out what's happening first."
Music-streaming is already a crowded and competitive space, with some big players including Spotify, Pandora and Apple. To succeed, SoundCloud's new subscription service will need to bring in new users, as well as convince existing ones to pay for a better version of a service they once got for free. To that end, Federspiel says the service will add more of the mainstream music found on other sites to its own eclectic mix.
Although he says the user interface is still clunky and needs a lot of work, Spencer Claiborne says he's planning to sign up for SoundCloud Go. “You know, I think I will,” he said. He said SoundCloud users get a special sensation when listening to music on the site.
"You realize that you’re maybe the third or fourth person, aside from the creator, to listen to it, and it’s really good," he said.