BRAZIL – 2021/12/07: In this photo illustration the streaming service logo SoundCloud seen displayed … [+]
As December arrives, it seems as if every platform in the entertainment industry is focused on nothing but year-end lists, with the biggest, the best, and the most popular taking center stage. In music, Spotify has its Wrapped program, and many others have lookback projects that receive a lot of attention. SoundCloud also has its own version of a year-end wrap-up, but the company has taken a very different approach.
Soundcloud is ending the year by unveiling a new campaign called Look Up (Presented by Sprite). What makes this different from the average end of year project? “It isn’t about celebrating the biggest artists or the most-streamed,” commented Jenn Wong VP, Head of Global Marketing at SoundCloud during a recent call. “It’s about the communities that moved culture this year.”
The idea for the campaign is fairly simple–SoundCloud has always been a place for the very much underground to get its start and grow to a point where it is no longer considered underground. In fact, the platform has a storied history of not just helping certain artists find massive fan bases and then cross over to the mainstream, but entire genres. So, what styles and musical subgenres began picking up steam and became cultural movements in 2022, and what is slated to potentially make its way into the mainstream conversation soon?
A look at an image from SoundCloud’s Look Up (Presented by Sprite) campaign.
The campaign focuses on 10 drawers of music–plugg, drill, phonk, UK dance, SoCal soul, digicore, Brazil funk, Jersey club, industrial techno, and Afrobeats. The list includes some styles which are already beginning to make a splash on charts around the world, such as Afrobeats (Tems and Wizkid) and drill (Pop Smoke, Ice Spice). The rest are already generating plenty of streams and conversation on SoundCloud, and it may only be a matter of time before a larger audience embraces them. If some–or all–of these styles of music don’t ring a bell, don’t feel bad.
“No one should be familiar with every genre,” Wong assured, laughing. “Because that’s just impossible.”
In order to create this list and fuel this campaign, the team at SoundCloud didn’t rely solely on instincts or choose these genres randomly. Instead, the company dug into its data to find out what’s growing and what’s coming next. “You can actually pinpoint when things become movements,” Wong explained when asked how styles were picked for inclusion. “You can pinpoint through data when people start talking about things, when people start using specific hashtags to tag their genres. It’s pretty incredible.”
While there is certainly an analytical side to determining what’s just on the horizon, anyone on the platform can get a sense of what’s next simply by looking and listening. It’s easy to tell what’s beginning to do well on SoundCloud by checking out a certain track or artist’s number of plays, followers, viewing how often a subgenre’s hashtag is used, or even glancing at the comments underneath songs that have been posted. Commenting on tunes is still specific to SoundCloud, and it helps make the platform something of a hybrid between streaming music and social media.
Wong asserted that Look Up (Presented by Sprite) is not a major brand campaign, but rather a fun social roll out to end the year in SoundCloud style. The project includes a longform video as well as shorter clips and plenty of social content, all focusing on genres and styles that have yet to really “break,” but which are already doing well on the platform.
This campaign would be interesting for any streaming music platform to roll out, but it works best with SoundCloud. It’s authentic to the brand, which has always been known for championing up-and-coming artists. In fact, there is even a term widely used called SoundCloud wrappers, which refers to a group of hip hop artists who got their start on the site and who released music that is thematically and sonically similar to one another, including chart-topping names like Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion. Some of them went on to achieve great commercial success, though they will always be known as SoundCloud rappers, even if their superstar status seems at odds with what the company is known for.
This love of what’s unknown and what’s next is perhaps the most important differentiator for SoundCloud in an industry where it can be difficult to tell the major players apart from one another. Almost all the major players have the same catalogs, but SoundCloud listeners often opt for the lesser-known, which makes the site unusual. “Yes, you can listen to Adele and Taylor Swift and whoever else,” Wong admitted, continuing, “But the true magic of SoundCloud is discovering all those artists that are going to meet next.”
The Look Up (Presented by Sprite) campaign is also a welcome outlier in the year-end space. SoundCloud could simply list which songs and artists perform the best throughout 2022, but why would it release the same old familiar ranking when it has a much more interesting story to tell? The genres mentioned in the campaign are available anywhere, and many of the artists who fit under these umbrella labels likely also post their music to platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, but those outlets don’t provide the same sense of community.
In closing, Wong shared another thought regarding what makes the musical website different from the rest: “SoundCloud feels like one of the last democratic places where you can truly understand where music starts to happen.”