If SoundCloud Disappears, What Happens to Its Music Culture?

Even now, the site houses a large pool of musicians, many of them unsigned, who are part of international music cultures that largely do not exist anywhere else online. In a recent Times article, my colleague Jon Caramanica chronicled the rise of ‘‘SoundCloud rap,’’ a subgenre of rap released primarily on the streaming service that he described as ‘‘the most vital and disruptive new movement in hip-hop thanks to rebellious music, volcanic energy and occasional acts of malevolence.’’ As he noted, it rose as a rebuttal to the hyperproduced sound of artists like Drake. It was music made entirely to be distributed online, yet it created its own culture offline — something unlikely to have emerged from the imagination of your typical record-label executive.

The death of SoundCloud, then, would mean more than the sunsetting of a service: It could mean the erasure of a decade of internet sound culture, says Jace Clayton, a musician and the author of ‘‘Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.’’ He reminded me of an online music service called imeem, which MySpace bought in 2009 in the hope of absorbing its 16 million users into its own platform. But the struggling service shut down, and all the music uploaded and shared to it was lost, including what Clayton recalls to be a very eclectic subset of black Chicago house music. ‘‘What does it mean if someone can delete hundreds and thousands of hours of sound culture overnight?’’ he asked.

SoundCloud always let me get lost in a warren of music that I’d never heard — or even heard of — before. Once, it was Japanese trap songs. Another time it was Ethiopian jazz music. It somehow manages to evoke some of the most appealing features of offline music culture, like browsing through bins in a record store or catching indie acts at an underground club.

SoundCloud took a community-first approach to building its…

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