Edit 2017-07-18: SoundCloud have now restored Rinse FM's account.

Nonetheless, the points below still stand in relation to hosting content under online accounts that have the potential for copyright takedowns.

And it's shutdown

For many dance music lovers, the taking down of Rinse FM's SoundCloud profile yesterday was a sad event. Along with their account, a huge archive of shows they hosted on SoundCloud have all gone due to copyright infringement complaints.

It's difficult to overstate Rinse's influence in dance music. The station was heavily instrumental in pushing grime, and later dubstep in the UK, and contributing to the massive spread of these genres outside of these shores. While much of the UK radio broadcast frequency space is pumped full of the same cloying pop music being endlessly recirculated,1 Rinse FM is a refreshing breath of fresh air.

Rinse FM started life as a pirate station, broadcasting illicitly via aerials perched on tower block rooftops, but more recently acquired a legal license. Peculiar then that they are now legitimate under the traditional broadcasting regulations, but don't have the same freedoms when distributing those same broadcasts via the internet.

Fortunately Rinse has an established physical presence as an FM station and a fanbase built long before the internet became popular for distributing music. Rinse also has a sizable following on other social networks, allowing them to communicate what's going on, and, probably as important, a web site that lets them continue to put out their shows uninterrupted, via live streaming and podcasts.

Without seeing their SoundCloud playback statistics or their web analytics before and after this change, it's difficult to know how much of an impact that has on the number of people listening to Rinse FM online. But, given the news of SoundCloud's redundancies this week, it may well be that everyone's profiles are getting deleted from SoundCloud sometime soon like it or not. Perhaps any impact on Rinse's future prospects may well be minimal.

But, such an account deletion could be disastrous for the progress of a smaller project, say a independent producer, or a niche podcast, who are maybe start to make waves. All of a sudden their content evaporates (easy to replace somewhere else) together with all of their following on that site (perhaps more difficult to rebuild).

What can we take away from this takedown?

It seems a backwards step for the music industry

Take a look at the podcast page and, in any given week, you'll see a diverse range of artists hosting shows, and invariably a top line up. Today, you have a house legend, Masters At Work's Kenny Dope, on only a couple of hours after alternative electronic producer, Forest Swords. Whether old hands or not, the hosts are often influential taste makers.

Because of that, Rinse's audience no doubt overlaps with who the music industry are targeting: young and early adopters of new music. Why then does someone, somewhere presumably think it's a smart move to hinder that? These listeners likely form the dedicated audience that same industry is crying out for: those that will go out and track down music, share it with their friends, go to shows to see acts playing out, or even become the next big DJs or producers of the future.

Here's another thing: many of Rinse's shows are in a mix format. That's because mixes are a natural way of presenting modern dance music. Maybe I'm naive as to the machinations of the music industry, but both as a listener, and as a (mediocre) DJ, it's difficult to see the logic behind taking down DJ mixes at all.

As well as creative expression and entertainment in their own right, mixes can act as promotional tools. The featuring of tracks in mixes may well encourage listeners to buy the tracks, or at least to head over to a streaming service to hear it uninterrupted. Keep in mind that a track in a mix isn't usually a substitute for hearing the track end-to-end: they're different contexts. And DJs listening in may well decide to shell out for the full track to play in their own sets. When there's so much music, past and present competing for attention today, you'd think that anything that might nudge listeners to a given label's artists would be welcome.

Where to host projects?

So if you're starting with a project that you're serious about and you want it to reach the audience you're aiming for, what do you do? What this situation tells me is that it's vital to be cultivating a following in multiple places. That way you're not back to square one should your profile on a single site be taken down.

Right now, I have an idea for a music-related project I'm intending to put together. To keep things simple starting out, I'd considered just having the project exist as a SoundCloud account, instead of creating a blog to go with it. After this week with the Rinse FM takedown, coupled with the possibility of SoundCloud disappearing, my thinking has shifted entirely.

Owners of accounts on online services, as I've written before,2 have little real ownership of what happens with those accounts. If the site's owners or moderators don't like what you're doing for whatever reason, you're gone. Someone might complain about what you're doing on the service, just as happened to Rinse FM, and likewise you're gone. For what I'm planning, it's very unlikely that copyright claims would be an issue, but the potential of having your account taken down for some other reason, and perhaps outside your control, still stands.

Certainly, radio stations like Rinse and DJs could try their luck on Mixcloud or other alternative sites, but there's nothing to say that the same copyright issues might occur there in future, even if those sites are relatively permissive now.

It's difficult. The big services are those where the users are. Creators are often tied to publishing using those services if they want to get people interested, as those services are where people are browsing, searching and listening. But, over-reliance on a particular service means that if it fails you, either destroying your account on a whim, or because the site itself is shutdown, the knock-on impact for getting visibility (or audibility) for creative projects can be a big blow. Hedging your bets seems the only viable solution.

  1. Don't get me wrong. I'm very much not against pop music. The "same" in that sentence is an important qualifier of why I dislike those stations so, so much. It's the lack of individuality and the repetition that gets me. If you flick through the commercial pop stations, could you tell them apart?

    When there's so much music that I know I'll never have enough time to discover and hear, it's such a pity that show producers and station bosses are often so unadventurous. 

  2. Look what happened to my GitHub account last year, for example.