SoundCloud’s size does matter, but it’s not the only metric to watch

SoundCloud is really big these days. Heck, even Barack Obama is on the platform. This makes sense: there is no equivalent service out there at scale, apart from YouTube, which is hardly focused on the audio experience.

So how big is it? On Tuesday, as the service took its ‘Next’ web app version out of beta, it revealed that 180 million people interact with SoundCloud each month through the service’s website, mobile apps and embedded players. It should be stressed that this does not mean 180 million registered users (the last update there was 20 million-plus, back in May), but still. Woah.

And that’s not enough, it seems. As co-founder Eric Wahlforss told me, the revamp is largely aimed at increasing engagement and attracting more users:

“If you go on the front page it’s a more friendly appearance. We’re basically accepting any kind of user – it’s a broadening out.”

How will it achieve this? The biggest new feature is reposting, which should make it easier for sounds to spread. This feeds into the newfound ability to curate sets of sounds – a feature that Wahlforss reckons should appeal to music bloggers and even labels and radio networks.

Eric Wahlforss, Soundcloud co-founderThere are other handy tweaks too, such as the introduction of continuous listening, keyboard shortcuts and a realtime notification infrastructure (the last two there came out of internal hacking projects, of which CTO Wahlforss says he is especially proud).

According to Wahlforss, the rather lengthy gestation phase for Next (it was in beta for seven months) showed a 30 percent increase in overall engagement, with the main metric there being the time people spend listening.

However, the most important metric for SoundCloud is really its number of premium subscribers – and there, the company is staying pretty tight-lipped.

SoundCloud operates a freemium model, with charges ranging from €29-€500 ($38-$654) annually, and that’s pretty much where all its revenues come from. Ask Wahlforss whether ads might invade the service at some point, and you get a swift circling-back to the subscriptions angle. So is SoundCloud profitable yet? “We don’t really comment on those numbers in public. We’re focused on growth.”

Overall size does matter. But it remains frustratingly difficult to evaluate whether that growth is translating yet into the kind of premium subscription uptake that SoundCloud needs for a sustainable future.