Rick Rubin: “What’s missing today is what SoundCloud used to be”

“It wasn’t about monetisation… It really was this free play environment where you could find really cool new things and people were experimenting.”

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SoundCloud App

Image: M4OS Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

In a new podcast with producer-DJ Kenny Beats, Rick Rubin praises SoundCloud and its direct-to-listener model, saying “what’s missing today is what SoundCloud used to be.”

Rubin makes the comments on the latest episode of his podcast Tetragrammaton, where the pair discussed how SoundCloud had operated as a “free play environment” that promoted experimentation and innovation.

Calling the platform an “interesting moment in time”, the Def Jam Records co-founder asked Beats if there’s anything like SoundCloud today, to which the latter replied: “I don’t think so.”

At the very least, “nothing that’s not already super monetised and has like a million DMCA strikes,” he says. “If you put up something that has a Drake acapella in it, you’re getting taken down in two seconds.”

Beats also calls SoundCloud “the wild west” where users could “steal anything, flip anything, rip anything and it [would] stay up”. “You couldn’t necessarily monetise it,” the producer explains, a sentiment Rubin echoes, saying: “It wasn’t about monetisation.”

“The beauty of it was it really was this free play environment where you could find really cool new things and people were experimenting and trying things and there was a lot of bad stuff and a lot of cool stuff.”

“Yeah and I think it was so influential that there’s still people who cling to it, like Aphex Twin is still uploading to SoundCloud randomly on a page that people hardly know about just because it’s an outlet that’s that direct,” says Beats.

“And the amount of artists now who are huge artists who started there – who started with that format and mentality. That’s not something you can tell someone to do now. ‘Just drop a bunch of your music and let people hear it.’ How?”

As Rubin aptly concludes, “What’s missing today is what SoundCloud used to be, for sure.”

Also in the chat, Rick delves into how studying at an elite music school doesn’t always translate into success as a musician, saying “[There’s] a real difference in the head between being a technically great player and creating music. Those are two different things.”

Beats, a Berklee alumnus himself, agrees: “None of the people that I went to school with who are unbelievable players now are in music because they never wrote their own songs,” he says.


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