Insanely cheap music streaming has arrived

Music to the ears of some.
Music to the ears of some.
Image: Reuters/Helen Atkinson
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Three months of unlimited, ad-free access to 135 million songs could be yours for less than the price of bottled water.

Music company SoundCloud is offering a promotion this week to new users in the US and several other countries signing up for its SoundCloud Go streaming service: 99 cents for an entire three-month subscription, after which each month will cost the regular $10. There’s no catch. No contract or set of hidden fees. The service, which is up against bigger players like Spotify and Apple Music in the streaming field, is simply angling to snag customers—something it’s been struggling to do since it launched earlier this year.

For listeners, SoundCloud’s business setbacks (and its resulting willingness to offer dirt-cheap music) are a boon. The service boasts a massive catalog several times bigger than that of its rivals, and that library includes rare tracks, niche genres, and original mixes that can’t be found on more mainstream services. While others like Spotify have announced 99-cent deals in the past, SoundCloud’s size gives its new offer the most relative value.

The ridiculously large discount also tells a broader story. As the music streaming market becomes more claustrophobically crowded, companies need to show that they’ve got something unique to offer; Spotify, as an example, has done so with its personalized Discover Weekly playlist (though every other service is now trying to copy it). And most services offer free trial periods.

Price consciousness, it seems, is the newest gimmick. While SoundCloud’s discount is temporary, other companies are taking the idea a stretch further. The New York Times reported yesterday that internet giants Amazon and Pandora are both gearing up to launch streaming services costing as little as $5 a month (paywall)—a move that could force existing services to slash their prices too.

Putting questions about these models’ financial sustainability aside for now, ultra-cheap music would be excellent news for consumers. Though quite the opposite for those responsible for the actual music: record labels and artists.