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Investors bail-out SoundCloud in emergency investment round

Struggling music service SoundCloud just completed a $169.5 million emergency Series F funding round, TechCrunch reports. New York investment bank Raine Group and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek led the round, which Tech Crunch called a “do-or-die moment” for SoundCloud. Soundcloud’s investors approved the financing round on Friday morning, just ahead of the deadline.

Last month, the company laid off 40% of its workforce (137 employees), according to TechCrunch. Prior to this most recent investment round, which SoundCloud shareholders approved today, the company was valued at $150 million. In the past, it has been worth as much as $700 million. According to TechCrunch, SoundCloud, privately owned, says it is on pace to generate $100 million a year in revenue.

However, after TechCrunch broke the news concerning the severity of SoundCloud’s woes, musicians and avid music listeners alike offered support, CEO Alex Ljung says. TechCrunch reports that Chance the Rapper, who made his name via Soundcloud, made an effort to save the platform.

“I’ve been moved by the outpouring of commentary around SoundCloud’s unique & crucial role in driving what global culture is today (and what it will become tomorrow),” Ljung wrote. “You’ve told me how, without SoundCloud, there would be a giant gaping void in today’s world of music.”

SoundCloud does occupy a unique niche in the music streaming space. Unlike services like Spotify and Apple Music, which pay artists for the right to use their music, SoundCloud allows artists to upload their own music. The open platform model has helped to make SoundCloud “the world’s largest music and audio platform,” per the company’s website. The service features exclusive content like “breakthrough tracks, raw demos, podcasts and more.” Moreover, it facilitates direct communication between listeners and artists.

Rather than touting its uniqueness as a strength, SoundCloud is trying to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. According to TechCrunch, the service could recover by “doubl[ing] down on the user-uploaded indie music scene, including garage demos, DJ sets, unofficial remixes and miscellaneous audio you can’t find elsewhere.”

The company could also increase revenue by scaling-up its advertising efforts and redesigning its paid subscription offerings.

SoundCloud employees told TechCrunch that morale at the company under Ljung’s regime was low, particularly following the layoffs. Though the company had planned the layoffs months in advance, it continued to hire new employees right up until the end. As a result, SoundCloud let some people go mere weeks after it had hired them.

Employees, according to TechCrunch, have accused Ljung of a lack of focus and a propensity for excessive revelry, and have noted “inconsistency” in the company’s product direction.

As part of the effort toward recovery, SoundCloud is overhauling its leadership. Kerry Trainor, who headed video-streaming service Vimeo from 2012-2016, will replace Alex Ljung as CEO; Ljung will become chairman of the board. Trainor will make former Vimeo COO Mike Weissman his new CEO at SoundCloud. Eric Wahlfross, who vacated his CTO position in January to become chief product officer, will remain in that role. Artem Fishman, who migrated to SoundCloud from Yahoo! to take Wahlfross’ place, will remain CTO.

In return for its investment, Raine will receive two seats on SoundCloud’s board. Fred Davis, who has worked with services like Spotify and Shazam as a music industry attorney; and Raine’s vice president, Joe Puthenveetil, who manages Raine’s music investments, will take those seats.

TechCrunch says the management shakeup—particularly the addition of the Vimeo veterans— could launch SoundCloud in a promising new direction. Years ago, YouTube was threatening to push Vimeo out of the market, and Trainor revitalized his service by underscoring and developing the aspects that differentiated it from YouTube: chiefly, according to TechCrunch, its emphasis on amateur art film rather than viral videos. SoundCloud might be wise to similarly sharpen its niche in a market of giants, TechCrunch says.

It may, alternatively, be of the service’s best interest to pursue a merger agreement. TechCrunch reported in January that Google had expressed interest in taking over SoundCloud.

Whatever its future, today “SoundCloud remains strong and independent,” Ljung writes.

Featured image via Flickr/Freenerd

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