SoundCloud Moves Toward Email Marketing With Its Latest Labs Feature

These days, how musicians make money from their work is no longer set in stone. Some may do well selling physical records or digital downloads, while many new artists look at digital music as more of a marketing tool. Sometimes a track is worth 99 cents. Sometimes it’s free.

Increasingly, the value some artists can expect from making songs available to fans is nothing more than an email address. As in any other industry, building a database of email addresses can turn into a valuable promotional tool in the long run, assuming there’s significant enough demand for one’s work.

To help facilitate that data collection, SoundCloud has launched a new project called Email Unlock. The simple, no-frills tool allows artists and sound creators to put their SoundCloud content behind an email sign-up link and manage campaigns via a backend console. The finished product is a stand-alone page containing the embedded track and an email entry field. Pretty straightforward stuff.

As simple as it may seem, tools like this reflect the new economics of digital content. In an age when many Web users have become accustomed to getting access to content for free – be it news, movies, music or software – those that create it are still struggling to find ways to extract value from their relationships with those content consumers.

In the digital music space, studies have indicated that streaming services like Spotify and Rdio have led to a decrease in piracy, which is great news for copyright owners. Still, those services haven’t yet proven to be a major cash cow for individual artists, as the viability business model is dependent on the services’ ability to scale and convert listeners to paying subscribers. Many dedicated fans will still pay for music, whether it’s to experience the high-fidelity audio of vinyl or to support a band they love. More casual listeners may be hesitant to pay up. It also depends largely on what they’re paying for. For a digital download or access to a free stream, supplying one’s email address is a small price to pay, but one that still has value for the content creator.

Email Unlock is just the latest feature to come out of SoundCloud Labs, a showcase of experimental projects undertaken by developers at the up-and-coming social sound-sharing startup. Within the company, developers are encouraged to take advantage of Hacker Time, which is SoundCloud’s equivalent to Google’s famed “20 percent time,” during which engineers are allowed to work on whatever miscellaneous projects they desire.