The rise of music streaming services has been taken into consideration by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This goes to show that the music industry as a whole has transformed and transcended the traditional boundaries. Music services including radio coverage and podcasts have taken the center stage in this paradigm shift. For instance, Kanye’s album ‘The Life of Pablo’ became the first album to receive platinum-based online plays as opposed to physical sales. These days, the success of an artist/band is judged by the number of plays they are getting on streaming platforms.
The reason why I’m mentioning the rise of streaming platforms is that it comes at a cost. When it comes to the music industry, small and independent services are absorbed by rival companies. For instance, Rdio was acquired by Pandora and AOL ran out of business. Major music networks similar to the TV networks absorb the smaller ones and thus there’s a constant shakeout every quarter. One particular independent streaming network with steady popularity that stands out as a powerful presence in the radio streaming industry is the SomaFM.
What is SomaFM?
SomaFM is an independent internet-only multi-channel radio streaming network purely run by donations from users. SomaFM began its journey in 1999 from a basement garage in San Francisco as a micro-power radio station. The initial success of the channel meant that Rusty Hodge, the founder of SomaFM could launch a full-time internet radio station within a year. True to its name, Soma in the last two decades has become a perfect pleasure music drug for listeners around the world.
Why is SomaFM different from other radio streaming networks?
Most of the radio streaming networks work on free or paid streaming music tiers. So, you either pay a subscription fee or you listen for free with ad bombardment throughout the website. If you’re a free listener, you don’t get access to premium features such as song-skipping and must watch pre-roll ads. Thus, streaming on those radio sites makes sense only if you’re a casual listener.
With SomaFM, you get access to all the premium features and you don’t have to spend a penny on subscription. You can skip as many songs as you want, you get on-demand playback and you can explore the depths of each section on the website.
The year 2002 changed everything for internet broadcasters as with the introduction of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, broadcasters were required to pay a per-song per listener royalty. This period was a dark patch in SomaFM’s history as the channel was allegedly forced to pay over $1,000 USD per day if it were to continue its operation. However, later that year, royalties were reduced by half and still, Soma would find it difficult to carry on as the expenditure would exceed revenue.
In 2002, SomaFM ceased broadcasting and Hodge had to appear before US Congress in a bid to reduce the royalty rate. Finally, things worked out as Congress passed the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (SWSA) which enabled small broadcasters to pay lower rates. Thus, after three months of hiatus, SomaFM was back on the air.
After the troublesome period, SomaFM found its feet and kept improving year after year. In 2005, it entered into a partnership with Orban. In 2007 it was an active part of ‘Internet Radio Day of Silence’ in protest against Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to raise royalty fees. In 2013, it partnered with ‘Aha’ by Harman International which was a breakthrough collaboration as it allowed SomaFM to make their content available via ‘Aha’ apps. In 2014 SomaFM partnered with Qualcomm to include ‘Allplay’ – AllJoyn open-source software for wireless speakers in their mobile apps.
Why should you stream SomaFM?
You can stream SomaFM for free. There are no discrepancies as there are no display ads or intrusive pre-roll ads. You can browse the website without fearing mistimed clicks or intrusive ads.
Since SomaFM is a channel run by the community, there’s no doubt that it does have an amazing community. You can actually join the guest book by adding your email address, name, and your message. As soon as you put an entry, your message will be displayed to fellow users. If you like what you hear and want the platform to grow, you can even donate custom amounts using the donation column on the right.
Original content with handpicked channels
Unlike other directories with over 30,000+ radio channels, SomaFM just features 30 channels and offers its unique content for free. It is an independent network with original channels where music is handpicked by the top DJs and music producers. With SomaFM it’s more about quality content than a quantitative approach which often leaves you confused.
I mean I have seen hundreds of radio music streaming networks but none had a playlist as satisfying as SomaFM. These playlists are updated in real-time featuring top artists, tracks, and newly added songs by the members of the platform. For instance, you’ll find unique playlist such as ‘Americana Roots music for Cowhands, Cowpokes and Cowtippers’, ‘Blips ‘n’ beeps backed mostly with beats by clip hop IDM’, ‘Deep ambient electronic, experimental and space music’ by Deep Space One, ‘Music for Hacking’ by DEF CON Radio. These are just a few of the many custom playlists available on SomaFM.
Everything until now must feel like a paid review but here comes the reality check. SomaFM as a website feels as though it hasn’t been updated since 1999. Given the independence and the significance of this radio network, its visual appeal in 2020 is a total let down. The use of fonts, text color and overall graphics sets you twenty years backward. If you’re a new user, you’ll think of this website as a scam landing page and would bounce off immediately.
The header section on SomaFM has a disproportionate logo on the left and different texts listed in the center. These include – listen, news, support/donate, store, playlists, mobile, podcasts, features, mailing list, guest book, about and contact. Almost everything you’d want in a drop-down menu or well-arranged section is cluttered within a small space.
After a disappointing header, it’s time you move on to an even horrible hero section. It’s divided into two sections. The left section which covers ¾ of the page – has a Donation CTA in green followed by supporting texts and album arts. On the right, there’s a donation column along with live stats. At the time of reviewing this website – there were 10090 active people on the website. As for the donation, you can choose between $20 to $365 and can even add a custom donation amount.
The body section of SomaFM is filled with channel arts and details. There are four-channel arts in one row and as you keep scrolling, you’ll find up to 10 such rows. As you scroll down, you’ll find a small news section on the right which you’d probably overlook because donation dominates that column.
Inner pages though they offer insights are equally disappointing from a design sense. There’s a channel name on the top, a short description, Listen now button, Channel information, active listeners data, and donation callout yet again. On the left, there are five options – Tune In, About Your DJ, Song History, Artists and Direct Stream Links.
Similar to the entire website, the footer is extremely cluttered too. With little to no valuable information, there’s not much to take home from this section either.
SomaFM is a network truly run by the listeners. There’s no directory nor sponsored content. It has 30 unique channels that allow the service to broadcast commercial-free, underground radio to the world. Each of these channels has a dedicated award-winning DJ who handpicks the music for these stations.
When you click on a particular channel, it opens up in a small window and starts playing a track. You’ll have the channel name, music director, time, artist, song details, along with the options to buy or star mark the songs. At the bottom you’ll find five options – All Stations, Favorite Station, Favorite Songs, Community and Now Playing.
I checked the website on a 1920×1080 resolution and it seemed alright. Even the mobile version seemed responsive and didn’t have any issue when I was browsing around the website and playing music.
The playback was smooth with zero discrepancies. The quality of audio was great and the sound selection was unique as well.
Plans & Pricing
SomaFM is a free music streaming service. However, you can donate to support the channel.
Suggestions I have for SomaFM
I’d love the developers to work on the graphics of the website. It feels outdated. Moreover, I’d advise them to reduce the number of donation CTAs because it comes off spam-like. Lastly, it’d be great if they could add more exclusive channels on the network.
SomaFM is a great streaming platform if you want to enjoy some exclusive tunes that you wouldn’t hear on mainstream networks. Though the graphics and the website layout is not the best, the audio quality is something I’d vouch for.