2016 has barely got going, but the world of music streaming has wasted no time in kicking off what looks set to be a pretty momentous year, with one platform in particular dominating the conversation. With January only just behind us, SoundCloud has already treated us to more than one new feature - not to mention a rather significant deal with a certain industry heavyweight.

Mid-January saw the streaming service strike a licensing agreement with Universal Music Group, signaling a rapid advancement into serious industry territory; having already signed with Warner Music Group back in 2014, SoundCloud are now waiting on Sony Music to make it a major label hat-trick. Getting another industry giant like UMG on their side is no doubt a big win for SoundCloud - not least for its users, who can now legally stream and share music from the likes of Rihanna, Kanye West, Adele, and Avicii.

And that's not all. SoundCloud recently introduced its brand new 'Stations' feature, an extension of the current 'Related Tracks' component which presents "a new way to discover the tracks you've never heard anywhere else" by creating a personalized radio experience based on users' likes or search terms. Just a matter of weeks earlier, SoundCloud also added Top 50 lists for over 30 music genres. Although not exactly a pioneering move if you consider similar features already available on Spotify, Hype Machine, and iTunes, it does sharpen the platform's competitive edge in the streaming market.

It's not only new features and major industry partnerships that are driving SoundCloud forward at such considerable pace. With 175 million monthly listeners, the streaming service is already miles ahead of Spotify in terms of active users, a figure which may be attributable to their radically different approaches. As more of a premium service, Spotify primarily provides access to music that is already owned by record labels and publishers, with more focus on paid subscribers.

Whilst mainstream sounds are also very much a part of the SoundCloud library, as a completely free service, the platform has come to be the go-to spot for undiscovered artists. So what is it about SoundCloud that has so many budding musicians clambering to be a part of it? For one, it relies on a networking effect to grow both its content and its user base; the more users tuning in, the more valuable SoundCloud becomes as a platform for getting your music heard. In turn, the more fresh content available, the more users the platform attracts ... and so it goes on.

With less focus on cashing in on new talent, SoundCloud rather positions itself as another outlet for artists to share their sounds, regardless of previous exposure or industry credibility. It can also be a way of getting your music heard by the right ears, as rising stars Majid Jordan know only too well, having received an email from Drake's producer a mere 24 hours after their first SoundCloud upload. It is not only the prospect of overnight success that lures amateur musicians to the platform; for many, SoundCloud offers a way to share their music with the mainstream whilst remaining independent.

Just as the internet brought about fresh opportunities for music sharing, with companies such as this one making it easy to create a promotional website with embedded audio, for example, the rise of streaming has added another dimension to self-promotion and publishing. Alongside other artist-centric platforms like Bandcamp, SoundCloud gives musicians the potential to reach a mass audience whilst staying in control of exactly how their music is published, promoted and distributed.

With talk of potential plans to launch a paid subscription option later this year, it remains to be seen whether or not SoundCloud will remain the primary hub for new artists. However, as streaming continues to shake up the industry, the lines between artists and labels will no doubt grow increasingly blurred.