Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Listening to music online

Using my computer. I go through three different music-listening apps pretty seamlessly; Spotify, iTunes and Grooveshark. Of the three I would say that Grooveshark is my favorite to use.

There are a couple reasons for this. Part of its cache comes from the fact that it is a somewhat forgotten medium from the last generation of mp3 listening/downloading platforms--including Pandora (still going strong), Songza, and the lesser known Dogpile. The other is that Grooveshark started out with an ambitious goal, providing free streaming music on the internet with the maximum amount of individual choice. Basically a YouTube but for music.

In this sense it would be a mix of Pandora, which based its image around the fact that there is a seemingly unending supply of songs that can be played on a custom radio station, and iTunes, which gave you the kind of comprehensive selection that no physical record store could promise. With Grooveshark all the music is at your fingertips. Since all music is uploaded by users (which hover around the tens of millions) you end up with a free for all of music that even iTunes cannot compete with.

As a result you get to find obscure artists, obscure albums by popular artists, popular artists and artists that refuse to have their music for sale in a digital market place or music-streaming service (Frank Zappa is a particularly notable artist whose music has shirked the grasp of juggernauts like iTunes and Spotify).

However, this idealistic marketplace has its obvious down sides. For awhile, the group of University of Florida students who started this company were able to do exactly what they wanted. Living an ultra realized version of the start up fantasy life that so many entrepreneurially minded techies would dream of.

There was the fact that they were actually making revenue, but there was also the essence that these were true techies, people like hackers, shaking the system with an innovative approach to marketing and internet commerce. However, the company, as a result of its vision, has run into continued legal troubles.

Not surprisingly, and very impressively, they have been able to surmount orders from major record labels, including EMI, and continue to provide free music in a way that no other service can.

To me it is surprising that more people aren't using it. Surely this repels a certain number of people averse to listening to artists without compensating them, even so it seems like sites YouTube have already democratized the media consumption experience and gotten people used to the fact that you don't have to do the things they way we used to and that in fact, yes, we can do something outlandish like listen to a full album, watch a full television episode, even watch a rare interview between two luminaries; all of these would be impossible without the advent of the knowledge-democratizing medium known as the Web.

I, as an individual, am not particularly bothered by the fact that using Grooveshark would in the eyes of a traditional consumer constitute stealing. For one, it's so fun to use because there is so much out there (very literally any artist you can conceive of, within reason, should have something on there). Secondly, because there is so much to choose from, it makes it easy to search for related artists and discover new sounds. Thirdly, you find yourself connected to a large community of people who regularly upload and curate their collections, as well as broadcast individual music radio stations, and talk to each other through sharing music.

I commend the people behind Grooveshark immensely, because I think it is a music listening model that is perfect for the music, and most accurately reflects the way people listen to music currently. Barring anymore serious legal issues, I see a lot of good things in Grooveshark's future. From my view it seems that it has nowhere to go but up, as more people catch on to how exciting their blend of art and commerce is.

I would say the next step would be, somehow (and I can expound on this later), making Grooveshark and ideal place for independent artists and small labels to place their music. How this will work with more traditional media such as physical or digital album/single purchase we will say, but for now I'd have to say that Grooveshark is the underground king of internet music.

- Alex Curtis

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