Another One Bites the Dust: A Grooveshark Eulogy

“Yeah, so long. We wish you well.
Told us how you weren’t afraid to die.
Well, so long. Don’t cry, or feel too down.
Not all martyrs see divinity, but at least you tried.”

–Maynard James Keenan, 1996

 

 

Edit – July 20, 2015: Sadly, the title of this article foreshadowed the news of Josh Greenberg’s death yesterday. He was only 28. As a co-founder of Grooveshark, he also spearheaded the student entrepreneurial movement at the University of Florida, where he and Sam Tarantino started Grooveshark as 19 year old freshmen. Both Josh and Grooveshark died too young, and in the wrong way, so they can share this eulogy.

 

How Grooveshark Enhanced Music Appreciation for 35 Million Users

I joined Grooveshark in 2010, when I was a broke intern in DC. One of my musician friends recommended it, telling me it was a great philosophical compromise that allowed him to listen to music he didn’t actually own.

Both of us grew up during the Napster fiasco, so we felt bad downloading music. After all, downloading media means possessing a digital copy on private hardware, and possession is nine-tenths of the law. Grooveshark allowed us to “borrow” music from a public space, with the intent to purchase whatever we liked.

The service was awesome. Users had two options: selective listening or streaming radio. The best feature was the selective listening, which allowed users unrestricted search and play by artist, album, or song. The streaming radio function let users stop, rewind, and fast forward songs without fear of a song-per-hour limit or an ads-per-song quota.

The radio option also evolved with listener preferences, and sent users down some interesting musical paths they didn’t know existed. Unlike most streaming radio services, Grooveshark radio didn’t simply pander entirely to user preference; it forced people into new genres and sounds. Simply put, the radio feature was like Pandora if Pandora were on-demand, didn’t have commercials, and didn’t play the same shit over and over again.

Within a week, I discovered Born Ruffians, Jeff the Brotherhood, the Pack AD, Starfucker, and hundreds of mysterious B-sides of bands I already knew. Despite my tight budget, I purchased several albums from artists introduced to me by Grooveshark. The “Related Artists” tab was very helpful in this regard, since it exposed me to the eclectic Brazilian bassa novist, Tim Maia and ambient, trip-hop artists like Melorman, Xploding Plastix, and UNKLE.

Over the course of five years I built a collection of 281 songs, most of them from bands I wouldn’t even know existed without Grooveshark.

Grooveshark interface in 2010, courtesy of Nick DeNardis
Grooveshark interface after migrating from Flash in 2010, courtesy of Nick DeNardis

 

Besides the exposure to new music, the appreciation I built for older bands was phenomenal. This was due to Grooveshark’s user-friendly interface that included a band’s entire discography in chronological order. This format was one of the most underestimated features of the service, and it helped me craft a deeper appreciation for the way certain artists developed over time.

For instance, a few years ago, I listened to every Pantera album in a row. Since I’d only ever owned a copy of Reinventing the Steel (2000), I never knew how much they’d changed as a band since they debuted Metal Magic before I was even born. It was a completely different sound seven years later when they released Cowboys from Hell. It actually sounded like Pantera. I noticed the same thing with White Zombie, a band that didn’t find their sound until La Sexorcisto in 1992. After having released two uncharacteristic albums in 1987 and 1989, they finally sounded like the White/Rob I knew.

For Pantera, even the two years from Power Metal (1988) to Cowboys from Hell (1990) represented a significant departure from ’80s glam rock to the heavier metal sounds popularized by punk metal groups like Slayer and Metallica. I wasn’t old enough to experience that shift first hand, so listening to the albums in chronological order was the only way to appreciate this evolution.

I began doing this for a lot of artists I’d never really dug into, and even some bands I never even liked. A great example of this was Van Halen. Grooveshark allowed me to witness Van Halen’s musical development from their eponymous release in 1978 to their chronologous release in 1984. My parents’ generation had told me that David Lee Roth’s departure killed the band’s momentum, but I never fully appreciated this until I listened to every one of the band’s LPs in a row.

I performed this same analysis with Lynard Skynard, The Who, The Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, CSNY, and a lot of other bands with significant membership rotation. I wanted to understand their legacy in classic rock before and after deaths, departures, or some other turning point. To do this, I had to listen to deeper tracks than what played on the radio. This was only possible with Grooveshark, because other streaming music sites placed unreasonable limitations on access to their collections.

Prior to the internet, this method of studying the evolution of music required physically borrowing the albums or gambling a lot of money on them. For example, I bought the last two Rage Against the Machine albums in high school thinking that they’d be as good as the first two. I was wrong, and the cost of Renegades in Christmas of 2000 would’ve been better spent that coming summer on The Strokes’ debut album, or on Amnesiac.

The irony here, of course, is that I can always rely on Radiohead to deliver a good album, and they’re one of the few major bands to have offered their music for free.

Grooveshark saved me a lot of money and frustration on bad albums, and I have no doubt it did the same for other users. Instead of having to spend $10-15 each on all 14 Lynard Skynard LPs, a Grooveshark user could just buy the 5 albums from 1973-77. Having listened to them all on Grooveshark, the consumer could make an informed purchase of quality music at a third of the cost.

This, of course, infuriates record companies. They want you to buy new releases based solely on the knowledge that the record was made by a band you’re familiar with, just like Hollywood is with movie franchises. Atlantic Records wouldn’t want you to know that three of Skynard’s core members died in a plane crash in 1977, and that none of their albums have gone platinum since Ronnie died. To put it simply, Atlantic executives don’t want you buying MCA’s Skynard records unless you’re buying theirs, too.

In fact, this made the record companies so mad that one of them took Grooveshark to court in November 2011. That trial was finally decided in 2014.

 

RIP Grooveshark: April 15, 2008 – April 30, 2015

Yesterday, Grooveshark officially died. The Gainesville, FL team was on the hook for $736 million, so they made a deal with record companies to shut down the site and hand over all assets and intellectual property.

Users visiting the page last night were greeted with the following message:

Groovehark Farewell

There was no warning from the Grooveshark team.

There was no opportunity for users to screenshot music libraries, or cut/paste any playlists they spent years making.

There was just a lengthy, humiliating apology to record companies for unprofitably doing their jobs for them. You can’t even view the cached page on the “wayback machine” at Archive.org. BigMusic is attempting to wipe Grooveshark clean from history.

To say that I am saddened and angered by this is an understatement. I’m crestfallen and livid. I haven’t felt this bad since the 2013 Iron Bowl. Not only has my access to streaming, ad-free music been throttled, but the message explaining why is a depressing hallmark of internet regulation and corporate aggression.

It’s clear that the settlement reached between Grooveshark and BigMusic included a brown-nosing, tone-setting message intended to trickle the blame and punishment down through the Grooveshark userverse. It also callously attempted to redirect those same users to other streaming sites, ones that funnel money back into the music-industrial complex.

The fact that users couldn’t even retrieve the names of songs or bands from their Grooveshark accounts was salt in the wound, but there is an amusing irony here. Former users won’t even remember which songs they saved, which would presumably be the ones they’d now buy from the record companies. If there’s an additional silver lining here, it’s that BigMusic has alienated one more huge pool of consumers who will simply find free music elsewhere out of spite.

I, for one, have no intention of ever buying new music from a major label again, only used CDs from thrift stores and the black market. If I’m really desperate, I’ll sail down Bezos’ river and cough up the shipping and handling for $3 copies of the few remaining Beck albums I don’t own.

Furthermore, I’ll only buy new music directly from musicians who are not sponsored by the following labels:

Luckily, I saved my song list in March after reading an article about Grooveshark’s failed legal battle. I knew it was only a matter of time before they closed up shop, but I didn’t expect it to be this abrupt.

If you didn’t get a chance to save yours, u/akahomerjay42 provided a helpful method on Reddit (as long as you haven’t cleared your cache since your last Grooveshark visit):

How to retrieve Grooveshark song collection:

  1. Go to grooveshark.com in chrome (haven’t tried in other browsers)
  2. Open “Developer Tools” (CTRL+SHIFT+I)
  3. Click on “Resources” Tab
  4. Expand “Local Storage” tree
  5. Click on “http://grooveshark.com”
  6. Find the key that looks something like “Library32467954” (some 7+ digit number)
  7. Look at its “value” (it’s a JSON string). You should see something like this:{“lastModified”:…..blah blah some artist name…}
  8. Right-Click on that cell, click “Edit Value”, then hit CTRL+C (Copy)
  9. Paste the contents of your clipboard into the window at “https://json-csv.com/”
  10. Download the resulting .CSV file in Open Office or Excel

 

Do Your Part: Fight BigMusic

In closing, I’d just like to say that as a writer and amateur musician, I resent the argument frequently cited by BigMusic that streaming services “take money from the artists.” Record companies are hiding behind the artists, not shielding them from harm.

A vast majority of artists don’t empathize with BigMusic, because only a tiny minority of musicians are famous enough to actually see the profits constantly waved in our faces. The musicians I know are happy if people enjoy their work, and if they make enough to eat, pay rent, maintain their equipment, and support their social life.

In the music industry, major bands just aren’t that common. That’s why the same ones are repeatedly asked to headline various music festivals. For every Kings of Leon, there are a dozen Southern funk rock groups that never made it. For every Notorious BIG, there are thousands of other teenage drug dealers who won’t make the jump to rap stardom.

Moreover, for every $1,000 of albums distributed by massive record labels, the average musician gets a paltry $23.40. Few people realize that BigMusic takes 98% of musician revenue, and then uses that money to lawyer up against sites like Napster and Grooveshark in order to protect their monopolies.

These monopolies are getting worse, just look at the declining label diversity in the music industry. In 1998, five record companies controlled 77.4% of the industry’s market share. In 2012, three record companies controlled 88.5%. The music industry is not a fair and open market.

This rigged market equates to a musician hostage crisis. BigMusic has consolidated its shares in the mainstream market, but the lobby has also discouraged the use of independent labels that might disrupt the status quo. BigMusic buys up smaller recording studios and independent distributors, and suppresses information that might help independent artists make it on their own.

Few examples of this practice are better than BigMusic’s attack on Grooveshark’s Beluga analytics platform, which launched in 2012. Excerpts from the press release stated:

“We want to benefit artists and equip the music industry with transparent…[we want to provide] actionable data for confidently building artists’ careers and connecting with fans. By combining extensive market research with listening activity from Grooveshark’s 20 million monthly users all over the world, Beluga produces a comprehensive picture of any artist’s fanbase. Easily see where an artist’s music is trending as well as fans’ demographics and interests, which can help with routing tours, developing show lineups, choosing merch, finding ideal promotion areas, and connecting with fans on an in-depth level.”

In other words, Beluga was supposed to be a framework for independent artists to map their own way and maintain their own creative and business control. Oh, and did I mention that it was free?

BigMusic turned Beluga into caviar, and unless anti-trust measures are taken, expect these monopolies to get worse. But hey, at least we don’t have to worry about BigMusic’s effect on the quality of new music, because it already sucks.

Farewell, Grooveshark. You will be missed.

 

Here’s what you can do to help end the musician hostage crisis:

  • Support independent music labels wherever you find them!
  • Stop buying from major record companies, find their music streaming elsewhere.
  • Boycott BigMedia
    • Don’t watch films produced by StudioCanal, or distributed by Universal (i.e. avoid Vivendi products)
    • Don’t subscribe to Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal
    • Don’t buy anything owned by Access Industries (Warner Music Group’s parent)
    • This hurts me to say it, but don’t buy Playstation game consoles and don’t watch films produced or distributed by Sony, Tristar, or Columbia
  • If you’re a programmer, form a team and build your own Beluga platform.

 

 

 

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