Grooveshark is a new monetized music sharing application currently in private beta. Grooveshark has a simple business idea: everyone in music getting paid. Their lofty goal is to change the music industry, and after having used their site for a few days to try it out, I think they might just succeed.
Much of their potential for success replies on their main claim being true: that their service is legal because they can make sure the artists and labels get royalties using a P2P system to play, download and buy music. In their business model, the user whose playlist generates the sale also gets a cut. They outline it as the artist and label getting paid first, then the user, then Grooveshark. Now that’s a music democracy!
So far Grooveshark gets two thumbs up from me. They’ve made setting up your profile on the Grooveshark site and uploading your music library with their helper application, Sharkbyte, quick and painless. It took only minutes to upload over 2000 songs, and even less to grab a profile picture and make my page more personal.
They offer each new signup 5 invitations, so I immediately got on the Twitterhorn to offer mine up and get some people in there playing with me. What good is social music if you don’t have a starting point like your friends playlists, after all? I couldn’t wait for them to log on so I could see what they are listening to. I also used the “discover” feature to make some new friends who like what I like.
We’ve reviewed social music applications here before (SimplifyMedia comes to mind). We’ve also given a thumbs down to other companies trying a similar business model, like LimeWire, mainly because those companies were a means to steal music before they tried to go legit. Grooveshark has the advantage of paying royalties right from the start, without the stigma associated with other P2P sales models that used to be P2P music gateways used for stealing songs.
I already like Grooveshark much more than SimplifyMedia. It isn’t as invasive, for one thing. You have complete control over how much you share. You can share entire folders, or you can take a little more time before uploading with Sharkbyte to go through and set sharing song by song if you prefer. That’s a nice level of control to have over who sees your music. There are a variety of reasons a user might want song by song share control, not the least of which is making sure no one knows they like to listen to Michael Bolton in the shower.
Grooveshark lets you listen to your own collection online, as long as Sharkbyte is turned on, another nice feature that I made use of in my local tavern over lunch yesterday. Someone had put on an entire album’s worth of horrible music, so I just popped on my headphones and surfed over to Grooveshark to give it a try. It worked like a charm. As long as I have my laptop with me, there isn’t really a reason to use the feature regularly, but if I still worked in an office I would use it every day to stream my music to my desk.
At first I was concerned about the bandwidth that Sharkbyte might use, but Grooveshark thought of that also. There is a toggle switch in Sharkbyte to control the bandwidth being used for downloads. It comes preset to 1000Kb, but you can change it to whatever you would like. I lowered mine – having Twhirl, Adium, FireFox, Thunderbird, Pownce and other bandwidth heavy applications open constantly means I have to be careful what kind of bandwidth draw is happening at all times.
You can create public or private playlists in Grooveshark. I tried this feature two ways. They offer your choice of drag and drop or check box interface. Th drag and drop works well, but on a small laptop screen the scrolling back and forth to see the destination window once I got further down my long playlist was annoying, so I moved to the check box interface. This was quite simple to use, and once you set up your playlist name you can select as many songs as you want to move into it at a time.
You can also create mixes and tag and rate songs. You aren’t restricted to your own playlist either – you can grab songs from the playlists of others to put into your playlists and mixes, and you can rate and tag the songs of others. My main complaint about the tags at the moment is that they are limited to one word tags separated by commas. This means that tagging a song as a genre like Post Punk or New Wave is impossible unless you separate the words. I like comma delineated tag systems that allow for multi word options.
I’ve been using eMusic to get music from unsigned bands, and iTunes to get music from signed bands, but I can see Grooveshark holding its own against both. It offers a place for signed bands to share their songs, and welcomes unsigned acts as well. It’s main competitor right now seems to be iLike, and I don’t like the iLike interface as much. Also, Grooveshark’s inclusion of the user in the pay circle is very appealing – I’d love to make some spare change from my addiction to music – it’s one sure fire way to help me feed that addiction by buying more music.
There are a couple of glitches in the system right now (it wouldn’t be a beta without bugs to work out). The most glaring one for me is the inability to delete a song in the Grooveshark profile window. Once Sharkbyte uploads it, it is there to stay, in spite of a nice red X showing in the window. I just couldn’t get that to work for me. It’s too bad, too. Now all of Grooveshark’s community can hear me sound checking GarageBand to do a podcast with a friend at the height of a summer cold (so sue me, I forgot that file was in there).
Another glitch is hang time when creating a playlist. I wanted to do a bulk create, so I made a playlist, then I went to my master list and started using the check boxes to select songs for it. Every 50 songs or so (I have a large punk, alt and new wave collection) I kept getting hang time errors. I eventually stopped after a little over 400 songs in the play list because it was frustrating me. However, if you are listening to your music you can slide songs over to the PlayList as you listen, which does not give you the hang time error. I will probably finish the playlist later using that method.
The final glitch that got my attention are the songs as listed in the Grooveshark window. They occasionally seem to lose their identifier. Any song I bought online from eMusic, Amazon Unboxed or iTunes seems to have held onto its information, but songs I bought and uploaded from CDs are occasionally listed as “unknown artist” or “unknown album”, or in a couple of cases just “???”. That annoyed me, especially because I don’t see a way to fix it. I’d be ok with it if I could go in to Grooveshark and fix the information, but I can’t see a way to do that.
Grooveshark works on a combined credit and purchase system. As you use the service, you earn credits. You also get compensated for song sales generated by your play lists. If you want to purchase a song before you’ve been compensated or earned any credit from being active on the site, you can load credit yourself. The site takes all major credit cards and PayPal for song purchases. The test song I downloaded had the same quality as songs I find on eMusic.
Most important for the music lover on the go, the songs work with all music players and music programs. This means you can put them on your iPod, your Zune or whatever else you use, play them in iTunes or Windows Media Player or the player of your choice, and more. That kind of usability is essential.
I see Grooveshark sticking around as a preferred application. It looks nice, it works well, it is easy to use, and the team behind it seems eager to make it a success. There is a cross promotion going on right now that users can take advantage of as well. Grooveshark and Escape Media Group have $5 credits to hand out when users sign up. All you have to do is register for Grooveshark, then send an email to this address with your Grooveshark user name to get your credit (note: links since removed as promotion is over). Come play on Grooveshark with me, then let me know if you like it as much as I do in the comments.
Updated to add: The folks at Grooveshark have given me 26 invites. All I need is your email address – you can send me a request for an invite in the comments. No need to give your email address in your comment request – we get that in a secret form when you leave the comment. All you have to say is that you’d like an invite. First come, first served.
My original version found at Profy site.