Blog Post

Grooveshark Has a New Look, But It's Still Streaming Unlicensed Content

grooveshark1Grooveshark, the free streaming music site based out of Gainesville, Fla., is set to introduce a major redesign tonight aimed at taking on much-discussed European upstart Spotify as well as incumbents such as Imeem and MySpace Music. But while the company’s revamped user interface could soon make it a fierce competitor, unresolved questions concerning unlicensed content could also cripple Grooveshark’s ability to stay in the free-streaming game, which has yet to produce a satisfactory, sustainable business model.

As I’ve written before, user interface design may be the most significant factor when it comes to streaming music sites capturing consumer attention. Indeed, much of the hype surrounding Spotify’s desktop application stems from its user interface, familiar to any user of Apple’s iTunes software. That familiarity isn’t lost on Grooveshark, whose staffers freely admit that its new design and drag-and-drop interaction is based on the look and feel of iTunes, only it’s located within the web browser rather than on the desktop. The redesign also includes a horizontal player and song queue across the bottom of the screen, making for quick and easy search-and-play functionality, with playlisting and sharing functions as well.

That may help Grooveshark continue to win fans — it claims more than 1 million registered users, and many more unregistered — but it doesn’t solve the company’s larger problem: getting content owners paid. All of the songs streaming on the site were uploaded by users, and Grooveshark doesn’t police its waters for infringing content itself. Rather, Grooveshark relies on the takedown provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, meaning that it will stream a song until someone asks for its removal. Only one major label, EMI, has worked out a licensing arrangement with Grooveshark — and that deal followed a lawsuit filed by the label in June — but countless songs from major labels and independents large and small remain on the site, streaming away without content owners making a dime.

A streamlined user interface goes a long way, but a limited library of legally suspect songs is still a handicap. Besides, the competing sites that have worked out licenses with majors haven’t proven that they can make money sustainably, and have generally disappointed content owners or forced them to reduce their expectations. Grooveshark’s people say they expect revenues to come from ad sales, branding campaigns, premium ad-free and mobile revenues, and artist promotions, but the site remains years behind its competitors on most of those fronts. And if it intends to compete on scale, it faces daunting challenges related to royalty costs that Spotify, for one, has only begun to confront.

Grooveshark is certainly making a bold move in advance of Spotify’s arrival in the U.S. (whatever it looks like when it gets here), with mobile apps for the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android phones due within 2-4 weeks. Historically, the infringe-litigate-settle-license model has worked for sites such as YouTube, while others, such as Project Playlist, never recovered from their legal troubles. Grooveshark says it’s in talks with the remaining majors as well as independent distributors, but by forging ahead with unlicensed content, it may be putting itself at a disadvantage compared to its competitors — who haven’t proven that there’s a road to sustainability yet, either.


14 Responses to “Grooveshark Has a New Look, But It's Still Streaming Unlicensed Content”

  1. Michael, with users downloading more and more songs illegally, I think it is unrealistic for your daughter to expect to make money from song and album sales. The real money these days is in live performances, and online streaming helps in this by exposing music to more people. I’d say that’s a win for the artist.

  2. Michael Mitchell

    Love the site. Just discovered it a week ago. No Canadian restrictions, either, which screwed me out of Pandora a long while back. I hear others’ concerns about copyright issues; I have a daughter in the “biz” trying to make a go of it, and I’d be pissed if she wasn’t being paid for her music. But … this is the new model. People are going to pay for good music and ignore crap. I still have 900+ songs on my iTunes, all paid and legal. I just like this option to give my list a break and to discover new material. If GS goes bust, no skin off my nose. I’ll move on to something else. I do love the site, however, and hope it stays and flourishes.

  3. Can’t say I like the new redesigned site at all simply because it wont load on my work PC. Grooveshark has been a HUGE help in getting me through the day at work because I could listen to pretty much any music I wanted. Now though it’s not working which makes me a sad panda :(

  4. I’d like to know if GS ever plans on policing the streaming of unlicensed music, of if it’s found that it doesn’t much affect it’s business, so why bother?

    Personally, I feel that if it tried to work out deals with content owners, even in the most basic agreement, the possibilities to form partnerships/cross-promotions, even just to grow into something more than just another option from using iTunes would be far greater than they are now.

  5. My Beatles songs disappeared a couple of weeks ago, and the only problem I’ve had with a song not playing through (without a nudge) is a Leonard Cohen track that always stops in the same place. I love the fact I’ve been able to unearth songs I hadn’t heard in ages, but yeah, I’m enjoying the service while it’s available. If it folds, no big deal.

  6. xwexarexbulletsx

    I like the new look, it’s better and that, but I think I find the new “radio” annoying. I liked better the autoplay feature. The new “radio” is like the autoplay, but instead of putting on the songs of one genre you like, it puts some sorta random song at the pool. I was listening to Fall From Grace, and then they put me like two Ray Charles songs. I like Charles too, but I didn’t wanted to hear him in that moment, I wanted to hear more similar bands like Fall From Grace, naming AFI, The Used, MCR, like the autoplay. I wish they could return autoplay to the game…

  7. I have been using grooveshark for the past 2 months and with the new design I find it annoying. Every song I listen to it seems to have interuptions so I will be finding another site to use if it does not get corrected as soon as possible. And get licesensed because you all can be put out of business for copyright infringement and other legal issues. Hava a nice day.

  8. Since you have remodeld your website, not one song will play completly through with out at least 2 interuptions. I find this very annoying… im sure its just a glitch since it was only remodeled last night however i thought somebody should know.