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Freemium music service Grooveshark revamped its site late Thursday with one of its most ambitions updates since the service launched close to six years ago. The update integrates social networking features throughout the site, as well as some design changes aimed at simplifying the site and emphasizing music discovery. Grooveshark Creative Director John Ashenden and the company’s SVP of external affairs Paul Geller told me during a phone briefing that the revamp is just as much about building a solid base for some big future changes.
Grooveshark’s most recent iteration looked much like a cloud-based version of iTunes with a few social aspects added here and there. The relaunch puts social front and center by emphasizing community features and Facebook-like activity streams. Users can comment on each other’s activity and easily share playlists, songs or even complete albums with each other. Ashenden called it “the first real push from Grooveshark to connect music fans with music fans.”
Ashenden also said that the company wants to bridge the divide between fans first, and then extend the same mechanisms to make connections between artists and fans. Grovveshark’s new version has a very basic artist page that includes an activity stream based on the listening and curation behavior of fans, as well as links to songs, albums and upcoming events of the respective artist. These event listings are currently pulled in from a third-party service, but Ashenden told me that the site wants to eventually give artists the tools to promote their own events and sell merchandise. He went on to say that Grooveshark has a treasure trove of listening data, and that it wants to start exposing some of that data in future releases.
These future initiatives won’t just be about making the site better, but also about adding new revenue streams. Paul Geller freely admitted that the company’s current paychecks to artists haven’t made anyone rich yet. But the same is true for competing services like Spotify: “Artists in this day and age haven’t been making a lot of money with streaming royalties,” he told me, explaining that streaming would only be one part of the pie — but possibly one that could help to shift the emphasis away from one-hit wonders, and towards more creativity. “Artists are being rewarded for a more deeper emotional connection,” he suggested, explaining that short-lived hits would over time make less money than deep catalogs of music people care about for decades.
Speaking of Spotify: Geller and Ashenden didn’t seem to worried about competing with the much-hyped music service. “We are thrilled to have Spotify in the States,” said Geller, adding that Grooveshark has seen its largest growth this year after Spotify launched stateside.
Of course, one big difference between Spotify and Grooveshark is their respective approaches towards licensing. Spotify only offers access to licensed songs. Grooveshark, on the other hand, invites its users to upload any kind of music, and then responds to take-down notices from rights holders to remove unlicensed content. That approach has given the company a much bigger catalog, but also more more trouble with rights holders.
The only major label that has licensed Grooveshark is EMI, and Universal Music is battling the service in court, alleging that it facilitates copyright infringement. Geller said that Grooveshark has been seeing “a tremendous amount of progress” in negotiations with the industry. The company is signing between 10 and 20 record label deals a month now, he added, but admits that not everyone is going to come around quickly. Said Geller: “People in the industry who have been doing business a certain way over the last 20 years are going to be threatened by this.”