?It?s not really up to me to give you free music,? said Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor in a 2009 interview with Digg. ?It?s free anyway. Pretty much any piece of music you want it free on the Internet.?
What?s more if you were born after say 1990, you probably can?t imagine the world being any other way.
Almost two-thirds of listeners 18 years and younger discover and listen to new music via the ubiquitous YouTube, which has managed to remain more or less unscathed in the ongoing copyright wars and maintains a precarious and complex Faustian bargain with the four major U.S. record labels as well as countless film and television rights holders.
When it comes to streaming just audio, there are several unique online services seeking to dominate the Wild West that is the virtual realm of the Internet. The big dog for the moment is surely Spotify, with a catalog of over 17 million individual tracks and anywhere from 18 to 20 million (depending on whose data you believe) active monthly users. Rdio, MOG, and Rhapsody each enjoy a loyal fan and customer base, as do turntable.fm and soundcloud.
And then there?s the recently relaunched Grooveshark, which wants to become the go-to destination for both music lovers and musicians and connect the two groups in ways that will ultimately generate revenue for the musicians.
?We?re trying to be exactly what YouTube has done for video,? says Grooveshark CEO Sam Tarantino. ?Every (musician) says, ?Go check out my YouTube page,? or ?Check out my YouTube videos.? We?re trying to do that, but for the music side of it.?
?The beauty about the Internet,? Tarantino adds. ?Is it really is one click and suddenly you have an audience of millions of people. You get a kid with a guitar singing to a home video and he blows up and has a billion views and suddenly he?s Justin Bieber!?
The new Grooveshark offers tools for artists to create individual pages, manage their music on the site, review analytics regarding their listeners, and reach out to their fan base. That said, the site is not all that different from that of a business savvy artist?s personal website, or of an independent label like Merge Records, whose roster includes several popular indie artists including Mark Eitzel, Bob Mould, and 2011 Grammy-winners Arcade Fire.
So why should an artist or label deal with Grooveshark?
?Our whole unique proposition here is that we have the fans,? says Tarantino. ?We have listeners. People are coming to Grooveshark to listen to music. So what we?re doing is connecting those listeners to relevant content.? At this writing, Grooveshark reports having 17 million monthly active users world wide.
?Pandora (a free streaming radio service) has done this in a technological format,? says Tarantino. ?What we?re doing is looking at the data, analyzing it, and using our own proprietary technology to bring relevance to people that are listening to one kind of music.?
One thing that hasn?t changed about Grooveshark is the ease with which its users are able to upload copyrighted content (i.e. Eagles Their Greatest Hits or King Crimson?s Larks? Tongues In Aspic) and freely share it in a streaming format with the rest of the world. Not surprisingly, this has prompted all four major U.S. record labels to sue Grooveshark for copyright infringement. A New York judge recently ruled that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), which basically allows online platforms to host illegal content so long as they provide copyright owners with the means to flag and take down that content, applies to songs recorded before and after 1972, which more or less gives Grooveshark a ?get out of jail free card? to use in the same manner as YouTube and allow its users to upload whatever they want.
?(Grooveshark) decided that the DMCA is a fundamental enough structure,? says Tarantino. ?It works for YouTube, it works for Twitter, it works for Pinterest, it works for the whole web.?
?You don?t even need to send us a takedown notice,? says Tarantino regarding content owners who discover their work is on Grooveshark. ?(We) go a step further and provide a system, a content management tool, same as what YouTube has, where you can go in there and do one of two things: you can claim the content and say, ?That content was uploaded by somebody else that wasn?t supposed to do that. I claim that as mind now Grooveshark you pay me!? Or, you can just say, ?I delete this, I?m taking it down myself.??
The problem from the perspective of many artists, including Robert Fripp and David Singleton of King Crimson who published their 2011 communications with Grooveshark senior vice president Paul Geller which included repeated requests for Grooveshark to take down uploads of King Crimson?s music (communications that Geller said were ?doctored? and did not address Grooveshark?s then licensing agreement with King Crimson?s former label EMI/ Virgin), is that as soon a content owner claims their music and requests it be taken down, that same content can go right back up again via a different Grooveshark user.
?Ultimately, we want (content) owners to either leverage our platform or don?t,? says Tarantino. ?It?s up to them.?
?I mean, it would be ridiculous if you had this conversation with YouTube, right?? he continues. ?They have a platform. You can either use it or not. It?s that simple. You can try to be a (Justin) Bieber, or you can try to take it down, and that?s fine.?
?This is an Internet-wide problem,? says Tarantino. ?If Grooveshark goes away tomorrow, guess what? There are fifteen hundred other sites where you have the same fundamental issue.?
As Grooveshark continues to swim in the uncharted waters of the Internet and the rights of content creators and owners, be they a musician or a publisher, Tarantino ultimately wants the site ?connect fans to the artists themselves.? He also believes one valuable by product of the Internet, as more and more artists (like Reznor) elect to leave or reject record labels, is that the bar has been raised when it comes to making and performing music.
?We?re moving away from one-hit wonders,? says Tarantino of the music industry. ?Now it really has to be about the artist?s career. A band like Mumford & Sons would have never hit Top 40 radio, never! And here they are, blowing up. The quality of music is higher than it?s ever been in the last 20 years.?