Grooveshark offers ad-free alternative to Spotify and Pandora

Grooveshark offers students a free music experience without audio ads to disrupt the mood. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)
Grooveshark offers students a free music experience without audio ads to disrupt the mood. (Photo by Sarah Hill.)

Florida-based music streaming service Grooveshark offers users an experience that lies somewhere between Spotify and Pandora, with a few extra perks — and some accompanying controversy. Despite legality issues, the service has been gaining popularity.

“I like that it’s free, it’s not blocked, and there are no commercials,” said Laura Scott, a recent graduate of BYU’s music education program.

The controversy lies in the way Grooveshark builds its music content. The company allows users to upload and share their own music with others, which may seem reminiscent of the peer-to-peer file-sharing approach that got Napster shut down.

Grooveshark, however, isn’t a file-sharing program. It’s more like a giant library.

With Grooveshark, users can pick songs they want, create playlists and listen to tailored Internet radio. The company offers artist compensation and provides musicians with a massive platform to get their music out. To top it all off, there aren’t audio advertisements.

“I guess the biggest downside is that artists aren’t really getting paid per song like they do with Spotify or Pandora,” said Elisabeth Kaseda, a graduate of BYU’s music program. “I do go buy stuff once I know I like it, though. Better free trial than the 30 second clips.”

Grooveshark addressed this issue in its pitches to artists, claiming the exposure a musician could gain is worth the compensation they might miss out on.

“We’ve worked with hundreds of labels, managers, and artists to promote … music to our audience,” Jack DeYoung, SVP of music strategy at Grooveshark, said in a news release.

In an effort to draw attention to Grooveshark’s work to promote artists, the company released a case study about the band Quiet Company. The study documents Grooveshark’s positive impact on the band’s fame, citing it as the reason Quiet Company was able to break out of its local scene and gain a worldwide following.

Grooveshark’s approach to content-sourcing also means that users have access to content that major music providers like iTunes don’t distribute. Kaseda cited this as one of the main reasons she uses Grooveshark.

“A lot of the foreign music I like is on there, but not on iTunes,” Kaseda said.

The company claims it operates legally under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Grooveshark’s 2011 open letter to the music industry explaining its legality can be found on 

CEO Sam Tarantino started Grooveshark in 2007 along with fellow University of Florida student Josh Greenberg. According to the company website, they intended to “create an online music library that was generated by artists and listeners.”

In 2012, the company faced disaster, garnering lawsuits from almost every major record label including Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group. The company’s user base fell from nearly 30 million users to 12 million. The company workforce fell from 145 employees to 60.

In an interview with Mashable, Tarantino called it “a year of getting punched in the face 10,000 times.”

The company is still facing lawsuits but is rebuilding the workforce and working to iron out the legal issues. It just managed to cut a deal with EMI to allow some licensing, but the company has a long way to go before record companies are off its case.

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