Jack DeYoung and Evan Rocha of Grooveshark
Grooveshark is revolutionizing the way we all find and enjoy music. In addition to a free streaming media player, Grooveshark has cultivated countless widgets and social aspects of their digital music service. They didn’t stop there, either. Grooveshark Artist is an incredible tool providing endless analytics to artists about the demographics of their listening audience. American Songwriter caught up with Jack DeYoung and Evan Rocha of Grooveshark to find out more about Grooveshark, what services they offer, and where this growing Gainesville, Florida company is headed in the future.
What is Grooveshark?
JD: Grooveshark, fundamentally, is the YouTube for music. In that anyone in the world can come onto our site, listen to any song they want on demand, and upload whatever song they have on their hard drive to create this giant streaming library for everybody. It’s basically the world’s jukebox.
Where was Grooveshark founded?
JD: That’s actually an interesting story. We are based in Gainesville, Florida, which is where a lot of us had gone to the University of Florida, and subsequently dropped out. Our CEO, Sam, was the consummate poor college kid walking to donate, of all things, plasma to get money. You know, 20 dollars to get bread or something. He ended up walking past the record store where I was working. It had a marquee that said, “Buy, sell, trade music.” I guess it just triggered a light bulb or something and he said, “Why can’t we do that online?” Then, I think, [he] went home and borrowed some money for his parents and we met the right people in infancy and the rest is history. My first desk was on a cardboard box and now we have, I think, the biggest office space in Gainesville. So, it’s been kind of a surreal journey.
When did you guys get started?
JD: We started technically in 2006, but I wouldn’t say the current iteration of the product. The on-demand-streaming model was April of 2008, which is when we started getting serious. It took a long time to build what you see on Grooveshark now.
How has Grooveshark evolved as a business?
JD: We drastically changed our business model around the end of 2008. We were originally a kind of a weird hybrid of the download model, which is that people would put their mp3s on Grooveshark for sale at 99 cents. If someone bought that, the content holders would get a portion of the money and then the person that uploaded it would also get a portion of the money. But we saw everyone making this hullabaloo about downloads stealing from the CD. Well, the stream is inevitably going to steal money from the downloads, as well, because of the ubiquity of wireless Internet and that all you need is an Internet connection to listen to music now. We saw that kind of happening on the horizon and did a drastic shift in what we were doing as a business model. Then, we became the on-demand-streaming model you see today.
You mentioned the idea was to “buy, sell, and trade music online.” Can users actually trade music on Grooveshark?
JD: No you can’t trade it, but you can share it with all of your friends on a variety of different platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, for streaming.
ER: If it would be put into one word, a big thing that it revolves around is discovery. It’s a great hub for music discovery.
JD: We wanted people to have not only the ability to listen to songs within the Grooveshark ecosystem, but share those songs with friends outside of Grooveshark – on Facebook, on Twitter. We built a lot of little properties, like widgets, Tinysong.com, to insure that the stream becomes not only a paid play for the artist, but it also becomes a promotional thing on several different platforms as well.
I can upload a song from my hard drive and anyone in the Grooveshark network can play it?
JD: Not just the Grooveshark network but anywhere in the world. Yes, anywhere in the world. We are literally in every single country, territory in the world. It’s any song that anyone has ever uploaded to Grooveshark before.
How does that work with the artists’ compensation?
JD: That’s a very good question. I can tell you one of the first checks that we did write was to the Performance Rights Organization. We were all in, admittedly, really really crappy bands for a long time. We know that lifestyle of sleeping on people’s couches, slogging away in a broken down van. So, everything we have built has been created with the artist in mind, first and foremost. The way they get paid is kind of a three-pronged thing. We have several different revenue streams and based on how many times you are played within Grooveshark is how much of that revenue you actually get. So, it’s basically, if you’re not getting played, [you] don’t get as much money, but if you are getting an inordinate amount of traction and plays on Grooveshark then you’re going to get more than someone that isn’t getting as many plays. We’ve been constantly tweaking and creating new revenue streams to insure that we aren’t paying artists out in pennies for streams. We want to be paying them out in dollars and that’s something that is incredibly important to us.
What is your role at Grooveshark?
JD: I am the Vice President of Label Relations, which means, I am kind of the conduit, I guess, between artists and Grooveshark for the most part. Basically, [I] take the feedback, concerns, opinions that they might have and make sure it’s reflected in Grooveshark in a way that’s actually going to benefit them.
ER: I am the Vice President of Artist Relations. Basically, what I do is almost parallel to Jack, but his is on, I guess, a larger scale. I directly deal with artists as well, help them, guide them through, let them know how to promote their music within Grooveshark, and basically any questions they have, I am there to help them.
JD: Evan does more of the independent artists side. I don’t want to say the smaller ones, but the people that aren’t attached to a sizable label or management company. I handle the more established artists, major labels and independent aggregators, stuff like that.
ER: I would say, across the board, it’s the same treatment. The way Jack deals with established artists – they get the same treatment as well. If I’m dealing with a guy that has a really great song that he believes in, I now believe in it too. I listen to it. We talk about it, and they get the same treatment. No one gets the brush off just because they’re not on a huge label.
JD: I’m sorry to go off on a tangent, but one of the edicts I am most proud of at Grooveshark is that we have something called Grooveshark Artists which is where anyone in the world that has music they want to put on Grooveshark can come in, log-in to this backend interface and view so much data about how their songs are being received. We can tell you how old your fans are, where they are, which songs are doing better. From a marketing perspective, that’s obviously really really useful. My thing I am most proud of at Grooveshark is that every single artist that signs up, be it from Bono from U2, to a guy in a basement in Colorado, gets a personalized email from, at least, someone on our staff. Just having listened to their songs on MySpace, anywhere, and telling them what they think, offering up advice, and it’s actually a real email. There is a lack of that in the digital music world. It seems like sometimes within the music industry that artists are disposable in a way that their music is treated as a commodity rather than an art form. That’s something we take very seriously and want to make sure they know we appreciate them. It’s a lot of work, about 300 personalized emails a day. It’s why we have interns. [Chuckling] But, it’s something that I am most proud of.
ER: It’s never going to change, I don’t think.
JD: As we scale up, it’s always going to happen. If you took the time to upload music to a digital music service, we think that’s an incredible honor that you chose us to do that and we should treat you as such.
How much does it cost?
JD: Well, the Web side of Grooveshark is free for users. We have a ton of free stuff for artists to help promote their tracks within Grooveshark. We have built up all of these viral components to make sure that their music does have traction outside of Grooveshark. That they can promote it, and we’ve aligned with a ton of different companies on there, like ShowClix, a ton of really innovative companies that bands might not know about, and we try and educate them on that to check it out. These are good companies to work with, we have a partnership with them and they can solicit that as much as they want.
We do have this really cool promotional feature called Radio Campaigns. While the front end of Grooveshark is all on demand, you can search for whatever you want and play it, if you don’t know what you want to listen to you can turn on what’s called Grooveshark Radio which you pick one artist or pick ten artists and then turn on radio and Grooveshark Radio creates, basically, a never-ending stream of songs that sound similar that you might not know. It facilitates music discovery.
What we’ve been offering for bands is the ability to place yourself behind established artists in radio for a certain period of time to generate plays because getting your music heard is half the battle anyway. Getting analytics you can use and taking, basically, what terrestrial radio used to do for bands, when getting your songs played on the radio was a huge deal, and we wanted to bring that to the digital space. We really want to break artists digitally. With this way of actually getting people to hear the music, we’ve seen inordinate amounts of success.
What do you offer to users to find new music and what premium services are available to users?
JD: On the user side, you can follow people. There is a social aspect to it. So, if you see someone that you know, you check in their library and if see they’re adding really good songs. You can follow them, similar to the way Twitter works, and kind of see what they’ve been listening to and find music that way. You have the ability to share a song with a friend on Facebook, through email, stuff like that. There are widgets you can post anywhere on the Internet which you can create and customize in whatever colors you want. Those are some of the basic ways in which you can discover new music.
As far as the premium service, it’s called Grooveshark VIP. For three dollars a month, you have the opportunity to see Grooveshark without any ads. The ads are already not very intrusive on the free site anyway. For three dollars, you see no ads, you have access to more site themes (which basically you have the ability to customize what the skin of Grooveshark looks like), great customer support. You have access to new features before they come out. So, if we’re demoing something that we think is going to be really cool but don’t want to push it to the free side yet, we will give it to the VIPs or see what they think, take their advice and extrapolate from that. Also, when we release our mobile platform, there will be a lot of goodies in there for VIP users as well.
Are artists, songwriters and the general public taking notice – do you feel the word is out about Grooveshark?
JD: Yes and No. Like we mentioned, we don’t tend to do that many interviews. We have never spent a dime on marketing, ever. All of the growth from Grooveshark has been entirely viral, just from people sharing it with their friends. It has definitely gotten a lot bigger. Since we launched the redesign of the Web site about a month ago, we’ve just seen phenomenal growth. It has been surreal since I had my first desk was a cardboard box. We are getting a ton of artist sign ups through Grooveshark Artist on a daily basis. Since we’ve changed the business model, I think we have probably grown about 60 bajillion percent or so. That’s a technical term. Especially in the last month, it’s getting huge. It is gratifying to see for all of us who work 16-hour days.
What role do you see Grooveshark playing in the music industry over the next decade?
JD: Excellent question. I think, first off, we want to be in every single device in every place in the world. We’re an ambitious bunch. Obviously, mobile is becoming more and more of an important thing for everyone. We are steadfastly pushing into that realm. Also, television, PS3s, gaming systems and every single device that has a streaming music capability, we want to be on it. We want to be the de-facto definition for everyone to stream music. We do that by pulling back the restrictions. Ninety-six percent of people, who obtain their music online, obtain it illegally. If we can somehow pull back those restrictions, give it to them all in one ecosystem that’s streaming and actually pay content holders, then we have completely won the battle.
If you’re going to download music illegally and the other option is driving to across town to BestBuy, it’s probably not going to happen. If you streamline, put it all in one location, don’t let them download it, let it stream, then it helps to try and eliminate that problem. In three or four years, wireless Internet is going to be completely ubiquitous. It’s already in airplanes. It’s already in subways in Madrid. It’s 3G and 4G. It’s just getting bigger and bigger.
There is all this talk about the CD becoming obsolete. We need to start worrying about downloads because portability stops being an issue when you actually have streaming capabilities in every device. We want to be in toasters.
What’s the one thing you’d like to leave everyone with?
JD: Wow. We’re really good looking. Just kidding. I think, “We’re in it for the right reasons,” is the one thing I’d want to convey. This is not a faceless corporate entity attempting to make a quick buck off an art form that so many people love and then go and live in palatial mansions in the hills. There is an entirely philosophical element to what we are doing here. We are businessmen, I guess, but we are first and foremost music fans. I think that is something that is incredibly lacking in the industry for a while. It’s the music business, sure, but the accent is on business. We want to put the music back in the music business.