Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

An Indie Label Sounds Off: Why We Don’t Love Grooveshark

buskerWhen a big music label sues a scrappy Web music start-up, most people tend to sympathize reflexively with the little guy. But not everyone.

My story about EMI’s lawsuit against Web music start-up Grooveshark elicited this email from Ben Patterson, who runs indie Web music distributor DashGo, about his experience with the service.

I think Patterson’s remarks are useful because they spell out Grooveshark’s business plan, or at least part of it: Charge labels to promote their acts on the service’s search engine. And I think it’s also helpful to hear an obvious but little-voiced argument about the “free Web music = valuable promotion” thesis: It works best when the act or label is playing along. With Ben’s permission, I’m publishing his entire email.

I’ll caveat this by saying they are nice guys and big music fans and I’m always rooting for new music services that work for bands and music fans alike.

Back in 2007 DashGo signed a deal with Grooveshark that basically amounted to a digital download service delivered via P2P. Users who used Grooveshark’s P2P service to search for songs would be presented with a download / buy link and the revenue would be split between fan hosting the file, Grooveshark and the band.

A couple months later we got a nice packet–a t-shirt, letter and wax-sealed, yes, wax-sealed, envelope with a check for $0.59 in royalties. (Coconut Records “West Coast” I think)

Then I didn’t hear much for 6 months. No checks, no real action. At the end of 2008, they reached out and told me about their new music search engine at listen.grooveshark.com–basically Seeqpod / Songza / all other stream song aggregators…not what we licensed for, but not egregious enough to get huffy.

Of course, that was before they offered to sell me advertising for my bands as the default search keyword. For $0.05 per search, I could make the default phrase “DashGo Band Name” instead of “Search here.” I had to ask–am I getting paid per play? No of course not. Because “[they] are not profitable and can’t afford to share that advertising revenue.” So I’m paying, not even for a play, but for a search term on a service where they have users and can sell ads ONLY because people can listen to music, and because it’s free, what incentive is there EVER to buy the song?

So we don’t deliver there anymore.

I’ll tell you why all these free streaming music services are broken–because they rely on music advertising to pay the rent but give away the advertisers product. If I got free McDonald’s and Budweiser by watching the Super Bowl, why would I buy the food? As an advertiser, why would I pay a CPC to advertise streaming music and promote listens when the per stream rate a existing subscription services is AT BEST $0.02 per play?

It sucks to get sued. I’m sorry Grooveshark, but really..what did you expect? You’re soliciting labels and bands to pay your bandwidth, rent and operating costs and giving away the product.

While I’ve got this soapbox out, let me preach one more gospel; offering free music accessible via a search engine is NOT promotional if the band hasn’t opted in.

If a user SEARCHES for the music and listens to it for free in an environment where someone ELSE has posted the music and the band doesn’t have the option to ask for an email address or even pitch a tour or merch or actual album; then the service is just ripping off the band by giving free content to someone who asked for it–not promoting it to a new fan or adding a filter that helps expose and distinguish music.

[Image credit: Mrs. Logic]


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