Since Grooveshark's launch in early 2007 they've been in what seems like an endless back and forth with record labels and device companies -- namely Universal, Apple and now Google (Android). They've done their part by securing licensing deals, adhering to DMCA take down requests, offering PRO payouts, and creating partnerships with numerous labels and artists. Unfortunately, the company still catches flack from companies big and small over the legalities of their service. What most people don't know is that founder and CEO, Sam Tarantino, had artists in mind when he set out to, as he put it, "fix the music industry." In addition to their awesome consumer facing platform, Grooveshark provides a free artist dashboard that tracks a girth of artist-specific demographic and analytic data as well as offering affordable radio and promotional campaigns.
Our first Grooveshark article is one of our most popular posts to date, but really only dissects the streaming music service from a fan's perspective. Even though we make a point to spread the good word about Grooveshark's artist tools as often as we can, we still had a few questions. To clear these up Indie Ambassador's Aidan Rush chatted with our friend Aaron Ford, VP of Industry Relations and Business Development, to explain the system in a little more detail. When you're done checking out the interview be sure to head over to the Grooveshark artist dashboard!
IndieAmbassador.com: The analytic data made available by Grooveshark is so valuable to any artist, is it free?
Aaron Ford: For now everything is free on Grooveshark. That includes demographic information on our artist.grooveshark.com site, and also if we’re working individually with an artist we can generate custom reports. We do that a lot with labels, management companies, and touring agencies that use a lot of our data. While we’re doing promotions for a tour geo-targeting promotions in certain areas for the tour, we also feed data on the back end to artists, agencies, and managers. That kind of data for the music industry is essential.
These days you can’t afford to go to Atlanta when you should have gone to Athens to tour where your fan base is. You can now play an all ages show because you have data telling you your fan group is younger, and you even know which songs are their (your fans’) favorites. I’m a musician too, I’ve been out there in a van trying to make things work. It’s pretty demoralizing to have a crappy show when you could have had a great show just one town over if you'd just had a little bit of data.
IA: You have licensing deals with one major and a number of indie labels right now through which their artists receive royalties for streams. Is the license executed on a per stream basis or flat rate over a period of time?
AF: The deals are all very different. There’s a percentage of advertising revenue and subscription revenue that we’re getting as a percentage of how many times your songs are played. Or, there’s a per stream rate as a floor if the revenue amount isn’t as high as the per stream rate. The artist gets cut in on all our revenue streams to the proportion of their work.
IA: Who cuts the checks for streams on Grooveshark?
AF: We cut checks here directly, and we also pay all the performing rights organizations in the world, even the obscure ones in countries like Hungary that no one’s ever heard of. On the mastering side, we have a number of different deals with different labels/aggregators with licensing terms. But, it’s not just about licensing. Yeah, it’s the first step, but our company is really about forming a partnership to help build these artists’ careers.
We have a huge audience here at Grooveshark and we want to help our partners whether they be labels, brands, or artists. We want to help them leverage this audience to their benefit. Beggars Group did that in October with Bell and Sebastian when they gave us the advance preview of the new Belle and Sebastian album. It’s still live on http://www.grooveshark.com/writeaboutlove. It has video, album streaming, tour dates, buy links, twitter, facebook, the whole thing in a custom Grooveshark site take over with its own URL. We’ve even got 30-minutes of something called Belle TV up on the site.
IA: How do independent bands go about getting a full wrap of the Grooveshark player like Belle and Sebastian?
AF: We’ve done that (site take-overs) with plenty of indie artists, one in particular called Skyrocket Love. We’ve done it for a group out of Israel called Hank & Cupcakes, and for the Young Liars, a great band out of Vancouver. At the end of the day, it’s about the overall strategy of the band. We can mold what we do to help the artist to fit that strategy. For these site takeovers (like Belle and Sebastian), we work on an individual basis with each artist. We can normally find something for each budget level, whether the band is just starting out and has 50 bucks to spend on something or if it’s a brand like AT&T with a much larger budget.
At the end of the day we’re all here because of music, if we’re not able to support music, then what’s the purpose? If your band sounds like NOFX, we can get you played to fans of NOFX. It’s a really simple statement, but when you think about how powerful that is to get into that ecosystem, it’s kind of staggering. What’s even more powerful about it is that if someone skips the song and says ‘No I hate this’ that’s even more valuable data that you get. This lets you know that even though you may be very influenced by this band, their fans aren’t really a good target for you, these other targets seem to work better.
IA: For the artists who want to beef up their presence on the site, explain how “campaigns” work. How do artists show up on relevant channels?
AF: You pick your target, select how many plays you want, and can contact us to get an ad up for you. In general you just pick the 10 artists whose fans you want to go after, and we’ll make sure that people who love those bands hear your band.
IA: Is the feedback box for paid tracks part of a typical campaign?
AF: They’re not add-ons, they’re included. You actually get feedback on the back end of artist.grooveshark.com. Artists usually get tons of feedback from listeners, and it’s something that’s very valuable and we hope to improve that feature in the future.
IA: What is the average success rate? Does the paid play result in an increased number of plays for the artist when the campaign is finished?
AF: Absolutely. Almost always, but we can’t guarantee because it all comes down to whether the songs are any good. In the analytics, you see a point where the campaign ended, but then you also see this long, long tail of people who discovered the music during the campaign, added it to playlists, their favorites, revisited it and shared it with their friends. We also find that if you run another campaign -- not right after, but maybe a couple months after -- the tail starts to turn down. But if you run another campaign either equal to it or greater than it, that tail is exponentially larger after that second campaign ends. It’s like watching an artist no one’s ever heard of grow, it can get really exciting.
IA: It doesn’t seem as though interactive artist profiles exist on the site right now. Are they in the works?
AF: Yes. Artist profiles are on their way and we’re just going to see how we want to do it but definitely. We want to bring the artist as close to the fans as we can without damaging the user’s experience like with what happened with Myspace. We hope to solve that problem that Myspace encountered, the problem of keeping the amazing user experience and bring the artist even closer to the users.
We launched Grooveshark in HTML5 a little while ago, and hope to soon make the artist interface part of the main grooveshark interface so the connection between artists and fans is greater. It’s not going to be artist.groovehark.com as some other separate site, it’ll be within the Grooveshark interface and you’ll be able to interact with your fans right there in the same place they’re listening.
IA: Talk to us about Grooveshark promotions. Are these companies that you have aligned with for special rates on products and services? What services do they provide?
AF: Yeah. We’ve aligned with those companies to provide special deals, they’re really places artists can go and explore how to improve their career. For the next version of Grooveshark we’re actively seeking partners that will add value to artists using Grooveshark. We have a great merch partner coming up, like on demand merch for super cheap. Even things like shoes. When someone’s listening to your band on Grooveshark you’re going to be able to actually sell that person whatever merch hasn’t even been created yet. The big trick is inserting that into this same user interface that has made so many users come and use Grooveshark, keeping that core value while extending our services for artists.
IA: What is Grooveshark’s vision for the future of music discovery?
AF: There’s no magic ball, there’s no great vision. All you have to do is just think to yourself as a music fan and say ‘How do I discover music?’ For most, it’s something like ‘My friend told me about this band then I read a review on pop matters and it was a pretty good review, and oh wait they’re coming into town and maybe I’ll stream them on Grooveshark.’ It’s not a top-down process like we’re going to provide music discovery. We see it more as we’re going to help facilitate this natural process called music discovery that we all do every day.
We want to help lubricate these shared connections. Our goal is to help facilitate how people already discover music. It’s not some outside process that has to be attained, it’s something that’s already happening. There is no real future because it happens every day. Whenever you turn on Grooveshark radio or tune into your friends’ feeds or see what they’ve favorited last, that’s like calling your friend and asking ‘have you heard anything good lately?’ We’re just trying to facilitate what people already do.