Audiogalaxy “Genie” mode for streaming your collection; The fate of Grooveshark; What’s next for the digital music industry?
By looking at my stats, it’s clear that there is a lot of interest in Grooveshark, or at least more interest in it than other topics I’ve talked about. My review of it consistently gets hits, mostly from Google searches of people wanting to know more about it; people looking for reviews, people wondering how or whether it’s legal, and a few random technical questions too. So clearly there is interest in its functionality. For those not in the know, Grooveshark basically sources music files from its users, who upload them to its servers, and then lets any user stream these files free to browsers, or to desktops and mobile devices for a subscription fee; it has some licensing agreements with big labels like EMI but counts largely on the “only pay them if they ask” model set out by the DMCA.
Apple very quickly clamped down on Grooveshark’s iPhone app, removing it from the App store, citing violations of the ToS, although it’s argued that it’s more to do with Apple’s digital music interests and iTunes. Apparently it is possible for jailbroken iPhones to install a version of the app. In the past week, however, Mashable reported that Google has also removed Grooveshark from the Android market, much to Grooveshark’s apparent surprise, for pretty much the same reasons; ToS violations and the rumoured development of Google’s own cloud music service. As of right now, the Grooveshark app is still fully functional on my phone; there was talk of the app being remotely removed from phones, but I’m not sure how that would work. Besides which, it’s very easy to install apps to Android from outside the market.
Regardless, this is a huge blow to Grooveshark. I must admit, though, that most of the time it’s not my music app of choice anymore. I’ve been favouring Audiogalaxy, a “placeshifting” streaming music service which runs a “helper” service on your PC at home to pull in your music collection, then streams it through their servers on demand through the website or mobile app. It’s free, but the downsides compared to something like Spotify Premium or Grooveshark are that you are restricted to music files you already have (which must be DRM free to work) and your PC has to be on and connected to the net to stream the music.
In essence, I see Audiogalaxy as being like my old MP3 player; more than enough space for all my songs (they claim that it works with libraries of up to 200,00 songs) as opposed to the 2GB SD card currently in my phone; guaranteed quality of the files and tagging, since they’re mine to begin with (my biggest gripe with the frustrating search system within Grooveshark); plus on top of that, I never have to sync my phone and computer to get new tracks onto my phone. I also love that I can scrobble to Last.fm as well. It’s easy to use, allows you to share to Twitter/Facebook, and isn’t bad to look at, especially on the Play screen, where you can allow the album art to take up the whole screen.
One other thing Audiogalaxy does, in an addition to the mobile app as recent as yesterday (and tweeted to me by their resident Twitterer as the update was applied) is the new Genie mode. My understanding is that it’s similar to iTunes’ Genius mode, which I believe has the same functionality, but I’ve never been an iTunes guy so I don’t know for sure. Anyway, Genie mode is like a “smart” shuffle; similar to the radio modes for Last.fm and Grooveshark, it looks at the song you’re currently playing and queues up a list of songs you will probably want to listen to. The difference from the aforementioned platforms is that this is localised to your collection.
I’ve tried it out a few times, and I have to say that it seems to work well. Playing Baroness causes it to queue up songs by Mastodon and Kylesa, for example. For me this is a great little feature because I often feel in the mood for a certain type of music and so must risk walking into things on the pavement as I set up a playlist on the fly; from now on, Audiogalaxy will do it for me. Maybe you don’t discover new music, like with Last.fm or Grooveshark, but it’s still really convenient.
I’m not sure where the data comes from, be it a database of similar artists like Last.fm, but I have to think this feature has something to do with Audiogalaxy opening up their API to developers. I’ll be interested to see what people do with it.
What the big players are cooking up
For now, Audiogalaxy is still kind of under the radar, which may be a good thing after looking at Grooveshark’s outlook (the models are different, yes, but your music files still go through Audiogalaxy’s servers on their way to your device), but I’ve seen it mentioned a few times lately in the comment areas of blogs regarding some future developments from the heavy hitters. By this I mean Amazon Cloud Player and Google’s potential music service. The recently released Amazon service, currectly only available in the US, links up with the Amazon MP3 store as well as users’ own collections to Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, allowing users to play their music on the go. This is sort of a hybrid of Grooveshark and Audiogalaxy, where your files are stored on a remote server, like Grooveshark, while only allowing access to your own files, like Audiogalaxy (although you won’t need your PC to be constantly running to access your tunes).
Amazon has already come under fire from record companies, which was kind of predictable. It seems like record companies want two pay days here: One for you buying the music from them, and one for you using Amazon to play the music you already bought. Google seems to be on the brink of similar “discussions” with record companies as it develops its own cloud service for music.
So who will survive when the dust clears? Will Grooveshark ride the rising waves surround it, especially considering it will be much harder to get new (or keep old) subscribers to a service not even available in the market anymore? Will Audiogalaxy be crushed under bigger companies offering similar services; or will it rise in popularity due to advocates (like me in this blog, I suppose) raising their voices as the functionality is brought to the mainstream? Would this mean the service would no longer be free? Or will Apple shrug off all this competition like it has repeatedly over the past decade regardless of these outcomes?
What do you think?
I’d like to know what you think about this, so please take part in the poll below, adding another answer if none of those supplied applies to you. Leave a comment if you have more to add. Spread it around a bit by “liking” and tweeting this page below this post. I’m seriously intrigued as to what people think will happen!
P.S. Pre-empting people mentioning Subsonic: I’ve tried it, and I don’t like it for the following concise reasons: It’s too complicated to set up, it needs you to open ports to get it to work (Audiogalaxy doesn’t) and it ignores metatags in favour of looking at the folder structure of your collection, which I don’t use. It’s also not free, even if it is very cheap. So if those things don’t bother you, try Subsonic.