I've been enjoying Grooveshark for a while now. If you haven't heard of it, search for most any song and stream it. Good quality and great selection. Just today, I've gotten (re)acquainted with Sam Cooke, Leonard Cohen*, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Prince Billy, and others. It's an easy way to listen to whatever music you're hankering for.
I gave up illegal music downloading a long ago for ethical reasons, but I have to wonder: is Grooveshark really different? I'm going to argue that it is because of the permanence of downloading mp3's versus the transience of streaming music. When I downloaded a song from Napster, it was mine forever. I probably still have a handful of songs on my iPod today from a free service that ended in 2001. When I listen to a song on Grooveshark, though, I can't take it with me. If I want to be able to listen to a song in my car I go to Amazon.com and get a DRM-free mp3 and put it on my iPod. I would actually go so far as to say that being able to stream music makes me more likely to buy it, particularly in a way that downloading it can't--if I already have an illegal version on my computer, it's just a hassle to delete it and download a carbon copy that I have to pay for.
I could also liken Grooveshark to a high-tech radio station, one that lets me pick the playlist. And radio has been around for a century, and I don't hear too many artists complaining about that medium cutting into their profits. However, this is where it starts to get dicey, because while radio stations give artists a cut (even if it is admittedly miniscule) of advertising revenue, my understanding is that none of the money Grooveshark makes from the advertisements on the right side of its site goes to artists from any of the major labels. So since I don't plan on buying any Kris Kristofferson songs in the near future, have I ripped him off in some way? At least I gave him some free publicity here, right? (Since my blog readership is so vast, that is indeed a Big Deal)
And what about in the future, when we'll conceivably have wireless connections to the internet virtually everywhere, including in our cars? Will I still want to download artists' music when downloading itself will become an inconvenience? I think when that day comes, I'll re-think my position on it, but for now Grooveshark is a great way to hear a few tunes that I haven't heard in a long time but don't necessarily need to hear again for a long time either, or ones that have been vaguely recommended to me but I want to listen to before committing. And when I hear music that I have to queue up more than once, I start to seriously consider buying it--Bonnie Prince Billy's album I See a Darkness is definitely in that category at the moment--so I feel like it supports the music industry overall.
So I'll keep grooving with a clear conscience. I think.
* In my first area on my mission, I heard a song in a store that arrested me. About the only lyrics I could remember, though, were the chorus being something about 'So Long Mary Anne,' which I wrote down to track down after my mission was over. Lo and behold, it was a Leonard Cohen song (and actually the woman referred to's name is Marianne). I've always thought of that experience as a testament to a great song-writer: being able to stop a missionary in his tracks (albeit one who never was able to--nor, truth be told--wanted to, kick the secular music habit completely) means you've got skillz.