Mobile Cloud Music Showdown – Subscription Services, 7th Place: Grooveshark
Ed. – This article is part of our roundup featuring all of the mobile cloud music services currently available in the US. Click here for more.
Founded in 2006 by students at the University of Florida, Grooveshark has morphed through various iterations over the past few years. It is one of the few services to have users upload content to be consumed by other users, and its founders even started “Grooveshark University,” an incubator for entrepreneurial talent. Their ability to think outside the box is documented, but what does that mean for the Grooveshark of today?
iOS (requires jailbreak), Android, Blackberry, WebOS, Symbian
As all content on Grooveshark is user uploaded, there are no concrete #’s on library size. Files are transcoded to 192kbps DRM-free mp3, and songs must have a sample rate of 44100hz and bit rate of at least 128kbps in order to be uploaded.
Grooveshark’s library is a wild card; because songs aren’t individually licensed by deals with labels, the breadth of the library is as wide and varied as the taste of the users that upload the music. For fans of independent and obscure artists, Grooveshark has the most impressive library, and it’s not even close. Not only did it have every song on our shuffle test, but it also had various mixtapes and self-released albums that no other service had.
The problem with the library is not the scope, but rather the consistency. Because of the infinite number of sources of the music, quality tends to vary, as does the accuracy of the metadata. Archivists may take issue with Grooveshark’s haphazard grouping, especially on the mobile app (the Web player is a bit more refined).
The Shuffle Test
Ed.- we took 10 songs shuffled from our iTunes library and checked how many each service had.
10/10 – Roxy Music – 2HB (Y), Big Star – Life Is White (Y), Sufjan Stevens – Jacksonville (Y), The National – Slow Show (Y), Daft Punk – Da Funk (Y), Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter (Y), Big Punisher – Dream Shatterer (Y), John Legend – It Don’t Have to Change (Y), Desaparecidos – The Happiest Place on Earth (N), The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (Y)
While using the mobile app, we didn’t experience any catastrophic app failure. It did sputter a couple of times, but was stable for the most part.
But when we tried to upload our own music in an attempt to provide some uniformity amidst the chaos that is the Grooveshark library, we got mixed results. Most of the songs we tried to upload via the web-based uploader failed, telling us there was issues uploading due to “Problem with server.” There was no option to attempt to retry. We imagine this could be the reason for the multitude of incomplete albums house on Grooveshark’s servers.
Software (User Interface)
The Grooveshark desktop app is available to subscribers of “Plus” and “Anywhere” plans; uploading and playback for free accounts is done on through a Web-based interface.
The mobile app is tailored to a specific type of user. Anal-retentive music fans who like to catalog their music meticulously will find the app to be frustrating. It is designed to quickly make on-the-go playlists, as opposed to finding a favorite album and listening to it from beginning to end. As you play songs and browse for new ones to add to your queue, there are three options for song selection. Those craving instant gratification can select “Play Now,” those who choose not to interrupt the flow can click “Play Next” and Zen mixtape artists can continue to tack on songs to the end of the playlist with “Play Last.” It’s very difficult to search and find an album to play in its entirety, and there are no album suggestions, just lists of what artists and songs are “Popular.” While the Web player and desktop app allow for more logical organization, the mobile app seems to have abandoned the concept of the album.
Even trying to organize and navigate a personal collection can be troublesome. Songs can be added to “My Music” to more easily locate favorite tracks to stream. But we didn’t like how the “My Music” section couldn’t be searched; we were forced to manually browse through our collection. The “Favorites” tab, however, can be searched and sorted by the date they were selected as favorites. The “Now Playing” screen shows album art (when provided by the uploader), and also features a scrubber bar with a buffer indicator in addition to basic playback controls. We also liked that there was a voice control option in the “Search” function.
The streaming speed we experienced with the mobile app was one of the slowest of the services we tested, averaging from 7-12 seconds to load the first song over Wi-Fi; 4G fared worse. There were a couple of occasions where the album art delayed playback of a track, but a quick press of the play button forced the song to play without waiting for the album art.
Recommendations (Finding New Music)
When they tire of playing DJ and adding new songs to the queue, users can click the Radio button from the “Now Playing” screen to have Grooveshark select your next few tracks. It’s no Pandora, however, so expect the latest top 40 rather than genetically curated gems. We found the suggestions to be generally uninspired.
Facebook users can link their accounts to Grooveshark, and friends’ playlists and recent activity can be viewed. The feature is not available on the mobile app, however, and it’s buried in the Web player.
Songs can be selected for “offline playback” from the menu for each song (mobile only). All offline tracks can be played in succession or organized by date added, artist name and song title. There isn’t a shuffle or loop option, but once the songs are added to the queue users can re-organize the order in which they songs are played manually.
$6/mo for “Plus” (no ads, desktop app, premium support) or $9/mo for “Anywhere” (mobile access). Users can take surveys to accumulate “points” that can be used to upgrade their service.
There were two features of Grooveshark that had no peer amongst all of the services we tested for this feature: Grooveshark’s library and its on-the-go playlist functionality. The breadth and scope of the user-submitted library is vast and reaches obscure corners of music, hosting tracks that no other service has. The organization is a bit chaotic, but if you’re searching track by track it is easy to be impressed Grooveshark’s knack for having that song you thought they couldn’t possibly have. Because of the lack of uniformity, the library lends itself to custom on-the-go playlists, something Grooveshark does very well.
But if you like to collect albums, not singles, and are looking for an application that organizes your collection intuitively, you need look elsewhere. We were also disappointed by Grooveshark’s ability to recommend new music to us; the Facebook implementation never made it to the mobile app, and the “Radio” feature was a joke. We liked the offline playback implementation, in part because the streaming speeds left much to be desired.
If you’re a playlist-making fiend who likes to consume your music a la carte and free of the context of an album, Grooveshark might be perfect for you. Otherwise, it’s likely you will find it lacking.
For more on our mobile cloud music feature, and to read reviews of the other services, click here.