On the 30th of April, 2015, they shut down Grooveshark. This music streaming service was to our generation what offshore pirate radio was to the 1960s. When stubborn moguls refused to update their business models to match the crafty young people and their bedrooms, the good people at ‘the Shark’ did whatever the fuck they wanted.
The first time I saw someone use the Shark at a party, I thought it must have been something they were paying for. They were pulling up any song they could think of, instantly making playlists and shuffling them around. It was surreal. Since the site was a kind of music nerd open secret most IT types hadn’t heard of, it was also a glorious unblocked safe haven for cubicle jockeys and escapist high school students everywhere. In an office job I had we’d use the Shark constantly with a kind of awed disbelief. It always seemed as if the next song would buffer, you’d hit refresh, and it would be replaced by a message from the FBI. But the music kept coming.
Grooveshark operated in a quasi-legal stasis they somehow maintained for eight years. You could upload whatever you wanted and it would never get taken down. Many tried to sue the Shark and their response was basically “Get in line, buddy.” It was home to all kinds of rare recordings and often the first place for new things. When Random Access Memories leaked, the Shark had it first. The only people who seemed to have any success in keeping their cultural booty off there were Apple Records, and even then, you could find their stuff if you figured out the secret key words. Paul McCartney was under “MaCa”.
Back in 2000, when the copyright gods tried to implement some sort of word-filter on Napster, people started intentionally misspelling things. I remember downloading the new album by “Enimen.” Then when Napster folded, KaZaA, Limewire and Morpheus are just a few of the services I can remember that popped up to replace and improve on it almost instantly. I remember fake industry-planted versions of songs that were just one line from the chorus on a loop. I remember when Madonna leaked a MP3 that was just herself saying “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” We knew exactly what we were doing. It was too late for them to stop what was happening in any meaningful way, and in the process of dodging all this trickery, Generation Y picked up all kinds of skills that mostly go unspoken.
When I read Grooveshark’s takedown note, obviously written under duress and dripping in sarcasm, I felt a little sad but mostly proud of what they had achieved. The industry would probably never have sanctioned a legal service as incredible and affordable as Spotify without something as radical as the Shark. Technology is just too efficient to charge for any kind of information or art anymore. It’s exciting and scary and everyone knows it, even if nobody wants to say it out loud. Spotify is great for now, but it’s an uneasy truce. The pirates and bootleggers always turn out to be the heroes, and the kids always turn out to be right.