A screen grab of a new feature dubbed "Broadcast" at Grooveshark,… (Grooveshark )
Grooveshark, still evolving in spite of lawsuits by major record companies, is launching a new feature Wednesday that will let users spin virtual records for their circle of friends.
Although it's called "Broadcast," the free feature is more like a group-listening application than a broadcasting platform. When users hit the "Start Broadcasting" button, the music they play on Grooveshark becomes available as a stream to their friends and followers on the site.
Virtual DJs can record comments to insert between the tracks, but don't yet have the ability to do voice-overs.
The site makes it easy for those who are listening to the stream to send the broadcaster links to tracks they want to hear. They can also vote on the songs suggested by other listeners, although it's ultimately the DJ's decision whether to play any of the requests.
DJs can also disable the site's built-in chat function, should they prefer not to be second-guessed by people with inferior tastes. And when they're tired of picking tracks, they can hand control of the live broadcast to someone in the audience.
Grooveshark will show each user a list of live broadcasts by the people they're following. The site will also offer links to popular broadcasts and a list of all live broadcasts that users can browse through. Broadcasts that are no longer live can be saved as playlists.
Grooveshark co-founder Sam Tarantino said the company wants to democratize radio the way YouTube did video and Twitter did microblogging.
His company is hardly the first to try to do so, however. Live365 has been offering a webcasting platform to the masses since 1999; online DJs pay upward of $4 a month for access to it. The now-defunct Echo Networks unveiled a service more than a decade ago that let people stream personalized, algorithmically chosen playlists to a group of friends.
More recently, sites such as Turntable.FM and Fuzz.com have rolled out platforms that let users play DJ alone or in groups, live or in playlist form. Many of these sites have generated buzz, but none of them has approached the mass appeal of YouTube and Twitter -- or even Spotify.
Grooveshark offers something to would-be DJs that its predecessors didn't: access to a seemingly unlimited library of songs. But this library -- uploaded by Grooveshark's users and the indie labels that have licensed the service -- is the source of the company's legal problems. The major record companies argue that the site infringes their copyrights any time users play unlicensed songs. Grooveshark contends that the infringements are its users' responsibility, not its own.
In an interview Friday, Tarantino said the company is in talks with the labels over how to make the broadcasting feature -- and the site as a whole -- work for both sides. Although Grooveshark isn't planning to add radio-style commercials to the broadcasts, it envisions selling broadcasting sponsorships whose revenue would be shared with labels and artists.
Tarantino also says that Grooveshark can help the industry circumvent the "stranglehold of terrestrial radio" when it comes to promoting new acts, but then, seemingly every online music service makes that argument.
Unlike its licensed music-on-demand competitors, which offer a limited amount of free streaming to attract subscribers to their pay tiers, Grooveshark has tried to make a business out of free, advertiser-supported streams. The major record companies have embraced few such models, which have trouble generating the amount of revenue the labels expect to receive from on-demand services.
Nevertheless, Tarantino sounds optimistic about where the current talks with the labels are headed. "It's been one of these really open conversations," he said. "There are very interesting negotiations. I think we're on the cusp of something big."
Regardless of whether the new feature helps labels and artists, it will almost certainly help Grooveshark attract more users and usage. DJs crave an audience, so the feature is likely to prod users to bring more of their Facebook friends and Twitter followers onto Grooveshark.
"What we're trying to do here is viral radio," Tarantino said.
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Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @jcahealey