There's a new player in the music streaming business. And it's totally free for users — but what that means for the artists who make music isn't entirely clear yet.
It's called Aurous, and it just launched on Oct. 10. Its creators call it "the world's first BitTorrent-powered music player." That means it relies on peer-to-peer file sharing to provide music to its users.
- Popcorn Time is like 'Netflix for pirates': Dan Misener
- BitTorrent file sharers are heavily monitored, study finds
In many ways, it's jukebox software — similar to iTunes, Windows Media Player, or VLC. That means you can use it to organize and play digital music you already have on your computer.
But it also has a music streaming component, like Spotify, Rdio, Apple Music, and other subscription-based music services.
The big differences are that Aurous uses BitTorrent technology, features no ads, and is free to use.
Offers free service by not providing music directly
So how does it work? I've been trying it out an alpha release for the past few days. It's still in development, so it doesn't have all the features promised on its website, and a few things were still pretty awkward.
But by and large, it works as advertised. I was able to listen to the music I already had on my computer. Plus, I was able to stream (and download) a bunch of new music, and I was not asked to pay for anything. In some ways, using Aurous feels a lot like using Napster did 15 years ago.
So how does it offer an ad-free, subscription-free service? The important thing to note here is that Aurous isn't actually providing any of the music directly. Aurous uses BitTorrent behind the scenes to search for music.
But according to its creator, Andrew Sampson, the audio files themselves are hosted elsewhere. He said Aurous pulls music from about 340 different websites, including YouTube, which has a massive library of music.
His software aggregates that music, presents a unified front-end, and offers a search function. But it's not actually supplying any of the actual music.
No licensing deals in place for Aurous
That means that unlike other streaming services, Aurous hasn't hammered out any music licensing deals. Some of the underlying services it uses — like YouTube and SoundCloud — do have licensing deals. But it's not clear if, or how, any artists are paid when you listen to their work through Aurous — or even if the service will face legal challenges.
"We're sending links to iTunes pages for artists so you can purchase their music," Sampson said. "We're allowing you to view artists' personal websites. We want to help artists make money, but we're also trying to listen to music."
In the version of Aurous I used, there didn't seem to be any of those links to artists' websites or iTunes pages. Because this is an alpha version, it's possible those features haven't been added yet, but will appear in future versions.
And because this is an early release, it's hard to gauge how well it will compete with other music services. But by making this kind of music aggregation very user-friendly, it seems to be targeting services like Spotify.
It also takes aim at other services by encouraging people to switch. Aurous advertises a feature that lets users import existing playlists from Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube.
It's only been out for a couple of days, and Aurous has a long way to go. But as they say, it's hard to compete with free.