Today, the popular video streaming service YouTube committed a murder most foul. Two stalwart members of any Discord server worth its salt, stolen away from us in the night. Groovy and Rythm are dead, and I will mourn my beautiful robot companions with all of my heart.
With hundreds and millions of users and about as many servers, Discord is currently the most popular IRC-based messaging platform around, in addition to its role as a major audio and video chat application. Groovy and Rythm are automated music sharing bots that can be installed in a Discord server, and, once in place, any user can send them commands. Generally, bots fulfill a variety of roles, such as moderation, to emoji enlargement, and, most relevantly here, music streaming. You can even send these music bots full playlists from Spotify and they will go about their little tasks to assemble a comparable YouTube version, and then pump that audio into the Discord server.
Except most music streaming Discord bots pull their content from YouTube, without YouTube’s explicit permission. Today, Rythm has announced on their website that after “receiving a notice from YouTube,” it will shut down its popular bot on September 15th. Groovy received a similar notice on August 24th, and was shut down on the 30th. This is a bummer.
It’s obvious why these takedowns occurred: YouTube doesn’t want another platform restreaming their shit. Kotaku has reached out to Discord, Rythm, and YouTube for comment, but have not heard back at the time of publication. But the platform has said as much in its statement to the Verge, claiming that Groovy “had violated the terms of service by modifying the service and using it for commercial purposes.” Less obvious, though, is its impact on the health and future of Discord, and every weird community hosted on the platform.
Discord is a bit of a lawless wasteland, and one I love deeply. I have been on Discord for the last five years. I joined the platform for the fan server of a popular actual play podcast, Friends at the Table, but it was quickly replaced by smaller servers for tabletop-roleplaying game groups. Ten members at most, they would quickly shift from players drawn together by circumstance, to real and meaningful friendships. I met three of my best friends by playing TTRPGs over Discord, and for many Discord users this would be a low number.
Discord music bots laid the foundation for some of these friendships. I met my close friends, Takuma and Fen, by playing a great indie tabletop road trip game called Ribbon Drive. Your characters are based on the mixtapes you make for the game. You assemble a roadtrip’s worth of curated playlists, which influence the tone and content of your story. That game ended up being one of the first times I really explored my queerness with other people, and Groovy was there the whole time. Keeping everything in the Discord server, in the car, made it feel intimate and real in a way that going to YouTube to have to constantly skip ads between songs wouldn’t.
Groovy actually got confused by the first song in a playlist for some reason, and ended up playing the wrong thing. The first song of the game is significant as it defines your characters. You borrow lyrics and shape them into character traits, which you then act out in game. Our game was about outrunning a massive storm, chasing our characters all the way from Southern Georgia to Toronto. The first song, accidentally played by a confused robot, which none of us had actually heard before, opens with the sound of rain on a window. The song is gorgeous, and its lyrics felt made for the story we wanted to tell. Three queer kids moving across the country, winter howling at the walls, and finding shelter in each other as they go.
But this isn’t just a me thing. The best server I’ve ever been a part of, hosted and inhabited by friends and acquaintances I met during the peak of quarantine hell, had music bots as an integral part of the server. Lockdown dealt a serious blow to a lot of people’s mental health, mine included. ADHD produces a dopamine deficiency, which leads to the brain desperate for stimulus. Sharing a room with other people provides me with that stimulus and allows me to function better. Music, other people’s conversations, and my own comments here and there help to keep me on track in a very real way, which made quarantine tough. Vibing channels in Discord alleviated that problem.
Sitting in an audio call listening to music with other people who were also working on their own shit was a genuine salve for my brain. Groovy was a big part of that. It is hard to feel invited into a room where someone is sitting alone, but when they’re in there with a music bot it feels like a sign that they want people around. It would be easy to just listen to Spotify on your own, but instead they’ve chosen to broadcast their music to the whole server, which suggests they want people there. And so, despite my anxiety, I felt more comfortable and willing to come in and vibe while working.
Vibe channels, album listening parties, tabletop RPGs—the list goes on. Music bots have become an integral part of Discord, and Discord knows this. Discord, as a platform, is already partnering with YouTube to create a more official watch party system—currently in beta on select servers—which is fine I guess. It won’t be the same though. It will, inevitably, be too corporatized and curated, like the rest of Discord is slowly becoming. Its weird, messy, and human edges are slowly being shaved off, and it is a huge bummer.
Oversight isn’t all bad. Discord has started shutting down servers which act as breeding grounds for fascist rhetoric and neo-nazisim, which is good. However, even this is indicative of the direction Discord is moving in. Like all platforms, it eventually wants to grow in market share and popularity, and that involves making it more palatable to potential partners and marketers.
I’m sure a new, strange and lawless platform will come to replace Discord that many of its most stalwart users will flock to once Discord becomes overly corporatized. That platform too, will host some wild shit, not all of it great, until it inevitably cuts off the things that make it work.
As good as systems are at sanding us down, people are better at finding new and strange ways to connect with one another. Goodbye Groovy and Rythm, I hope your descendants will be cooler and worse.