The Lawsuit, Shutdown, and Aftermath

This is the final article in my three part series about building Audiogalaxy. If you haven’t already, you may want to read part one and part two first.

2002
By 2002, things were going along quite nicely from a technology standpoint. Running the C backend on the hardware we had purchased for the Java version meant we were very much below our capacity, and we made it past 1 million simultaneous clients. I was pleased that I had learned the right lessons from V1 and designed a solid architecture.

I was also feeling good about the other major service I looked after — search. Audiogalaxy had sponsored my senior engineering project for UT in 2000 — a high performance MySQL indexing service. That, combined with a caching service I built in 2001, had solved the search problem. We were handling 80 million page views every day, most of them searches.

But having some of the scalability problems taken care of didn’t mean I was taking it easy. We were getting more and more DMCA takedown notices, and I’d been working on tools to identify all variations of matching songs for a long time. Michael went to Washington, DC to talk to a group of RIAA folks, and I ended up on a conference call. Their tech guy, Dan Farmer (yes, that Dan Farmer), grilled me on the details of the filtering system.

The filtering system was the most frustrating piece of tech I’ve ever worked on. Audiogalaxy was amazingly effective at distributing rare music, and so no matter how many variations on artist and song names we blocked, things kept slipping by. I tried every trick that I could think of and blocked huge numbers of songs, but it was like trying to hold back the tide.

Eventually, the RIAA decided we weren’t doing enough. On May 24th, a gruff and tattooed messenger walked into the office with The Envelope, and that was that. Michael called in the lawyers and spent weeks trying to find a solution. In the end, he decided that settling it as quickly as possible was the best strategy.

I shut Audiogalaxy down from my apartment on the afternoon of June 17, 2002. It was a beautiful, typical Austin summer day. I knew what was coming, so I had stayed home to enjoy the sunshine. Mid afternoon, my cell phone rang, and David gave me the word to shut it down.

I typed out the command, paused for just a moment, and hit Enter.

For the amazing amount of effort that we put into building the system, destroying it was anti-climatic. The script I ran pushed a new configuration setting to several hundred servers and returned seconds later. The transfers that were currently active were allowed to finish, and then everything stopped. It was a moment I won’t forget, and I regret that I didn’t do it with the rest of team in the same room.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to enjoy being free from the stress of maintaining such a big operation 24/7, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that at 24, my career had already peaked. I didn’t really appreciate the experience I had gained at the time, and I was mostly consumed with the thought that I would never again have so many users love my software. I had no idea what I would do next.

Most of the staff was laid off shortly after that. After our traffic plummeted, Geoff and I spent a week unracking hundreds of servers from the data center in north Austin and driving them down I35 to the office. The company partnered with Rhapsody to offer a music service, and we tried to think of other things we could do with Audiogalaxy. But eventually, we decided it was time to move on.

unracked_servers.jpg

7 Responses to “The Lawsuit, Shutdown, and Aftermath”


  • What a waste…

    there’s a fate awaiting all the RIAA peeps and it won’t be grisly enough.

    Thanks for sharing

  • I guess this is just a me too kind of post, but I absolutely loved AG. I was in high school at the time, and we were on dialup at home, so every night my father when my father got home with his laptop I’d dialup and queue up songs to be downloaded the next day while he was at work.

    After a couple of months of this, my father came home one night and told me that for the last couple of months everyone at the office had been wondering why the net connection was so amazingly slow (it was just a small office with an ISDN connection). Well the day before he had been at a conference during the day, and suddenly the connection was flying. But the next day it was back to snail’s pace. So the IT guy put 2 and 2 together and came and checked out his laptop and saw AG running in the taskbar.

    After that I would dialup at night to download songs… =)

    Silly anecdotes aside, it’s great reading how you did it. Thanks for taking the time to write about it. Found your blog today and read every entry you’ve made. Keep them coming! =)

  • A very interesting 3 part read. It was really exciting to hear about the ins and outs of your startup. I actually went to high school with Michael in Houston. Even though he and I didn’t really get along back in my immature days, I still brag about his amazing accomplishments.

    One question. Would you mind possibly writing a bit about the monetary side of your startup? I’d be interested in knowing how and where you got income from. Was it only ads on the website or what?

    I’m currently involved in my second startup company (as a side job), but neither are even close to AG or FolderShare. The first bombed near the bubble crash and the second is still growing, albeit slowly.

    Anyway, I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog. I look forward to future posts.

  • Layna Pierce (Huibregtse)

    Hey Tom,
    I was amazed and thrilled to come across this! I also think back on the AudioGalaxy days with real affection. Doing the accounting for you guys, watching you all straggle in, in the late mornings, looking down off the balcony when the music review room was full of reveiwers.. watching it rise to glory and holding our breath when it can crashing down! What a ride! So glad that I was able to be just a little part of it. Tell Michael & Geoff “hello” if you get a chance.
    If any of you ever get to Seattle be sure to look me up and say hello!

  • Awesome posting, which I’ve only just discovered.

    Down here in New Zealand, I was a huge fan of Audiogalaxy, and a member of quite a few of the user /community groups. I discovered some brilliant music using the service – which I used to use on my dial up modem (which operated on our sole phone line). Like one of the other posters, I would leave it running all night. I was devastated when it cllosed down in 2002.

    Thanks for sharing the story!

  • Hi I was earlymusic1925 or philcord on audiogalaxy. It was the best file sharing site out there. I hope someday something like it will come back. Thanks for giving us the program even tho for too short a time.

  • Today, USAToday published a list of “10 iPhone Apps for Music Lovers” (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/technologylive/post/2011/01/10-iphone-apps-for-music-lovers/1?csp=obnetwork) which listed Audiogalaxy Mobile as one of the apps. That led me to look up the Wikipedia article on Audiogalaxy, which in turn has an External Links section that lists “Tom Kleinpeter’s History of Audiogalaxy”, which led me here. Cool! I knew that Tom Kleinpeter guy!

    This is a great write-up of the type of atmosphere in a hard-charging *successful* start-up. It reminds me of the early days at Convio in 2000-2002. I also appreciated the short mention of the Tivoli Boot Camp that you wrote in Part 1.

    Even more amazing is your mention here in Part 3 about being grilled by Dan Farmer. Small world! I remember Dan when he was an undergrad at Purdue at the same time I was there (Gene Spafford, in fact, was my boss for a while at Purdue when I was an undergrad teaching assistant). Dan was quite a character to behold.

    Sounds like you’ve gone on to future success, Tom, and that is really awesome. Many of us in the Boot Camp knew you’d be very successful at anything you put your mind to – though I would not have predicted back in 1999 that you’d eventually end up at Microsoft. :-)

    Cheers,

    Joseph Poirier
    Austin, TX

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