Killed by Google in 2021, Discord's most popular music bot is back from the dead

 Discord best settings and tips.
Discord best settings and tips.

Discord used to be a more lawless land. For years, music bots roamed free across servers and group DMs, unburdened by lofty concerns like "licensing" and "probably being illegal" as they served up ad-free audio from YouTube videos on command.

Unsurprisingly, Discord's music bots were living on borrowed time—time which ran out in 2021, when Google issued cease-and-desists to the developers of popular music bots for violating YouTube terms of service and "using it for commercial purposes." Which like, yeah. Hard to argue against, unfortunately.

Among those culled in the great music bot purge was Rythm, which at time of death in September 2021 had boasted some 30 million users across 20 million Discord servers.  The writing had been on the wall for Rythm since August, when Google dropped the hammer on Groovy, another hyper popular music bot. Before the axe fell, Rythm's creator Yoav Zimet told The Verge that its developers were "working on something new."

Almost three years later, Zimet's foreshadowing is coming to fruition. Rythm is back from the dead, relaunching today not as an illicit bot peddling harvested YouTube audio, but—according to a press release—as "the world's first community-based group listening music platform." In other words, it's like Spotify if you could only use Spotify while in a Discord call with other people. Now one of Discord's built-in activities, Rythm offers synchronized music for servers and voice calls, but it requires a group to listen.

Evidently, Rythm spent the last three years chasing down music licensing deals and venture capital investments. While that sounds like the worst three years someone could possibly spend, it means your old music bot friend's gone legitimate. Of course, legitimacy comes with a cost: to freely host listening sessions from Rythm's music library, you'll need to pay five bucks a month for a premium Rythm subscription. Otherwise, free users are limited to listening to their premium friends' sessions or pre-curated radio stations from Rythm and premium subscribers.

It's nice to have an easy music option while hanging out on Discord, but I imagine what'll make or break the resurrected Rythm is how well its music catalog—around 50 million songs, the press release says—can provide music that people will actually want to seek out. I'll admit, that 50 million number is already more than I expected; for comparison, Spotify claims its catalog has something like 100 million songs. That's more than I could muster up in three years. And I've never gotten a DMCA from Google for sorta-stealing music, so you'd think it'd be easier for me.

A popup from the new Rythm activity in Discord, telling me I need to have friends in my voice call to continue listening.
A popup from the new Rythm activity in Discord, telling me I need to have friends in my voice call to continue listening.

Sadly, if you hope to use Rythm for listening solo, you'll only get a couple minutes' worth of music. Curious to see what kind of heat Rythm was bringing, I fired up the new Discord activity in a test server to see what was available. Choosing the "Sad Songs" curated radio station, I listened to two and a half songs—one from Lana Del Rey, one from an artist named "Juice WRLD"—before it paused the playback because I was listening without anyone else in the voice call.

"Rythm is for groups," a popup told me as I grew self-conscious of the fact that I was alone in a poorly-lit basement apartment. "You can continue adding songs and playback will continue when someone arrives." According to Rythm's website, even premium subscribers can't listen solo, because the group listening requirement "allows us to be cheaper than other music streaming services."

Ah, well. If you've got friends, you can fire up Rythm in Discord today. Rythm's also hoping to launch a standalone mobile app later this year, though presumably you'll still be unable to use it alone.