So a few weeks ago I got an email from my man Dutchman, from the world famous Indie Hip-Hop Podcast and his own label, Little Ax, inviting me to host an “event” at Turntable.fm with him for both of our labels. I had no what he was talking about. So I checked out Turntable.fm and taught myself how to use it in about an hour. Dutch really wanted to put something together fast before the site got too big, and he was right in making that call. That was almost a month ago now. So we organized what amounted to a “listening party” of unreleased exclusives from both of our respective labels. Me and Dutch just traded gems all night at the site for an invited “crowd” that we gathered through Email and Facebook invites. The night went amazing. We had a little more then 50 people flow through the room, and about 25 at one time at one point. A pretty good showing for a site no one had ever heard of! When we finished we both legit felt like we had actually “done something”, like we did a real gig. It was honestly pretty exhilerating. Let me slow down though, I may be losing some people that have never been there. I want to break down why this site is so important, what the pros are and what the cons are and why I ultimately support the site as an independent record label owner.
What is Turntable.fm?
Turntable is basically a site where people gather in what amounts to chat rooms and play music for each other. Not much more of an explanation then that. What makes it stand out is the fact that the rooms are animated with a stage where there are tables for laptops, and a floor space for on lookers or listeners. Most rooms have 5 DJ positions, and I assume an unlimited amount of listening positions. You are represented by an avatar and you can change the avatar that represents you based on how many DJ points you acquire. You acquire DJ points when people approve of the songs you play by clicking the giant “Awesome” button at the bottom of the screen. Listeners can also click “Lame” and if enough people click “Lame” (seems like it depends on how many people are in the room, but in a room of 5 or 6 people it seems like it only takes 2 people) your song will get skipped. The music you play is either provided via MediaNet which has hook ups seemingly to almost everything on Itunes or you can upload MP3s from your personal collection. Let’s take a look at some of the pros of the site.
After that first night, I really only saw the pros of this site and the amazing potential it had. As I used it more, I saw more of it’s flaws, but I’ll get into that later. It was pretty incredible having real time conversations with fans and friends of ours and our music. I mean, to be able to play something not many people have heard before and have people that generally like your stuff respond to it right there is pretty amazing. We all had fun that first night, from me and Dutch to people that hung out with us in there.
After that night, I started experimenting. As a label owner, I really only do social media to help promote my company. If I can’t promote us in some way, I really don’t spend much time on it. Time is money, after all. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the hell out of it sometimes, but I’ve always said that nobody cares about my personal life, they care about my personal life because they care about my professional life. Anyway, that’s a tangent right there. Back to the subject at hand, I started experimenting with some self promotion. I played songs from our label in random rooms. I tried not to make it obvious, I’d just slide stuff into the mix. Got some great reaction to some music, got skipped once too, haha. I could imagine rooms springing up filled with people promoting themselves this way, and filled with people that just really want to hear new music too.
At the same time, I was also learning who had a true following. I’d see many of the same artists getting played a lot in the more indie/underground hip-hop friendly rooms. Some of those artists were who you’d expect and some were a little more surprising. The point though, was it was actual people choosing what THEY wanted to hear, not what a blogger was posting or what the radio was playing. The power was with the people to make their own choices, and that in and of itself is pretty compelling. Occasionally people will do creative stuff like call out “DOOM!” and then all the DJs playing songs will pull a random Doom song.
Most importantly, Turntable isn’t just a place for streaming, it can be a place for BUYING. Each and every song automatically has links to Itunes and Amazon when it’s played. You can also link to a site like Last.FM from the site for each song in order to do more research on the artist as well. A yellow “T” also appears in order for you to add it to your Turntable cue so that you can then play that song at a later time yourself on the site.
You can see the potential here, for your own self promotion, for the fun of spreading music, for the fun of discovering music and having that real time interaction. The first time you visit the site, once you get passed being overwhelmed and figure out what you’re doing, you will be wide eyed with hope for the future of music. Maybe not long term on turntable specifically, but in general. You got the feeling that we could be headed for an internet that was more interactive.
The more you visit the site, the more you will see the cons. First off, let’s face facts. The avatars are hella corny. Being represented by some sort of teletubby or zombie ginger is not a good look. They need to work on this for real.
A lot of people use illegal downloads on the site from their own collection. Even of popular songs, that they would let you use for free through their service. Not only is this messed up from a moral standard, it also sounds like absolute shit. You’ll be in the middle of a nice mix with some DJs and then a distorted & hissy version of “Ice Cream” from Wu Tang will come on. WTF?
There are too many DJ stations. Almost all rooms have 5, which is the most you can have. There is a way, when you create a room to make it so that there are just 1, 2, 3 or 4 stations in the room but I’d say 95% of the rooms have 5 stations because that’s what makes people want to come into the room. When I’m DJing up there I feel like it takes forever to get to my turn, and as far as “DJing” goes, it totally fucks up any flow you can have with other DJs on there, which is part of the appeal of the site. The night I spun with Dutch was fun because we were able to play off each other, and I’ve had that happen other nights too. Usually though, you’ll end up with a group of DJs with opposing tastes where you can literally go from hardcore underground hip-hop that just came out to some random Wiz Khalifa song or something.
Personally I have become very accustomed to my very own customized experience online. Whether it’s my Last.Fm stations, Pandora channels or my own Ipod. I think we all have. We want what we want, for better or worse. This site takes that away. I guess I could just as easily put this in the Pros section, but while that is great sometimes, sometimes it’s not. You end up forced to listen to songs that you just plain don’t like and there’s no real way to avoid that.
It’s time consuming as hell. A whole new level of time vampire. If you aren’t prepared to look up and say “wow, where’d those 2 hours go” then DON’T EVER USE THIS SITE, haha. There is a big difference between a site like Turntable and a site like Twitter. Twitter is a communication app, you can use it while you do 10 other things. Turntable is much more in your face. Not only can you end up staring at the site waiting for your turn, not doing work, you are sucked in by the constant chat in the room as well, which you can’t pop out, you have to be on the site to participate in that. As I use the site right now while I type this, I can only notice how much longer this took me to type then it would have had I had my Itunes on or something. It’s not like Pandora, because there is the temptation to click over to see what people are saying, who’s DJing a certain song, find out when your turn is, click Awesome or Lame. If you are killing time, it’s great, if not it can be a total time suck.
The beta is only available to those in the US and has convoluted invite system based on who’s friends with who on Facebook of all places. I won’t even discuss how out of wack this is or explore the details of it.
People are already becoming total douchebags on the site, pimping rooms and kicking out people they don’t know and other shady stuff. I’ve heard there is even a plug in for Chrome where you can see who “Lames” you, why????? Haha.
Maybe it’s because I make music, but how long can you really get kicks off of simply playing songs in a format like this? I much prefer doing my podcast Uncommon Radio in order to introduce people to the music I love. There’s only so many times you can play a dope song, no matter how dope it is. Maybe I’m biased because I just don’t have the time to dedicate to being a top turntable.fm DJ.
The selection of tracks that you don’t have to add yourself is pretty limited. Type in a fairly well known group like Camp Lo and you’ll find a decent selection of their songs, but not all of their catalog that’s on Itunes. The songs it does pull from them (and other artists) seems almost totally random. Other artists like my friend Open Mike Eagle’s music doesn’t appear at all. He’s got two albums out and is as well known as any other artist I can find on there and yet when I search it comes up blank. Again, random. This goes back to my point that I repeatedly make on Twitter, that streaming sites create a walled garden where THEY make certain choices for you. No one will ever be satisfied if they are a true music fan, there will always be something someone is looking for. This speaks to a larger problem (among many) with a site like Spotify, but that’s another topic for another day.
As a concept I think it’s got great potential, especially when it’s used for specific purposes. I can see it for exclusive DJ nights, listening parties and fan bonus sessions as well as it’s normal song sharing function. As a label owner, I give them props for making it very easy to link to buy the music being played, now, will people use these functions? I hope so.
With that said, I had the feeling of it getting old very fast. I don’t know how long this site will last in it’s current form. This is likely the beginning of something, certainly not the end result.