I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking and reading about the future of the music business. I'm doing my best to wrap my head around the concept of the cloud and pinpoint just exactly how musicians can expect to earn their incomes in the future. It's a pretty heavy topic for someone who cares about musicians and the music business as much as I do, so the fact that my next 'assignment' led me to website as wacky as Turntable.fm was something of a relief.
I had been hearing, and mostly ignoring, rave reviews of Turntable for months when I finally decided to give it a spin. Going into this little experiment all I knew about Turntable was that it was a 'social music discovery platform.' And since that jargon explains very little, I was pretty much going into it blind.
If any of your Facebook friends are already on Turntable.fm (pretty likely) then you can join too. Upon signing in you are given the choice to create a room, go to a random room or search through the existing rooms. Not really knowing what any of this meant – I selected random. And down the rabbit hole I went!
What I saw was very random indeed:
It looked like a video game or some sort of South Park/anime mixer. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings but it's actually pretty simple. Everyone is given a ridiculous avatar and thrown in a room together. Five people are on stage, taking turns picking out songs for the group. Everyone who is not on stage is waiting their turn in the audience. Every time someone puts a song on you can declare it either "lame" or "awesome" - or as I often did, not do anything (you can also get the songs you like on iTunes, Spotify or a number of other music sites). Get enough "lames" and you get booted offstage but get enough "awesomes" and you get...to pick another avatar. Eventually you can earn enough points get a superhero suit or a coveted gorilla avatar. How bout that?!
There is also a chat box on the lower right hand side of the screen that lets you talk to everyone in the room. This fascinated me. I hadn't chatted online with someone I didn't know in about fifteen years (keep in mind that in the early to mid 1990s nobody really saw chat rooms as creepy, or at least no one told me). It amazed me that anyone would want to take part in this chat, but they did. The volume, and topics, of chat varied from room to room but there was a constant stream every time I logged in.
The chat was mostly friendly until one guy broke a particular room's rules and stayed on the stage too long. This really set people off. Cries of "Hes cheating" and "OUT WITH THE HACKER" came from users 'DJ H Frizzle' and 'ItsFrost' respectively. Tough guy alert!
Perhaps not surprisingly some people are taking Turntable a bit too seriously. There is a competitive aspect to it. I couldn't care less about earning a cooler avatar (though the one I started with was pretty ridiculous) but I genuinely wanted to impress my fellow roomates with my song selections. This is a clever little trick to get users to engage and it might just work.
Turntable.fm maybe an ingenious combination of music player, social platform and video game. It might also be a total waste of time. It was hard to tell.
I would also be interested to learn how often users take the extra step of actually purchasing the songs they hear on Turntable. And how exactly does this website intend to make any money? It's probably just a matter of time before ads or subscription fees pop up - usually the kiss of death for new sites like Turntable.
The bottom line is I think it's safe to say that it will not have any sort of revolutionary effect on the way I consume music. Of course that doesn't mean that you won't find it fun. Or that I won't be going back for more.
Have you checked out Turntable? Sound like your idea of a good time? Let us know by leaving us a comment below.
UPDATE: Turntable.fm has struck deals with ASCAP and BMI, two of the biggest music publishing companies in the U.S. as reported on The Next Web.