We’ve had our eye on Turntable.fm for about a week now, but when we called the developer to request an invite to this private alpha version, he said we’d have to wait, because he’s trying to keep a low profile. Sorry dude, but now that one of our Facebook friends is using it, we’re allowed in. So much for your low profile.
In a nutshell, Turntable.fm is a bunch of listening rooms, much like Listening Room, where members set up or join rooms where they can play music for each other, chat, and vote on each other’s selections, turning music into a social game of sorts.
Unlike the barebones Listening Room, Turntable.fm is all kinds of slick, even in this pre-release version. DJs represented by avatars sit at a desk in the front of the room taking turns playing one track each, while audience members crowd the floor in front of them.
Just like in real life, everybody gets to listen and chat with each other, whichever avatar is DJing bobs its head, and everybody knows whether they have a Mac or a PC.
You can choose songs from your computer’s own library, or from Turntable.fm’s own impressive collection, which fielded most tunes we asked for. And you can preview each song before it plays privately, just like a real DJ would with headphones, to ensure that you’re not about to embarrass yourself in front of everyone (with cross-fades, no less). DJs sit in the front, and the audience’s avatars stand in front of them.
If we have a complaint about Turntable.fm, it’s that the search is too simple. You can only search for artist, song and album — and you only get 25 results, so the song you’re looking for might be in its catalog, but remain invisible.
Everyone gets to vote on your song. If they hate it, it gets killed; if they approve, you get points (more on those below). Whatever’s playing, you can harvest it to the music service or store of your choice (iTunes, Last.fm, Spotify, or your own Turntable.fm queue).
Each DJ’s queue repeats, unless they make changes, so it’s in your best interest to pay attention and keep adding new songs or revert to listener status — otherwise people will chafe at the repetition and you’ll lose face, if not points.
At this point, it’s a big advantage to be the owner of the room, because if someone plays “Free Bird,” as happened in my room, you have the option of booting them from the room.
Gaming the System
Like AudioVroom, Turntable.fm uses a points system. You need points to pick an avatar, and we’re not quite sure what else. If this service is like AudioVroom, though, you’ll lose the ability to play music if you run out of points — although again, this service is still “invite only,” and co-developer Billy Chasen isn’t talking, so we can’t say for sure.
This private alpha is sure to continue drawing attention from early adopters and music nerds as it nears public release, but technical and legal issues could arise as it hits the mainstream. One DJ who joined the Evolver.fm room said he’d noticed performance issues already (“I was into Turntable.fm when it still worked!”).
For super neat music technologies like this, the usual progression goes something like this:
Big splash –> Performance issues –> Get sued –> Go under/get bought –> Be lame
Will Turntable.fm avoid that fate — an especially fraught question, given that it allows you to upload any MP3 into the system in addition to picking from a prefilled (i.e. easier to license) catalog?
We’re looking forward to finding out. For now, though, it’s a real hoot, and a potentially lethal time-waster for those music fans who can wangle an invite.