September 21, 2011 at 9:18 pm

20 Things You Didn’t Know About Turntable.fm

turntable.fm turntablefm cocreator seth goldstein

Turntable.fm co-creator Seth Goldstein discussed the formation, inner workings, and future of Turntable.fm on Wednesday night in Manhattan.

As his partner, Turntable.fm CEO Billy Chasen flew to San Francisco for Facebook’s F8 conference, Turntable.fm co-founder Seth Goldstein demonstrated their creation at Manhattan’s Paley Center at an event hosted by SoundCtrl (which put together the FlashFwd Awards we covered earlier this year).

We turned down a VIP seat in order to watch the event online, all the better to pick up choice tidbits about this still-red-hot group listening service and present them to you here. Among other things, we learned that an Android version of the iPhone app will arrive shortly — more information below.

Behold, 20 things we’re willing to bet you didn’t know about Turntable.fm, listed here in chronological order based on Goldstein’s talk earlier tonight, in his own words.

1. It’s Not a Music Service — It’s a Community

“There’s a pretty active chat element. It harkens back to maybe AOL People Connection. In some ways, I think chat is the element that really binds together the [Turntable.fm] community, and as much as people talk about Turntable as a music service, it’s much more of a community. Music is really an on-ramp to the community functionality, the community dynamic.”

2. It’s Going To Be an Opening Band

“What we’re hoping to do in the fall is sponsor a college tour where we’ll be one of the opening acts, so that before the artist gets on stage, there will be something like this, all tricked out [with a projector screen] so people in the audience can get on the deck and take turns DJing, and you’ll really have this experience of on- and offline social music.”

3. It Was Birthed by Failure

“We still couldn’t get consumers to adopt [their original idea StickyBits]. We had raised a couple million dollars, and we made that gut-wrenching choice: Do you stay all-in and stick with the idea [of letting people link barcodes to URLs] and hope that consumers would come around? Or do you put it on hold and try something else? I think necessity became a mother of invention, and Billy [Chasen], to his credit, had this idea of, as he described it to me, ‘a virtual room with avatars and music and chat.’ It didn’t seem like much, but we had nothing to lose.”

4. Its Creators Didn’t Know Anything About the Music Industry

“We went into it without being worried about [licensing]. I didn’t, and still don’t know what the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] stands for. We didn’t know about the restrictions, the per-play rates, international [licensing differences], and the publishers, and the PROs [Performing Rights Organizations] — it was all gobbledegook.”

“I’m really just a baby in online music… Intellectually, it’s a huge challenge to navigate through a lot of these partnerships and label negotiations, et cetera. ”

5. It Was (Mainly) Built By Two People in Eight Weeks

“We took a team that had been six or seven people down to two people, which was Billy and one other engineer. They hung out in an office for eight weeks and they wrote the application, and we launched it with one tweet and one Facebook share from me… because I had the most followers and friends.”

(That tweet went out four days before Evolver.fm reported on Turntable.fm, having surprised Billy Chasen on his cellphone.)

6. Its Usage Patterns Mimic Those of Foursquare

“Clearly, some people use Foursquare to get more points, or become a mayor. A lot of people, like me, use Foursquare to remember where I am, and share with my friends where I am. I don’t think the gaming [feature of Turntable.fm in which users accumulate DJ points and followers] is fundamental, but I think it’s an important driver, particularly for DJs.”

7. Disaster Paved Its Way

“As an entrepreneur and former VC (venture capitalist), the last 10 or 15 years have been littered with the bodies of online music startups. Whenever I see a music entrepreneur, they just look like they’ve been through the war. So why, in anybody’s right mind, would you get into the business? Because the Napster lawsuit and the imeem lawsuit scared so many entrepreneurs and VCs away, it actually made it a particularly opportune time to do it. Spotify, Pandora — there have been some breakthrough successes recently that seemed to suggest that there are disruptive, sustainable investment opportunities.”

8. It Leads to Music Purchases and Plays — But Not That Much

“The labels clearly want to see new discovery services. We have sold thousands and thousands of dollars through iTunes. We’ve sent thousands and thousands of clicks to Spotify, because people come to Turntable.fm, and they think ‘that song… is awesome, and I want to buy it from iTunes or put it in my Spotify queue.’ So we are not ‘substitutional,’ which is the bad word — ‘discovery’ is a good word…”

“We generate some affiliate fees through iTunes and Amazon — they’re not substantial. Affiliate rates tend to be pretty low. And we also want to be careful not to be hawking product, because it becomes a pretty slippery slope. I’d rather have monetization come from some of the models I mentioned [elsewhere on this page].

9. It Will Try to Make Money Connecting Celebrities to Brands

“We, like everybody, are looking for ways in which monetization actually enhances the consumer experience… things like ‘a brand brings you an artist.’ So, I’m going to go to this room because Kanye West is spinning there and it’s brought to me by Lexus. That’s a good experience — totally fictional and hypothetical.”

10. It Will Try To Sell You Virtual Stuff

“Given the gaming dynamics and the virtual dynamics of the room, there are all sorts of virtual goods and virtual currencies and virtual interactions that we think users will pay for. Over the months and years to come, we will start to experiment with that.”

11. It’s Launching a New Homepage to Coincide with Facebook F8

“Tomorrow, around the time that F8 happens at Facebook, we’re releasing a whole new homepage that will make it much easier to find your friends, find open rooms, [and] favorite rooms that you want to go back to. The way that you find rooms right now and move through rooms is a little clunky.”

12. Its Co-Creator Thinks Facebook Will Dominate Online Music

“I think Facebook will be, shortly, the most dominant distribution platform for music in the world, despite themselves. Facebook has always been like this giant child, because their influence way outstrips their actual development. I think they’re figuring it out. They have a huge firehose, and what they’re trying to distribute is our musical interactions, tastes, and experiences, so that the news feed becomes not just one big megaphone for our musical activities, but lots of little ones. Whether I play a piece of music, borrow someone’s playlist, or like a song, all of that can start to flow through the news feed, whereas right now, it has to be very explicit, what you’re sharing.”

13. Facebook Is Freaked Out About Copyright

“Clearly, Facebook is sensitive to licensing concerns, and you’ll see: It won’t be a free-for-all where any application can stream music through the Facebook pipes, because Facebook recognizes that there might be liability if they’re enabling music services that aren’t licensed. I think that’s going to be a gating factor on which services get play. You’ll either have to be licensed [for unlimited, on-demand playback, like Rhapsody, Spotify, and MOG] or the DMCA [like Pandora].

14. Turntable.fm Needs to Stay Cool

“The minute we do something that’s not cool… it’s a quick trip to the end. To our credit, Billy and the team have been really focused on better moderation tools. If there’s an asshole in one of the rooms that starts chatting and saying lots of crap, it was hard to get them out before. Now, if you zap them once, they’re gone for five minutes; you zap them again they’re gone for an hour; you zap them a third time, they’re gone for a day. These are things that aren’t sexy, but they really improve that core user experience.”

15. Nobody Knows About It In Sheboygan

“You all know Turntable. If I had this kind of audience in Sheboygan, and said ‘Who’s used Turntable,’ there would be zero people. As cool and hot as we are here, there’s no awareness across the country outside of certain hotbeds like San Francisco, L.A., and New York, and certain other cities. There’s going to be a real emphasis on ‘How do we simplify it and cross the chasm, as it were?’”

16. The Android Version Is Coming

“You’ll see more devices. There will be an Android application and an iPhone application.” (We’ve reviewed the iPhone version.)

17. DJs Will Soon Be Able to Manage Their Queues Better

“Things like queue management are on the top of the list.” (This probably means users will be able to manage multiple DJ queues, so they have a better chance of having songs at the ready that are suited to a particular genre.)

18. It Won’t Have Video Because Video Steals Eyeballs

“In terms of video, we made a fairly definitive choice to support music, not video, because music can be in the background. Music doesn’t get in the way of conversation — it actually facilitates it — whereas the minute you put a video in, people watch the video. It’s kind of hard to chat while you’re watching video, because literally, you’re moving your eye from one screen to another screen, whereas you can be listening to music and chatting at the same time, and there’s no dissonance.”

19. People Self Organize on Turntable.fm

“There is an orange bear room, and literally, you go in there, and the only criteria is that you have to wear the orange bear avatar. And there was a Hurricane Irene room, and the only caveat was that you had to play music related to hurricanes [good idea!]… all of this stuff, we couldn’t program this. We couldn’t invent this stuff ourselves.”

20. Cheaters Turn into Gorillas

“Early on, there were some script kiddies that would come in and create these scripts that would inflate their points by going into a room and getting ‘awesome-d.’ We actually stopped that from happening — we turned them into gorilla avatars.”

Read more about Turntable.fm here.