AUSTIN, TEXAS — Turntable.fm, a social music service that goes beyond the usual buzzword with a service that turns music fans into avatars so they can DJ music for each other in rooms, is officially “legit.” On Tuesday at the SXSW Interactive festival, Turntable.fm co-founders Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein announced that their company had secured licensing deals with all four major labels during a panel called “Turntable.FM: The Future of Music Is Social.”
Part of the holdup was due to the novelty of Turntable.fm, which isn’t an unlimited, on-demand service like Spotify or a “lean back” streaming radio app like Pandora. Instead, it allows a few users to take the stage in order to DJ to up to 200 listeners in virtual rooms, each with its own musical theme.
Then, there’s the somewhat open nature of the service. DJs can choose from a catalog provided by MediaNet — or, if they want to play a bespoke remix or even a song they’ve recorded themselves, they can upload it into the service, where other users can add it to their queue (the collection of songs that they can play if they can get a spot on the stage).
The possibility of playing music from outside of a standard catalog likely complicated the licensing process further — as did the fact that the co-founders didn’t have a firm grasp of music licensing when they set out to launch Turntable.fm. Even without licensing in place, they attracted $7.5 million in funding from Union Square Ventures on the strength of a revolutionary concept and a warm reception by the press and public, but obtaining these licenses was clearly a necessary step.
“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,” said Goldstein in advance of today’s announcement. “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… Intellectually, it [was] a huge challenge to navigate through a lot of these partnerships and label negotiations.”
With help from digital music lawyer Debbie Newman, Goldstein and Chasen were able to navigate those waters to give Turntable.fm legitimate licenses from the labels, paving the way for its further expansion.
Initially a web-only app, Turntable.fm is now a mobile app as well, allowing fans to carry around many rooms of music in their pockets where up to five DJs — including you, if you think you have what it takes — choose the tunes.