I’ve been playing on turntable.fm for the last couple weeks. I’ve been on the site so much that if my wife sees a window with a funky red curtain that looks like a cartoon version of the White Lodge in Twin Peaks (enough that I expect a dancing midget to start talking backwards at me at any minute) with a bunch of bobbing cat, bear, kid and, occasionally huge gorilla avatars, she will give me a look and start complaining about how much time I spend on the site and avoiding work.
If the room names are any indication (a quick glance might give you Indie While You Work, Indie While You Don’t Work, Indie While You Shirk Work, Music to Code By, etc.) there’s a lot of people avoiding work on turntable together. A lot. In the last month, it seems, the site has exploded. Not only in the number of users — with the profiles feature they rolled out earlier this week you can see how long a user has been on the site, many of them under a week — but in news and posts around the blogosphere. Turntable is, as they say, the new thing, all the while playing nice by the rules of the DMCA (following the same guidelines that Pandora and other streaming radio services need to comply with in the States).
Turntable works for a couple different reasons, but I won’t go overly into game theory (even though that’s a big part of it). First of all, music is universal. “Do you want to come back to my place to listen to some records?” is the sweater-wearing indie version of “why don’t you stay the night?” Music communicates on a deep level — deeper than words alone — because we respond emotionally to certain kinds of chords, keys, and progressions. For a music-o-phile, what’s more fun than having some friends over and playing your latest discoveries at them?
Turntable rewards users by giving them points every time another user hits “awesome” on the built-in Rock-o-Meter, which is displayed prominently under their username, and allows access to new avatars, giving a sense of status and l33tness (this is where game theory comes in). It also allows users to fan other DJs, alerting them when they are DJing in different rooms and serving as yet another status indicator if you have a lot of fans.
For those of us (myself included) who have or do DJ in real life, turntable offers an opportunity to spin to a live audience, get feedback from the audience (in a way that you wouldn’t on, say Blip.fm) and hang out with other DJs and music fans. And I think it’s fairly universal that anyone who DJs can’t ever DJ enough, so any excuse to throw on some wax is enough to get us moving in that direction.
There’s an interesting thing, though, about turntable if you make your own music. You can use the right room, with the right kind of audience, to demo out your music and see what kind of feedback it gets. I’ve done this myself with my own music and that of musicians I know. It’s rewarding to throw out a track you contributed to and see heads bobbing indicating that other people are digging it.
Due to DMCA restrictions, there’s a limit to the number of times a single artist can be played. However, I’m hopeful that the service will open up to allow artists to contact them directly for listening parties and virtual concerts (in fact, that’s exactly what we’re doing later this month). For those of us who never leave the house, this is another tool in an artist’s arsenal for spreading your music. Already I’ve seen recognizable names like Neil Gaiman and Ben Folds headlining popular rooms. It’s only a matter of time before that spreads and we have a Daft Punk room or a Paul Oakenfold room — assuming they, or someone in their entourage, has time to waste on the site, that is. Independent artists can use turntable as a promotional tool and netlabels in particular can use it to promote artists on their label and create exclusive live events without the need to book a club. You can even make a room private and potentially sell access to the room on turntable through your website.
The site is in beta and has some very obvious glitches, particularly in peak hours. Despite this, it’s addictive as cocaine, sending users into spiraling withdrawal when the site goes down or experiences problems. The only limitation to access is that you have a friend on Facebook that’s using turntable, which you probably do. Even if you aren’t a music snob, it’s a great way to be exposed to new artists and new music in much the same way as hanging around in a dorm room and playing records is.