There’s been a lot of hype lately over Spotify (and less recently, similar services) and the way that it socializes music. Collaborative playlists are a really fun way to share music, to discover music, and to see what your friends like to listen to. But what about engaging in a social music experience with complete strangers?
Turntable.fm is a web service that focuses on turning web-based social music into a performance activity. Harkening back to the days when music enthusiasts would congregate in record stores and discover music together, this service emulates the real world experience of listening and interacting with complete strangers.
When you first hit up Turntable.fm in your web browser, you’ll be asked to connect the app with Facebook. This makes the registration process painfully simple, as well as making the whole experience even more social. If you don’t have a Facebook account (but who doesn’t, these days?), you’re unfortunately out of luck for now. However, the developers have stated that they intend on adding support for those who are behind-the-times.
Once linked with Facebook, you’ll enter the lobby, which shows you a list of rooms that you can join. Each entry on the list has a title that generally indicates the style of the room, as well as the currently playing track, the number of listeners in the room, and the number of people currently DJing. If your intent is to DJ, a “5/5 DJs” means you’ll have to wait for an open spot. But more on that later.
Select a room that looks appealing to you, or search for a specific genre of music, and click on it to enter.
The most fundamental activity involved with music is listening, and Turntable.fm makes a solid listening service. Once you enter a room, you’ll see an avatar-based performance space with a series of DJs sitting on the stage, and a crowd of people standing and listening.
As purely a listener, you can watch the DJs perform (which basically is just choosing songs). You can hover over the speakers to control volume/mute, glean song information from the faux-LED banner under the DJ table, or hover over that display for further options. You can add current track to a slew of other services, like Spotify, iTunes, or Last.fm.
The DJs at the table are selecting tracks for your listening pleasure, so if you like a particular DJ’s taste, you can become a fan. Futhermore, for the track that’s currently playing, you’ll see a feedback meter at the bottom of the screen. This meter moves between “Awesome” and “Lame” depending on feedback from the crowd. Click on “Awesome”, and your avatar will start bobbing his head in approval. If the room is a tough crowd, enough “Lame” votes will skip the song and it will be the next DJs turn to pick a song.
Listening becomes social with the built in chat window in the bottom left. It is a webpage, so Turntable.fm has it’s fair share of trite and meaningless dialogue. But I managed to find a satisfying amount of meaningful music discussion. Additionally, each room has a series of social buttons at the top (Facebook, Twitter, email, and permalink) so you can share a particularly exciting room with your friends.
As I mentioned above, Turntable.fm turns social listening into a performance activity. If you have exceptional taste that absolutely must be shared with an audience, you can hop up to the DJ table (provided there’s an empty spot). If there’s not, you can usually queue up for a turn at the table, or go find a room with an empty spot.
The service itself doesn’t really provide a whole lot of structure in-room as far as DJ turn order or music style. Since rooms are user-created, however, most moderators employ an informal set of rules that dictate who gets to DJ next, and how many songs you can play before giving up your table spot to another DJ.
To start your set as a DJ, you have to add tracks to your DJ queue. You can either upload tracks from your library, or choose tracks from the Turntable.fm database. Build a queue of songs and hop up to the DJ table to show off your cred.
As you spin tracks for the audience to rock out to, you’ll accumulate points for every time an audience member clicks “Awesome” for your tracks. As you amass huge amounts of points, they can be exchanged for new avatars. Your choices for avatars are somewhat limited at the moment, but the holy grail of Turntable.fm avatars is the pair of Daft Punk avatars that is reserved of superusers.
Once again, here you can use the built in social media tools to let your friends on Facebook or Twitter know that you’re performing a set.
It’s pretty interesting how user-selected songs and a room full of silly looking avatars can make music feel social again. Spotify is great. I can share new music I find with my friends, and vice versa. But Turntable.fm provides that unique experience of interacting with complete strangers while listening to and discovering new music together.
Have you tried Turntable.fm? Do you prefer other social music services? Are you an aspiring DJ on the site that we should be on the lookout for? Let us know in the comments.