Internet #003: TurnTable.fm

By February 13, 2012Internet, Music, Review

In high school, I was a pretty conservative music listener. Rarely did I expose myself to the modern pop music, and even when friends would share their ear pieces to show me a particular song, I’d immediately express distate and say how I only listened to classical music. After many years of watching anime and movies, my taste has grown, reflecting the relatively wide amount of styles of music that Japan has. It’s strange to think how I began to expand my musical tastes started with whatever an anime show had attached to the opening or ending sequences. To be honest, my first “rock” song was Haruka Kanata from Naruto. Though it can still be considered J-Pop, the screaming and intense bass rocking edges towards the side of J-Rock. I didn’t particularly like the music at first, but the animation sequence and series itself got me hooked on the mood that Asian Kung Fu Generation set for every episode. From then on, anime slowly introduced me to slightly different styles (you can imagine how romance shojo would use different music styles than jump shounen). I still listen to mainly J-Pop, but my tastes have grown to soundtracks, jazz, a capella, K-Pop, and the occasional western artist of today, such as Adele or Train.

I’ve always discussed with EFuzzy the idea of sharing music, and DropBox worked for a while, but sending files back and forth and having to relocate them every time our shared space reached capacity got annoying. Besides, opening music files locally on our individual computers never let us really listen to piece together at the same time, like Skype can do with screen sharing. YouTube was an option, though syncing the piece by count downing got dreary after a while. Finally one day, EFuzzy introduced me to a wonderful discovery: turntable.fm.

Turntable.fm is a social media website that allows users to interactively share music. The website is run by Billy Chasen, who started it in January 2011, using revenue generated by his previous start-up to fund.  The service allows users to create “rooms,” which other users can join. Designated users, so-called “DJs,” choose songs to be played to everyone in that room, while all users are able to talk with one other through a text interface. The service opened to the public in May 2011, and by late June had already reached 140,000 active users.

The concept is neat—I like the idea of people playing music for one another, and it seemed like the perfect solution for me and EFuzzy. Quickly logging in through Facebook (one of the only two ways to get an account), we hopped into the fray and started sharing music. It’s a blast with friends. Strangers? It’s debatable.

I attempted to DJ a little on my own for the J-Pop room, and my success was hit or miss. One day, most people “awesome”-d my songs, but another group on another day booted me off the stage. It was interesting to observe the dynamics of who liked what, when, and why. Of course, since turntable is a virtual arena for avatars, you find an array of characters and personalities (some so strange that they’re hard to accept as genuine, at any level). Interestingly, though, I was hurt every time someone “lame”-d my song. Each time the “awesome” meter kept lowering (due to people thumbs downing my song), I kept thinking, is my taste in music bad?

I mean, granted, I don’t listen to popular music and my taste is pretty narrow in terms of breadth (and I have an affinity for those lame, happy, cutesy songs that probably make guys feel like they’re losing testosterone if they listen to it), but it hurt to see people reject what I was trying to play. They have a right, of course. But what became apparent was that depending on the room and people listening, there was slight elitist feel and pressure to play what the room wanted.

This makes sense, of course. Of course the early adopters are going to be the people who are most passionate about music. What’s bad, though, is that the format of Turntable.fm appears to be set up to appeal to the basest instincts of the music snob: Those in the virtual ‘room’ with you, listening to your song, have the chance to vote for or against it, and though that mechanism is made to help keep the overall atmosphere in the room positive, it sours and strikes fear in the DJs who aren’t as well versed in DJing “good music”. If enough people declare your song ‘lame’, it is skipped and the next one plays. If enough people deem it ‘awesome’, you get points.

Taste in music is subjective, though, like taste in everything else. One person’s Yanni is another person’s ABBA. One guy’s Exile on Main Street is another girl’s Ace of Base: The Sign. The point system, while honest in premise, inherently awards a popularity ribbon to DJs who supposedley know music well and have the been knowledge in what to play. Awarding points for certain selections, and voting down someone else’s music that they’ve decided to share with you, feels…wrong?

This problem of open sharing with music on turntable isn’t much of an issue for me, though. I mainly use it to share music live (esp. study music) with my buddy buddies. Opening a private room full of people you know, and cycling through different types of music with an open mind has been gratifying in many ways. I highly recommend using  turntable.fm for at least that.

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