Back in January, Stickybits co-founder Billy Chasen registered the domain name turntable.fm. Earlier this month, the previously alpha-tested music-sharing site made its debut as as an invite-only beta site, the only prerequisite being that new users had a Facebook friend with an already registered profile. By last week, the site boasted upwards of 140,000 registered users. And, just this past Monday night, the site's watershed moment came as Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, pseudo-anonymous Hipster Runoff scribe Carles, Dallas-based Gorilla vs. Bear blogger Chris Cantalini and internationally renowned DJ and producer Diplo joined forces to play music to a crowd of 200 or so rather ecstatic listeners.
Welcome to the impossibly fast-moving era of post-blogosphere, Internet-driven music.
It officially arrived on Monday night, in a turntable.fm room called "VIPFest." It was a crazy scene, as these four and a rotating fifth "DJ" streamed tracks of their choice for the site's very early adapters above a chorus of incessant Hipster Runoff in-jokes from the crowd.
Schreiber and Cantalini debuted previously unblogged-about tracks. Diplo leaked unreleased, still-in-the-works Major Lazer songs. Carles, rather predictably, played what he would no doubt deem classic "lamestream" cuts, as well as, rather unpredictably, ten-plus-minute-long, just-recorded speeches about VIPFest, turntable.fm and things that are "relevant."
All this on a site that's free to use and, as recently as last week, was mostly an unknown entity.
The idea behind turntable.fm is fairly simple, and ingeniously so. Users log on to one of any number of "rooms" where they'll find as many as five DJs taking turns selecting music to be streamed for all in the room to hear -- music either previously uploaded to the site's database or music that can be uploaded directly from the user's own hard drive. The listeners -- in the form of any number of preset avatars that can quite literally fill the imaginary dance floors of these rooms -- then give the selected tunes their stamp of either approval or detest by clicking the "lame" or "awesome" buttons located on a gauge at the bottom of the screen. Too many "lame" votes, and the song is automatically skipped. Every "awesome" vote, meanwhile, results in an avatar bobbing its head to the music. The more "awesome" votes a DJ receives, the more options he or she has for his avatar's look. And, as DJs vacate their spots on the "decks," other users can choose to take their place and offer up their own song choices for potential adulation and/or ridicule. All the while, a la an America Online chat room, listeners partake in a public conversation about the songs being played.
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It's an incredibly fun concept, a thrill for music fans of all sorts -- those in need of instant affirmation on their tastes, those looking to find like-minded listeners and those simply looking for another way to discover new music.
The site is scoring on all of these fronts, earning rave reviews across the board from users and industry observers alike. And it's moving fast: There's already even an unofficial offshoot site called "Turntable Dashboard" that keeps stats on all rooms with more than 20 listeners, ranking the DJs with the most fans (at press time, GVB's Cantalini comes in at No. 5 on that list), the DJs with the most "awesome" votes and even the most-played songs (currently the Bassnectar remix of Ellie Goulding's "Lights").
Understandably, tech sites are going bananas over it. BeatBeat, in an article confirming that even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbeg is among the site's early users, called turntable.fm "magical." Gizmodo has openly penned pieces in which they say they're in "awe of this new service." Wired.com, meanwhile, openly wonders if the site can keep up with its newfound popularity.
That last article make some solid points; in many ways, turntable.fm, in its current incarnation, is kind of like the Wild West.
For starters, there's the issue of legality and copyright concerns. The site boasts an extensive terms of service page, in which it promises that it will remove from its database of at least 11 million songs anything that the artists and/or labels don't want on there. And yet there's nothing in place currently to prevent users from uploading the tracks again. The site also uses the likenesses of both Daft Punk and Deadmau5 as its highest-end avatars; neither act has publicly commented on any affiliation with the site as of yet.
There are kinks, too; the flash system in place can sometimes fail, leaving rooms without audio or, worse, crashing altogether and booting users from the site altogether. No surprise, then, that the web-savvy folks already using the site have already taken to the web to voice their concerns and wishes for the site's future. It's all exciting stuff, sure -- but still rather overwhelming considering the site's freshness.
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So far, the people behind the site have remained silent on all things turntable.fm-related. Chasen, the site's founder, has yet to comment on the site's business model, its inherent Facebook integration, its legality, its server strength or anything at all, really. Beyond confirming a few facts, he's barely even gone on the record.
Nor does he really need to at this point. Technically, the site is still in beta-testing mode. Technically, it's still an invite-only service.
Most important, though -- and not at all technically, but, well, actually -- the site, kinks and potential issues aside, is just about as fun a free time as an Internet-savvy music fan can have at the moment.
Until, of course, the next, even cooler post-blogosphere, Internet-driven music site comes along and takes the throne in this seemingly unending game of King of the Hill.