How Turntable.fm Replicates Music Scenes Online

Posted by Samhita Mukhopadhyay

turntablefm

There are two things that avid music listeners appreciate: variety and sharing. On the internet, listening to music has become a more social experience with sites like Last.fm, Spotify, and even YouTube engaging users in recommending music and commenting on it. And Pandora provides variety, auto-generating playlists based on listener preferences. Each of these sites and applications has dedicated users, but none of them do what Turntable.fm does. It creates space for members to interact in real time while sharing tracks, rating, and discussing them.

In the simulated club environment of Turntable, you get to be the DJ, along with four others. When people like your music, they press “awesome” and their avatar heads bop back and forth. It is gratifying—virtual reality at it’s best. Listeners can also hit “lame” if they don’t like it, which quickly reinforces the often stubborn borders of musical genre.

Spend a few hours on Turntable and one thing becomes clear: Musical tastes are fickle and nuanced, so diverse that a computer can’t replicate or auto-generate them no matter how many preferences you put in. Pandora based its algorithm on input from real people (as opposed to the iTunes “Genius” function, which culls data from the store—an indicator of what people are buying, not what they're listening to), but the method still fails to capture the marginal differences in music. And it's the differences that are most important to those with refined musical sensibilities.

Turntable may be a new technology, but it is a throwback to the chat rooms of the late 1990s.  What makes Turntable so interesting is its ability to build relationships, replicating real-life music scenes and micro-cultures. Despite our increasingly digitized lives, there is still a desire to connect authentically with other humans. For those of us music nerds who crave the scenes of the past but are comfortable living at least some of our lives virtually, Turntable is a revelatory music experience.