As you may have noticed from the increasing infrequency of my posts on here of late, music has become something of a lessened priority for me in recent months. What with writing for two websites, editing a student newspaper’s music section and trying to keep up my own personal stream of musical thoughts here, the process of listening to and thinking and writing about had begun to feel like a (negatively-paid) job rather than a hobby and, as such, my interest waned.
That is, until a few days ago. After a single tweet by superlative movie blogger Charlie Lyne piqued my interest, and a little Google-digging later, turntable.fm quickly became my new favourite website, and the seeming solution to my musical malaise. As a quick explanation, Turntable is essentially a social networking DJ platform. Rooms are opened by users, and usually inform genre interests, in which up to five users act as DJs that play tracks, in turn, for the rest of the room. The whole room can then rate each track either “Awesome” (which gives the DJ points to be used in buying new avatars) or “Lame” (which can result in the track being skipped if a high enough proportion vote accordingly). Alongside all of this is a live chat box, allowing the room to discuss everything from the tracks being played to what’s being made for lunch. It’s a beautifully simple system and one that could breed the worst kind of trolling but at this early stage is still mercifully yet to manifest itself in that way (and would be relatively easy to deal with given the positioning of the room “owner” as moderator).
The reason this simplistic idea has become so enthralling to me lies in its extreme sociability. Last.fm or Pandora might offer you new music based on what you like, but Turntable’s inherent humanity means you’ll quickly be finding music you would never have heard, simply because you didn’t know you’d like it. In my first day I saw rooms dedicated to obscure electro, ’60s folk and Japanese hip-hop, run by people all over the world. I’ve already made friends, exchanged musical tips and sat for hours just listening to what people wanted to play to me. Despite the points system, there’s no feeling of competition, nor any animosity to those who play the wrong sort of song for the room, just a careful nudging into the right areas – it’s an inherently friendly community that’s being created, bred on talking in small groups, rather than to a huge, faceless crowd. This is simply the best experience of music online I’ve ever had and, through a combination of appealing to my own musical arrogance and the genuine interest in what others have to say and play, one that has me truly enjoy listening to music again.
So why the ‘Plea’ of the title? Two days ago, Turntable closed its imaginary doors to non-US users due to ‘licensing issues’. Music on the site is played through an online streaming service that has had almost every track I’ve searched for and, if it doesn’t you’re free to upload your own mp3s to play. As far as I’ve been led to believe, the licensing issue here is that Turntable purports to be a non-interactive radio service, which is clearly shaky ground – these might not be downloadable tracks, but the playing of them is an interactive activity. Now, while there are ways to get around the restrictions (*cough cough*) this massive hassle is more than likely to make the vast majority of potential non-US users either stop, or never start, using the service, and this immediately negates the whole fun of it. If Turntable is not internationally available, the whole process of “sharing” music with others becomes streamlined to a huge degree – since the block came into effect, most of the more interesting prospects that were open to me have disappeared, and the number of users online at any one time has plummeted. This is clearly counter-intuitive.
Now I’m not blaming the Turntable creators for this block – the incredibly quick influx of 140,000 users in a month will clearly have alerted some major musical players and the block more than likely stems from that. What my plea concerns is the website owners’ reaction to this problem. Their promise that they will work to get international access back ‘asap’ is reminiscent of a similar announcement from Pandora in 2007, which still cannot allow non-US access due to similar problems, and I’m afraid that the issue will be ignored because of the costs involved in fighting any legal attacks. While this is understandable, I’d love a fight to take place. Turntable’s future lies in an international, all-comers-accepted approach that could (and yes, this sounds OTT) revolutionise how many listen to music and, I imagine, reap exactly the kind of financial rewards needed to cover the costs of paying for such a licensing case.
Clearly I can’t know the full implications of such an approach, nor can I know just how the site’s owners truly feel about these restrictions, but from this humble user’s point of view, Turntable is currently only a fraction (1/192 to be possibly exact) of the site it could be, and that can only be a bad thing.
All of these tracks were played to me on Turntable.