in Music, Pandora, Reviews

Giving Turntable a spin

Friday gave me my first look at a new music service called Turntable. It’s a service where you and up to five of your friends can take turns DJ-ing a music channel (or “room”). Participants in the room can vote whether a song is “lame” or “awesome” and the vote determines whether the song stays in rotation. They can also share real-time comments in a chat window.

It’s an intriguing idea, but how does it work in practice? It works well if you like hiring schizophrenics to DJ your parties! There were some cool tunes I heard that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to, but the music flow soon became a jumbled mess.

I’ve been around enough DJs to know that the art of DJ-ing is in building a flow. A DJ has to be able to lead the crowd along; she has to build up the energy. The same way a DJ has to get the timing right during the transition between songs, a DJ has to get the timing right for the overall show. With multiple people taking turns in the DJ booth (and quirks in Turntable’s [admittedly beta] software that sometime reorder one’s playlist at whim), it is hard to get everyone moving in the same direction. It’s like having five artists trying to paint a picture on the same canvas. It’s almost impossible to pull off.

It also doesn’t help that no one can see what songs one’s co-DJs have queued up (likely an artifact of the crusty old Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits online services from publicizing upcoming songs). This means you have to be a mind-reader to know how to fit your songs in with others’. Contrast this with Pandora, whose song-mapping Music Genome Project does a very good job of stringing together music that fits. My recent work with Rivendell and trying to categorize my own music has highlighted how difficult it is to program music.

Also, as it stands when folks have to depart the room (like, er, to get some work done, for instance) there is no way to pause the action or to give your fellow DJs some “awesome” ranking love while you’re away.

There are some cool features to it, though. I do like the way one can search for music already in the catalog, rather than having to upload songs every time. Also, the “Facebook insider” marketing campaign is clever, with the beta only being extended to one who has Facebook friends who use Turntable. I also found myself captivated with knowing how my fellow “roommates” would rank my songs, feeling crushed when I didn’t knock one out of the park.

So what do I think? Would I use it again? I suppose so. DJ-ing, though, does not lend itself to being done well by committee. Turntable puts the “jockey” in disc jockey. Without a better way to manage the music queue, Turntable makes for an interesting diversion but is challenging to listen to for any length of time.

  1. I refuse to play with an new music sharing service for fear that I will really enjoy it, and then the RIAA will shut it down.

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