If you really like music and have used sites like Pandora or last.fm to discover new music, then you should check out turntable.fm. It’s divided up into chat channels like IRC (or chat rooms like AOL if you were one of those folks — don’t worry, I went through my AOL chat room phase too). In each room there are up to 5 users playing music from their music collections (it has an interface to upload music from your PC, and they also have a selection of tracks already available online). Each DJ user gets to play 1 song, then it shifts to the next DJ, and they just rotate through. A DJ can forfeit their spot at any time. Users in the room can vote on whether they like whatever song is playing or not. If nobody likes it, it gets skipped. DJs get points for playing songs, for folks liking their songs, and if users become fans of them. If you become a fan of a DJ, you’ll get an email when they start DJing in a room, so you can go listen to them.
Anyway, what I most like about it is that you have actual live humans choosing the music. So if you get in a room that you like (rooms typically have stated themes describing the sort of stuff that should be played, and anyone is free to create their own room), then there’s a good chance you will get introduced to some new music that you like.
If you do decide to try it out, my username on there is mitcharf. Also, if you use last.fm to track your music listening, then you may want to grab this turntable.fm scrobbler. I believe it only works with Google Chrome at this point.
Thanks so much to my friend Ryan for introducing me to this site!
NOTE: I think at this point you have to be Facebook friends with someone who is already using the site, and you’ll need to link your turntable.fm account to your Facebook account. This will probably not always be the case, but right now I gather they’re in some quasi-closed-beta test phase, so it’s not just wide open to the public. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then you should be fine — just go to turntable.fm and tell it you want to login using Facebook. If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook, then I should tell you that my Facebook friending policy is extremely relaxed– which is to say, if you send me a friend request, I will accept it. So even if we don’t know each other, feel free to friend me on Facebook — to help you get an account on turntable or just for the hell of it.
UPDATE (June 22): Looks like they may not be accepting any new users at this point. But if you want to join, I’d just recommend trying back periodically. I don’t think they’ll keep it this way for long. A lot of folks have been experiencing some bugs with the interface lately, so it could be they just want to iron those out first. (Thanks to Ryan for this info)
UPDATE (June 25): At least one Facebook friend of mine was able to get on the site after that last update, so it’s definitely worth a try, if you’re interested in giving this site a whirl. And you absolutely should be, if you like music. Well, and if you don’t mind having your soul consumed by its awesomeness. Even if my above description doesn’t sell you on it, give it a shot. I was dubious, but I am a total convert. Of course, maybe it helps that I’m laid up at home recovering from knee surgery. :)
UPDATE (JUNE 28): Just before the weekend, turntable closed its doors to users outside the US, due (I imagine) to licensing issues with the recording companies. ANYWAY, I can tell you from my experience over the weekend that there are ways around this block, since I chatted with folks in the UK, France, Brazil, Germany, and Australia. If you are running into this problem, I’ve seen a few links posted to possible workarounds. I haven’t tried them (or even looked at them very closely), but they were posted by sources I trust. Do with them what you will: link1, link2, link3, link4.
ALSO (still June 28): I figured I’d post links to my favorite rooms on turntable. Obviously some of this is influenced by my taste in music, but as turntable is a social music site, this is also influenced by the people who frequent these rooms. No matter how good the music, if the people aren’t friendly and nice, then I’m probably not going to spend much time in a room. That said, the nicest possible people won’t make me want to stay in a room where I hate the music. So, those things in mind, here are the rooms in which you are most likely to find me:
- Desk Job DJs: I don’t know if this room was created by one of my friends, but it is the room where most of my real-life friends on turntable tend to be during the day. Specifically (for those who know me in person), Andy S, Paul S, Ryan P, Stacy P, and Brian R are regulars. Probably other folks I know as well, but if so, I haven’t realized who they are based on their usernames. That said, everyone is very friendly, so anyone is welcome — it’s not some insular group which makes newcomers unwelcome. The room doesn’t have a defined musical genre and given the eclectic tastes of this group, the music does tend to end up all over the place — but in a good way, for the most part. The most popular genres are punk and ska, but you will also hear hip hop, rock, pop, indie, and alternative (I hate that label — if it ever did mean anything, I’m not sure what it means now. And yet I chose to use it here. Do not judge me.). I mostly am here during “normal” working hours — until 5pm or 6pm Central. The room population tends to dwindle as folks get off work.
- 80’s Play 3 & Step Down: This room has, in my experience, the nicest, friendliest, and funniest people I’ve encountered on turntable. Part of the nice/friendly part is because of this room’s format, which differs from almost all other rooms on turntable. How so? Well, most rooms have 5 DJ positions (meaning you typically have 5 folks DJing in a rotation — DJ 1 plays a song, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then back to 1, and so on) and once some enters the DJ rotation, they tend to continue playing until they decide to step down (usually because they have to leave). The result (in other rooms) is that you can wait a long time to become a DJ, but once you’re there, you can probably play for a while — although you will only play 1 out of every 5 songs played in the room. Anyway, in THIS room, there are only 3 DJ positions — so it’s a 3 DJ rotation. Furthermore, after a DJ has played 3 total songs, they step down and a new DJ steps up into the rotation. There is a queue of people waiting to DJ — anyone can ask to be added to the end of it. The result is that you don’t wait as long to DJ in this room, and when you are DJing the time between your songs playing is less (2 songs rather than 4), BUT you won’t be DJing forever. Ok, but how does this lead to friendliness? Well, when the room was created, the creator specified there would only be 3 DJ positions — so that part is set in stone. But the rest of this stuff is all user-created and user-enforced. Meaning that the DJs must choose to step down after their 3 songs — the web site doesn’t enforce it. And the queue of DJs is the same thing — there’s nothing stopping anyone from jumping up to DJ when a spot opens up. Now, there are things the room can do to semi-enforce this stuff. There is a room moderator who has the power to boot people from the room, for example. But if that person is AFK (Away From Keyboard — this weekend I’ve learned that not everyone knows this acronym), the only other recourse is for the room to relentlessly vote down the songs of the rogue DJ. That causes their songs to be skipped after only a few seconds without garnering them any points. That’s usually enough to get them to step down. But anyway, perhaps because the room relies on the good nature of its members to run smoothly, you will be hard-pressed to run into a friendlier group of folks on turntable. And the music…well, it’s 80’s music — what’s not to love? It’s mainly 80’s pop, rock, and new wave, but you’ll see other stuff as well. If you like 80’s music, I highly recommend this room. Oh, and they have a Facebook group.
- Play 3 Step Down: An “anything goes” (music-wise) spinoff of the previous room. The same folks frequent both, myself included. Also highly recommended. They don’t have their own group on Facebook — the “play 3 step down” family of rooms all share the FB page of the original play 3 room (which was the 80’s one).
- 60’s and 70’s Play 3 Step Down: Another spinoff, this one dedicated to 60’s and 70’s music. I have not yet checked this one out, but I list it here since I know it’s part of the same family of rooms. So if you want the friendly people but prefer this era of music, this is the room for you. As before, it piggybacks with the 80’s Facebook group.
- Covers Play 3 Step Down: Ditto, but the theme for this room is covers.
- Nerd Party: Ah, what to say about Nerd Party? First, everyone comes into the room with a different idea of what music they expect, and mostly they’re wrong. This is because there isn’t a really well-defined theme. Ostensibly it is for music that nerds like. Of course, nerds, like everyone, like a wide variety of music. So from that point of view, the music is all over the place. It is NOT limited to music which is itself nerdy (Jonathan Coulton, nerdcore, Weird Al, etc), although that music is included. This room, unlike pretty much every other one I’ve visited, IS kind of insular. Not overtly, but the room was created by a couple of people, and they make all of the rules. For example, there is an ever-changing, only-partially-enforced, semi-documented list of banned bands. Some of them (Coldplay) don’t raise any eyebrows for being banned in a nerd music room, but others (Cake, Weird Al) are more puzzling. But this list is only enforced when one of the founding members is around, and then only inconsistently. But if you DO violate this rule (or other rules which will be announced from time to time), then the room creators have been known to have a pretty hair trigger when it comes to booting folks from the room. They don’t do it to be mean — they think it’s funny, and I think they genuinely assume the person being booted will realize it’s done in that spirit. Needless to say, though, not everyone takes kindly to being booted. ANYWAY, why am I listing this room? Because the people ARE friendly and funny, if you can see past this stuff. For my part, I find it amusing — not the booting, but the almost Kafka-esque rules. And I will say that as long as you are a nice person without super thin skin, you’ll probably have a good time here. And you will discover some cool music on the way (but not Coldplay). Also, they have a Facebook group.
UPDATE (July 5): Wrote a new blog entry on the two Chrome extensions I’m now using for turntable.fm. Both are highly recommended.