Prayer, or Pivot? Turntable.fm Is Now Trying a Radically Different Programming Approach

If only ’embracing failure’ was as easy as Silicon Valley makes it out to be.

Because it seems that all the quick-footed success of Turntable.fm could be hamstringing this company’s ability to quit the race, and stop burning cash.

But wait: are we quitting on Rocky too soon?  Despite depressingly-deep traffic drops with scant signs of recovery, executives insist that there’s an overhaul in the works.  And just last month, the company supersized its listening rooms to accommodate more than 200 avatars at a time.

That was a small taste of things to come.  Because the biggest part of this pivoted programming approach is just getting started.  Say hello to Piki (piki.fm), a total revamp that imitates Pandora but uses content from other Turntable.fm friends.  The result is designed to be a more social listening experience, and one that imitates more successful apps and services (guess avatar DJ’ing is too niche, after all).

So, instead of a lifeless genome machine, the Piki ‘machine’ is your friends and their tastes, complete with the ability to pick, ‘repick,’ and dedicate songs and display your taste to others.  Which vaguely resembles Spotify’s Facebook integration, with a far more interactive twist.

Here’s a quick primer.

But wait, there’s more: because instead of rooms that revolve around genres or homegrown celebrity DJs (like DJ Wooooo), Turntable is also now bringing the actual artist into the arena.  It’s a little celebrity sprinkled over the masses, in a major way.  “Throughout the month of December, dozens of your favorite artists are scheduled to appear in our newly redesigned rooms for some very special DJ sets and chatting,” the group emailed Digital Music News this morning.  “We’ve got singers, bands and DJs from all corners of the musical universe.”

Like who?  Introducing the Turntable Winter Festival, which features a few names you might recognize.  The beefed-up rooms now allow unlimited participants, though the first 200 will be able to chat with the artist (check turntable.fm/events for showtimes).

It’s all part of a year-plus overhaul designed to bring Turntable closer towards more successful apps, artists, and experiences.  And if all goes well, Turntable wants to narrow the ever-yawning gap between itself and frontrunners like Pandora and Spotify.

Prayer, or pivot?

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Written while listening to The Gaslight Anthem.

22 Responses

  1. J.V.B.S.

    If only Turntable.fm could have gotten lower royalties. Then surely it would be doing much better.

    We need to change the laws to save investors from losing one more dollar!

  2. Same Ol'

    Anyone out there ever seen a PENNY from Turntable?

    Only different btwn Turntable.FM and Pandora is Turntable.FM dies sooner.

  3. jenan

    Ill never figure out Fred Wilson on this on. It was a fad from day one just built on hype.

    • @lmnop

      Don’t be so hard on Fred. Not everyone gets pitched by Rap Genius.

  4. DroMUSIC90

    Turntable.fm really doesn’t want to die without a fight.

  5. Dan D

    Maybe you should check your facts…. The article implies that having artists on Turntable is a new phenomenon, when in fact they have been giving avatars to artists and holding special events on the site with celebrity musicians for more than a year now! This Winter Festival thing is just ramping up what was already happening.

    • Tha Yung Gunna

      THis isn’t people passing through for a shout it’s an entire “festival”. turntable is obviously trying something new

  6. Casey

    Maybe if the company had taken their product seriously they wouldn’t be in the mess they are in. Requiring a Facebook account was idiotic. It limited the company’s growth and was targeted to the demographic with perhaps the shortest attention span of all. They came into the industry with a product that was a game and nothing more. People get tired of games.

    • jw

      I can’t tell if your posts are serious or not. Do you really believe that there was a potential sustaining market for Turntable outside of Facebook’s 1 billion users? Who are these people & what exactly do they do on the internet?

      • Casey

        These are the people who care about privacy. Or people who use Google+, Twitter, and the other social networks instead of Facebook. Or it could even be people who technically have a Facebook, but never use it and will not use it to access other services or products. The population is quite large and growingly seemingly every day.

          • Casey

            Clearly I am not. Nearly every company that required Facebook to register has abandon the idea. Not just music services like Turntable, Spotify, iheart, and MOG, but now even Zygna is distancing from Facebook. The Facebook exclusive model didn’t work.

          • jw

            Where are you getting your numbers? Facebook users are the most active on the web. That’s what the numbers say. Where are the giant surges that would’ve happened when these companies began distancing themselves from Spotify? Show me some data that supports your conjecture. It’s just not there.

            Where does most of the bitching about Facebook privacy happen? That’s right, on Facebook (see . The idea that there are a bunch of paranoid netizens waiting in the wings, ready to make Turntable, iheart, & MOG successful business if just not for Facebook is… pretty delusional.

            But I’m open to look at some data that proves me wrong.

  7. jw

    Any app that’s built on crowdsourcing lives or dies on momentum, & I think service problems killed Turntable’s momentum. We tried to use it in the office for a couple of weeks, I guess towards the height, & every afternoon at the same time it would cut out. And even outside of peak hours my song uploads would time out, & half the things I wanted to play weren’t in their catalog, which pretty much rendered the app useless to me. An essential part of building a start-up in such a connected age is managing growth. Too much too soon can be fatal, & the “friend of a friend” strategy obviously didn’t work out the way they had planned. But even when it was working, it was a little bit awkward. I was annoyed with my co-workers choices more than I was delighted. And I’m sure they were annoyed with my selections more than they were delighted, even though I wasn’t the one who wanted to play Electric Six’s Gay Bar every damn day.

    I don’t think that crowdsourcing is reliable. I get in moods where I want to check out bands I’ve been hearing about, or I want to ask for suggestions on Twitter or Facebook. But it’s always very hit or miss. Mostly miss. I get much better returns when I’m deliberately searching for specific things, or soliciting picks from trusted sources. I can’t imagine a platform where I’d just be listening to what everyone else listens to all day. Sounds like hell, honestly… the blind leading the blind around in circles.

  8. jw

    And who the hell are these bands, anyhow? Didn’t Crossfade have a hit like 8 years ago? I hardly recognize any of these acts. Maybe I’m not in the target demographic & maybe their picks are dead on, but it’s certainly not tempting me back to the service.

  9. HIPPYDOG

    Well.. Maybe they are holding out for a reason..

    This thread reminded me of a news article I read just recently.. and I was able to google a link..

    http://venturebeat.com/2012/10/25/utherverse-nabs-a-patent-on-scalable-virtaul-worlds-that-can-host-unlimited-users/

    so.. with the right technology turntable.fm could become viable.

    might even become the ‘next big thing’.. theres no predicting technology and how people react to it.. (heck.. I was one those people who thought twitter was stupid and would go no where LOL)

    • jw

      Hasn’t this concept failed about a dozen times already? Didn’t Google have a “virtual world” for like 6 months 4 years ago?

      The reason that virtual worlds only work in video games is because you can be faster/stronger/etc, & you can kill/die with no repercussions. For just normal shit, real life is better. No one with any sense wants to stand around in a virtual venue & watch U2 play a virtual concert. Trust me on that one.

      • hippydog

        I’m not saying it will be successful..

        I have just learned from past experience to never count anything out..

        It could be said that the reason the idea failed is because it was never easy to scale up.. At the point where you reach critical mass (and it becomes viral) the bandwidth and computer power needed is out of the reach of most companies.. (and definately NOT cost effective)

        If the link I posted above is true, then the ‘virtual world’ becomes reachable OR ‘usable’ by a lot more..

        I’m also not saying i would use it nor am I a huge ‘believer in it’, but I know many consider it the next progression for social media.. IE: What Facebook, twitter, IM, etc etc will evolve into..

        as to the “no one with any sense” comment.. I assume you have never heard of Facebook? or World of Warcraft? hmm?..

        Trust you? based on??

        • jw

          People play World of Warcraft because they can be a monster & kill things… stuff you can’t do in real life. You can have the body of a beautiful woman & the head of a bison & you can call lightning from the sky or bring an elf back from the dead in World of Warcraft. That doesn’t mean that people are going to want to do normal, regular, everyday things in virtual reality. If it gets to the point where U2 thinks touring is too much touble & they just want to have one big virtual show, & people think going to shows is too much trouble, & they want to just direct their little avatar figure to the virtual stadium to watch virtual U2 play a virtual concert on their little computer screen, well we have a solution for that & it’s called the “concert dvd.” It’s called “Go watch U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle, Ireland.”

          If no need more proof, feast your eyes on what a U2 Second Life concert looks like.

          Anyone who considers this the next progression for social media doesn’t understand what diminishing returns are. Plainly & simply, these interfaces are free to be better than real life, they reduce friction & make things easier. If I have to walk around a virtual world to ask each & every one of my friends “What’s the best Ry Cooder album to start with?” then that defeats the whole purpose. People don’t want to “virtually” hang out… that’s what webcams are for. Why would an avatar even enter the equation?

          And truthfully, that probably offers as much insight into turntable’s failure as anything… They probably could’ve come up with a better interface than the “virtual club” idea. But there tech problem had nothing to do with powering the graphics of the dj rooms, it had to do with serving the audio.