Turntable.fm Founder: “We’re Fighting to Keep This Company Alive…”

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Yes, Turntable.fm still exists, but this isn’t a happy growth story to tell your access-loving grandchildren.  The company has just shuttered its social-focused recommendation concept, piki.fm, and is struggling to maintain even moderate traffic on turntable.fm.  Part of that includes a shift from direct, licensed uploads to using streams handled by SoundCloud (which eliminates an estimated $20,000 in monthly licensing costs.)

This is a company that is now admittedly fighting for its life.  Here’s a letter from Turntable cofounder Billy Chasen, who wrote this to all users this morning.

The State of Turntable

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Turntable has been live for more than two years now.  For the first two years, we fully focused on trying to make the experience better.  We also built a sister product, Piki, that tried to be a more laid back version of Turntable.  We did this because even from the beginning, we noticed a large percentage of people that used Turntable burned out after a few weeks because it required too much attention.  We still wanted to have music powered by people, and it’s important for a startup to be continually growing (and eventually monetize), so we decided to try building a more laid back experience.  More on Piki in a second.

Our mission here at Turntable has always been to connect people with each other and discover amazing artists.  We get so many stories of people meeting new friends and even getting married to people they met on Turntable.  It’s really inspiring.

Early on, we decided to partner with the labels and do everything by the book.  There were pros and cons to this.  One of the biggest cons is it has been very expensive.  We spend tens of thousands of dollars a month in royalties, service fees, hosting, etc.

We could have removed a ton of that cost by just simply using YouTube or another service, but we felt it would dramatically reduce the ease of use and user experience.

So that leaves us in a tough place.  We started turning on ways for the community to help support us (GOLD) and methods to offset some streaming costs for non-gold members (ads).  Thank you to everyone who has joined in. It means a ton to us.

All of this is in the hope to try and neutralize the cost of running Turntable so that we can keep it running.  The change we made yesterday, removing the ability to upload music directly, will reduce our monthly bill by roughly $20,000.  That’s a huge saving that we need and we thought validated adding an extra step to uploading (upload it on SoundCloud and search for it on Turntable).

It was a choice we had to make to keep the service running.


There have been a couple incorrect pieces of information floating around, so let me take a moment to clear those up.

Every song uploaded to Turntable would get fingerprinted using the same method that SoundCloud uses (and possibly same service, called Audible Magic). This process tries to match the song to known copyrighted content.  If it finds a match and we’re allowed to play the song, we use our catalog version of the song (so the correct people can get paid). If it finds a match and it’s flagged, we reject the upload.

Uploaded songs in your queue won’t disappear. We fingerprinted them all and they are okay to play.


I’m also sad to announce today that we are going to shut down Piki in a couple weeks.

We poured ourselves into it and built a really amazing product powered by people picking songs.  However it just didn’t have the traction that we were hoping for, so we are closing it to fully focus on Turntable.  We are sending out an email today to Piki users and there’s a method to export your data to Spotify or CSV file.


We are still working on new features to Gold every month. We just released a few new avatars and have some more coming today.

The Exciting Future

Over the last few months, we have been building something we do all the time with artists on Turntable, events.  I can’t go into too much detail right now, but it’s going to involve artists and have a very live element to it! We are planning on giving more details in a couple weeks, but need to finish up a few things first. We all can’t wait to show it to you.

Aside from that, we love interacting and DJing with our community. Turntable is incredibly important to us and we want to see it stick around.

We aren’t trying to kill it, you are watching us fight for it.
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See you on Turntable,

Billy Chasen

33 Responses

    • DUDE

      Cmon son… these guys bent over backwards to do it by the book from the very beginning, and it is absolutely reaming them by the sound of it… Im sure they couldve put the cash they were spending on licensing fees to better (for themselves at least) use

      Sounds like they’re pretty fucked in any case, its too bad, I like this site

      • FTFY

        Cmon son… these guys got bent over and reamed by the labels… Im sure they couldve put the cash they were spending on licensing fees to better (for themselves at least) use

      • To DUDE

        “these guys bent over backwards to do it by the book”??? Ummm- perhaps you don’t recall that when TT launched, there were 100% illegal. There entire model was built upon a misconception that the DMCA would allow a user (DJ) to pick a specific song and broadcasting it to the other users. Dude – that is not even close being DMCA compliant. So let’s not pretend they “bent over backwards” to do anything. They are talented programmers but knew very little about the industry or the law .

        Goodbye TT.

        • DUDE

          My b, sorry I didnt clarify that they didnt license the literal second they came into existence

          Regardless, they’ve gone to huge lengths to cooperate with the industry and do right by the law as they understood it, even though they’re obviously bleeding cash. Youd think it would get them some credit being so willing to cough up in a difficult situation… most companies in Turntable’s situation would probably be stonewalling their bills and trying to grow as much as possible until they had some cash coming in

          Obviously there’s more at play here than just the royalty bills, but you gotta ask what good is paying your royalties on time if its gonna drain all the cash out of your company and hobble its ability to grow until it eventually fails? If Turntable fails it is gonna make this path look bad for other startups, so if I were you I would be cheering them on, not gloating

    • smg77

      When people give up on trying to do the right thing and go back to pirating it will be because of people like you.

  1. Princess Ponyo

    There were so many things done wrong from the get go. From super users abusing their titles, to false rules put in place for no good reasons. Hell just look at the amount of money they could have spent on developers instead of designers changing the artwork every few months. Artwork only goes so far, and the service as gotten crappier and crappier in the last 18 months. From songs that just don’t play, to songs that play for hours of blank air time if not caught. The truth is, they pissed away the money, then they pissed on everyone that cared. So many people I know rage quit’d turntable because of the bugs. Look at the mobile app, look at the mobile app for android, they have never worked worth a crap. Look at how they treated the turntable customs people, look at how they react to bots or autobop. Hell look at how they respond to an email when you try to contact them. If turntable was ever to make it ( which it won’t ) they need an overhaul. Fire the designers, get rid of the super users, get rid of the points system and get rid of the licenses. How many times has the RIAA been paid when an indie or a edm track has been played? How much money do they throw at amazon every month because they weren’t smart enough to bring it all in house? The answer is simple, all of it. If they want to save this, they need to first apologize to everyone they cold shouldered, then thank everyone that put up with it. We don’t need new avatars, we need a better service. We don’t care about artwork, we care that our songs work and that mobile devices don’t bug out in 3 songs or less ( android app i’m looking at you ). As much as I hate to say it, turntable has made it’s bed and now it has to sleep in it. I loved this site very much, as did many other people, but it’s a ghost ship compared to what it was because people got fed up and found something better. Those people are going to take so much convincing to come back and frankly I don’t think they have it in them. When I started with turntable there was so much love, people were proud to be a part of it. Now it’s just a joke. Hell we can’t even get through 5 songs without something screwing up. I’ve learned many lessons from watching how turntable was ran, and most of them were what not to do. So RIP turntable, I had alot of fun, hell you helped me find faith in humanity again, but it’s time for you to fade away and for others to rise in your ashes and hopefully learn from your mistakes.

    Princess Ponyo

    Founder of neurobots

    Founder of freetable

    Founder of Express Yourself

  2. Wat

    Wait, so Soundcloud is providing free music for any startup who wants to make no eh but nig

  3. Jason Miles

    I’m sad to say When you are toast, you are toast.i don’t know if there is any saving this no matter how hard they try. How do you build the momentum back?


  4. JohnnyT

    I do like Chasen’s comment that “early on, we decided to partner with the labels and do everything by the book.” Ha! As correctly noted above, that “early on” only came after they launched and received a pile of C&Ds (not that old fashioned shiny disk-thing that AOL would send around in the 50s). After the C&D, they had to lawyer up ($$$) and only then did these guys realize that in order to legally operate Turntable, they had to pay “tens of thousands of dollars a month in royalties” – this should not have been a surprise if they did any homework on their business model!

    Perhaps they didnt think the labels would sue them ….or otherwise seek exhorbitant fees to suck every last bit of VC dollar out of them before they got to this point… Mu ha ha ha mu ha ha ha…

    • Kat

      That cant be true? How did they get VC money with an illegal business model?

      • JT

        Cant answer how they got it but the raised and pressumably spent close to 7 million dollars in 2 years. This service jumped the shark when it switched to Soundcloud. Soundcloud is accessible but it’s riddled with bad data and illegal uploads. I guess its true, you get what you pay for. And, when you product is streaming music, you may want to focus on the streaming music and not spend your time and your investor’s money creating new gorilla avatars every other day.

    • PDQ

      Not a bad concept … but I agree a very bad product with horrible management.

      Darwin strikes again.

  5. mr.smashy

    I used to care a great deal about turntable.fm, and I visit every day. But the company doesn’t care about people like me, someone who ONLY PLAYS SONGS I’VE UPLOADED. I ripped vinyl to play on turntable.fm. I created edits, mashups, and produced orginal tracks and uploaded them to turntable.fm. My favorite room had a Producer’s Night event, where people played orginal tracks that they uploaded!

    I knew shit was going bad when the Gold memberships were rolled out, and the Ads were a sign of a sinking ship, but now that the site is basically useless to me, and the powers that be will never apologize and unfuck what they’ve done (thanks for saying what needed to be said Ponyo), turntable.fm is USELESS.

    RIP turntable.fm. Traffic will keep dropping, Gold refunds will roll in.

    • ballcrusher

      ‘But the company doesn’t care about people like me…..’

      actually, no-one cares about your amateur-hour bullshit or third rate antics

  6. eXXx

    Love me some turn table and been on here over two years. Hope you guys stay a float. Help keep me sane during the work week.

    • KRS2

      What’s the debate? Everyone here agrees Turntable was poorly executed, never had a real model for revenue, and doesnt care about the music or its users.

      Good riddance.

  7. Adam

    I’m not really sure why sound cloud thinks they have a business model at all, actually. Who are they targeting as customers? Why did they think that any music consumer would want to engage at that level and get involved in their little digital world?? Music fans want to listen to music easily, when they want it, and don’t want to spend time thinking about the platform they are using to find the music. Some services like spotify may survive because people can easily turn it on, use a decent app, pay nothing or a reasonable $10 fee… And so then why would people start using soundcloud to begin with? How is it competing in the market? Well, seems like it isn’t competing at all. It was a nice concept that was clearly too much for most music listeners. Data and experience shows that people this engaged in music are likely still buying records and or CD’s and many pay for it. In the face of what’s happening, sound cloud relies too much on thinking we consumers want to be that involved in our music service and presumes we care about them and their company. Wake up call! Nobody cares. Hard enough to get them to care about the music, why would they care about sound clouds business model? If they wanted to appeal to the people, they should have out a massive push behind the product like spotify and others have done. Seems simple to me – this is an over thought idea that provides a mediocre product and a less than impressive user experience. All the while people are discussing the licensing, the legality, etc when they should be discussing how useless and silly a business model this is. They miss the point entirely – get me music now, easily, for a reasonable price and with a great user experience and I’m in. As a paying spotify subscriber and person who will buy actual records, this service isn’t even a blip on my radar.

  8. deadmandeadman smith

    I understand completely what you’re saying. I can even sense your regret. But Turntable had become, for me and a small like-minded group, a place to share the songs one NEVER hears, the obscure gems, the forgotten artifacts of the “recorded culture”. We are all older & life-long collectors of music of every variety & era. Huge portions of our repositories are unrecognisable to Soundcloud, severly limiting what we can play.

    Most of them have dropped out now. I remain but my participation is a mere fraction of what it was.

    As I say, I understand your position, the economics and all, and i’m sure you’ll do well enough. But music streaming services are sprouting like fungi. Your service, with the interaction is nice, and your audience, though small, is loyal…….

    Thanks for the good yr & a half…(for me)

  9. abovethunivers

    I still enjoy turntable.fm,soundcloud is a cool idea cause a lot of artists upload tracks there,and now we can play em on turntable.fm. I personally would love to see turntable go further with gold. Iclude more avatars liek they have done,which is nice,and also include room appearance themes to choose from so that every room doesn’t have to look the same. Cool idea right. Also if you know a band that isn’t in the tt library,maybe ask them to upload some stuff to soundcloud,hey why not. But yea with all the bugs that we all have,i find myself on having them every once in a while and it’s usually only temp when i restart my browser or refresh the page so im still enjoying tt and jamming on! take care and good luck to the site!