Turntable.fm Founder/CEO Billy Chasen took the stage at Tuesday's panel wearing the bear head of a common Turntable.fm avatar (Photo: Glenn Peoples)
Turntable.fm CEO Billy Chasen and chairman Seth Goldstein aren't sure where social music will be a few years from now, but they have a good idea where it's headed. And although the company just finalized direct licenses with all four major labels, it's going to put its product ahead of revenue for the time being.
"We don't know where we're going to be" in two years, Chasen (who took the stage wearing the bear head of a common Turntable.fm avatar) admitted during the "Turntable.fm: The Future of Social Music" panel at SXSW Tuesday afternoon. People tend to extrapolate a trajectory over the next 10 years, but then a curveball throws that trajectory off course, he explained. "Two years ago we were handing out sticker packets," interjected Goldstein, a reference to Stickybits, the duo's pre-Turntable.fm startup that unlocked information and deals by scanning barcodes.
But the pair has clear ideas of what makes the service valuable to users. Turntable.fm is a place where music lovers go to hear music, discover new music and interact with a small group of other users - each virtual room is capped at 200 people - on the web or its iOS mobile app.
Chasen is intent on protecting the current user experience as the company builds, adding interactive features allowed by direct licenses, and figuring out a revenue model. "I want to make sure that whatever we add in makes the user experience better. So if we start selling virtual goods or advertisements or whatever else it might be, it has to be in a way that doesn't make the experience just completely miserable… Whatever we add will make it a cooler, more fun experience."
Ultimately, Turntable.fm could become the place where artists go to share their own songs and get discovered, said Goldstein. "Ten-year-olds are listening to dubstep. They want to be DJs in Ibiza. Turntable is this amazing channel for that emerging culture. In some ways [it's] more of a jukebox than a turntable or a mixer, but the zeitgeist we're capturing and that energy we have is all about that. Not only are we getting the great DJs like A-Trak come into Turntable and spin, I think the next Skrillex is going to be found within Turntable."
Although the company will need to generate revenue - especially now that it has direct licenses - it won't get in a rush. After all, Chasen pointed out, product-focused companies like Twitter and Facebook have spent years finding the best model. "This is still [the company's] early days. We launched eight or nine months ago."
So what features might Turntable.fm fans see in the near future? "I'd love to have the ability to have all of our awesome rooms be consumed on as many services as possible," said Chasen, adding that an API to be used by third-party services is on the company's road map. But Chasen warned there are licensing issues that could prevent an integration with a service like Spotify because the two services' catalogs don't perfectly overlap.
Users may also see addition movements from their avatars - currently an avatar can only nod its head side-to-side when enjoying a song. "Those would definitely be awesome. At first we didn't do those things because they took a lot of time…but I'd love to flesh out that kind of stuff."