Turntable.fm is arguably the hottest digital-music startup of the year, and recent news about the company - its iPhone app, and backing from some of the bigger names in the music business, including Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter, ?uestlove from the Roots, Madonna's manager Guy Oseary and Jimmy Fallon -- has only amped up the excitement.
SoundCtrl invited Seth Goldstein, co-founder of Turntable.fm, to be the featured speaker at an invite-only Q&A session in New York on Wednesday night, with people working in the music, media, and technology worlds (it was also streamed live). People in attendance included Turntable.fm star DJ Wooooo, Brenna Ehrlich and Jeannette Arrowood from MTV's "O" Online Music Awards, Jesse Kirshbaum of the Nue Agency, Sarah Lewitinn (aka Ultragrrrl) of Nylon, David Mandelbaum, Music Marketing Manager at Platinum Rye Entertainment and others.
Goldstein demo'd the web and iPhone app before settling down for a Q&A with SPIN's Editorial Director Charles Aaron. Before getting to Turntable, Aaron asked Goldstein about stickybits, his most recent startup. Goldstein put it succinctly, saying "consumers weren't ready to adopt it at scale."
He quickly moved the conversation to his latest venture with co-founder Billy Chasen (who he credits with the original idea for Turntable.fm), admitting that "I still don't know what DMCA stands for" as a testament to his lack of background in the music business. (It's the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for anyone wondering.)
Industry background or not, the Turntable.fm crew obviously knew how to build buzz (starting with a single Tweet and Facebook post), and build a product that not only attracts new users like flies, but attracts hackers and code monkeys -- the true testament of appeal to most tech-related products.
As for their secret sauce? Goldstein insists, "DJ's are proud of their musical taste... they're naturally inclined to share," and says "we've turned the act of DJ'ing into something that shows up on news feeds in Facebook."
Sharing is important, but what about building a product that keeps people coming back? The social media world has recently been consumed with the notion of gamification, i.e. the ability to use gaming principles (goals, rewards, competition) to turn normal life activities like listening to music into a game.
*Don't miss Billboard's FutureSound Conference, taking place November 17-18 at Terra in San Francisco. FutureSound will feature keynotes from the top minds in investment, technology and music today; presentations that will offer specific solutions structured around answering the most pressing questions; and workshops.*
Users that log into the site today will see an improved homepage, designed to allow users to find friends more easily, favorite rooms they like, and return to rooms they've visited more quickly. Additionally, users can find rooms that need DJ's more easily both when sorting by the new "DJ's needed": option and while browsing rooms in other views. This addition is important as the only way you can score points and improve your avatar in the current system is to DJ in a room and have your tracks "awesome'd."
When asked about how gaming played into Turntable's success, Goldstein used a Foursquare analogy, saying, "I don't think the gaming is fundamental, but it's an important driver, especially for DJ's." Some people (like him) check in to places on Foursquare to create a record of where they've been. Others check in to show their friends where they are, to rack up points on the leaderboard or to gain the title of "mayor" over a particular venue.
As for the inevitable topic of the changing face of music consumption, Goldstein credited Spotify and Pandora with being "breakthrough successes" in the midst of a "culture of fear" created in part by the imeem and Napster lawsuits. Interestingly, Seth noted that the music industry value proposition has a way to go, at least from the perspective from an entrepreneur or investor. The current value proposition for a licensing basically equals "buy a license... and we'll agree not to sue you," which as Seth explained isn't an actual benefit or return, it's just the absence of negative value.
Speaking of licensing, Goldstein said that "we have built, fundamentally, a discovery engine," when asked about how he views his product.
Asked about this statement, DJ Wooooo, Turntable.fm's most popular DJ, echoed Goldstein's sentiment, asking Billboard.biz rhetorically, "How else are you going to be able to discover music with people from around the world in the same room? That's what it's all about, right?"