Turntable, a love story
Its been nearly 10 years since Turntable.fm launched. And when it launched it changed my listening habits entirely. Gone were the days of radio stations playing the same crap over and over again. Gone were pandora or my own playlists which took forever to curate and, again, played the same crap over and over again. Even my most favorite songs get tiring.
Turntable.fm was my favorite place to discover new music while still injecting some of my own tunes from time to time. It was like being able to listen to the radio and making a request that would actually get played.
When turntable.fm shutdown in 2013, some of my community in Trance Out moved to Plug.dj. But it wasn’t quite the same, we moved from an average of 20ppl in the room down to 10. And when Plug.dj shutdown (the first time) two years later, we moved to Dubtrack with about 5ppl per room. The ‘discovering new music’ started to wane, and all the issues that brought me to turntable pretty much came back.
This post will go over some of the pluses and minuses over the years in the different platforms, in hopes that the new turntable.org may actually turn into something sustainable.
Plug worked fairly well, but had one big issue: trolls. For some reason people would love to come into your room and ruin a good thing going on. While Turntable had some of these issues, it was really bad on plug. However, moderator tools did help, and a bot was useful for music tracking and auto-banning.
The best thing about plug.dj was its playlist and queue management. It allowed you to rename tracks, make multiple playlists upto 200 tracks, and shuffle them.
Plug.dj also had a brand ambassador program, consisting of room owners, extension creators, and others (including myself). Two of these BAs became developers once it was purchased and relaunched in 2016. Having a strong community of super-users help keep the spam down and for the most part we could answer support questions and help rooms advertise events that were being organized.
While people complained about the avatars, eh, I thought they were fine.
Dubtrack / Queup
This platform, while similar to plug and turntable, lacked one thing: Avatars. It was essentially a collaborative playlist system. Before I get into its perks (because of the three, imho it was the best), let me talk about Avatars. In retrospect, not having a ‘dance floor’ actually was a problem. Seeing 20 bopping heads is a bit different than seeing an upvote counter. While having fullsize videos was great, the lack of seeing the audience made even a full room seem small.
- ++ Playlist Management
The way playlists were managed in DT was by far the best. Unlimited tracks per playlist, and the ‘queue’ was actually separate from your playlist source.
This means that you could create a queue of 1000+ songs from various playlists and run it on autopilot. Unlike plug and turntable, this meant in smaller rooms you wouldn’t end up with repeating tracks because you could easily add hundreds of tracks into your queue and shuffle them independently of your source playlists.
DT also stored the Youtube/soundcloud ids in their own database. This meant that queing / searching for tracks others have already added was quicker and didn’t run against the dreaded youtube api limit issue plug.dj was hitting.
Another huge advantage was the mod ability to see what others queued up to play next.
This allowed mods and/or a bot to prevent songs that didn’t fit the room to be played. The only real alternative on plug was to restrict DJing to the ‘Resident DJ’ role, and on turntable you could use a bot to kick all but vetted users.
Speaking of mods, DT had the best moderation tools as well.
While Plug.dj had some of these roles as well, they weren’t as granular as dubtrack. By having these permissions delegated out, much of the mod code required in Turntable.fm was not needed anymore.
Live Embeded Sources
While not used that often, the ability to embed an iframe allowed for live events to be streamed into the channel. You could also stream youtube live, something that doesn’t work on Turntable.fm
The OG Turntable.fm
Relaunched in March 2021, we got thrown back to the platform that shutdown in 2013. And man there is a lot to miss about the other platforms.
I think our largest concern is how long this iteration of turntable.fm is going to last. The closed beta for turntable.org at the moment is unusable. Our audience do not use Apple music or Spotify.
Lets start with the great: Stability and Reunions
Since tt.fm was relaunched, the site has been stable and the issues plaguing the late Dubtrack and now Queup (API request limits, socket going down, etc) don’t appear to be an issue here.
And after a 2 month hiatus, people love to be coming back in. There is momentum to get our bots back up and even the turntable discord appears to have momentum.
Stability cannot be understated. Aside from compatible music services, the ability to actually listen to our music is a basic qualification for any service, full stop.
Now for the bad: Limited Mod and Playlist tools
Moderation? What Moderation?
The inability to have good mod tools was a big problem for active rooms. Since there was only one mod role, typically it was reserved for only a handful of people, usually not all online at the same time. With DT, you could give lesser permissions for trusted room members to keep things peaceful.
What about custom uploads?
I’d love to be able to upload custom tracks to these platforms. While using Youtube and Soundcloud certainly has technical (stability) and business/legal benefits, it means that worldwide audiences will end up getting unplayable music. It essentially restricts rooms to specific countries because otherwise every few tracks you get 4–8minutes of silence. Ugh.
However, there is value in video. Being able to have events with video (twitch streams on Turntable would be awesome!) makes them that much better. So while having uploads back on Turntable would be nice, I’d still love to have youtube.
Also, back in the turntable days of custom uploads, the included music was pretty terrible. I remember many of the included tracks were from cover artists, especially for more well known tracks. I’d much rather source my music from youtube than whatever library the OG turntable was using.
I really hope one (tt.fm, tt.org, queup) can succeed. While our channel is sticking with tt.fm right now, if these other services can bring the stability and basic requirements along with a sustainability plan, I could see us making a switch.
By bringing some of the better playlist and moderation tools that Dubtrack had, and giving a live event vibe with avatars, backgrounds, etc, hopefully people will gravitate back here. The idea of streaming twitch or having a new embedded video stream from OBS would be a really cool alternative to twich, allowing scheduled shows to occur in rooms with music played in between.