What Turntable is, why they won’t let us in and why we’re bummed out

What is Turntable.fm, and why has it closed its doors to UK users after just a few weeks?


Words by: Charlie Jones

In many ways, turntable.fm replicates the experience of listening to music in its natural habitat, with the ability to roam between rooms, listening to actual, human DJs play a selection of tracks, and gauge the responses of other people (real people!) as you do so.

Last week, for those of us stuck outside the US, it became an even more authentic experience, as a grey-faced bouncer informed us “we need to currently restrict turntable access to only the United States due to licensing constraints.”

A uniquely immersive online music experience, turntable.fm is a cyber-world in which users walk around as little snub-nosed avatars, interacting with each other in an old school chatroom format. Users can join “rooms”, or even set up their own, where DJs (up to five at a time) can be heard streaming playlists from their computers. The key is that anyone in the room can become a DJ – once one of the decks becomes free, the first person to click on it takes control – and just like that, music lovers across the world could share their favourite songs with strangers, and be rated on their choices.

It hasn’t been that simple, though. In a Pandora -style act of disappearance, the music recommendation service has now been blocked from everywhere outside the US due to the realisation that it only has clearance to stream music within the States. Techdirt blames the website’s blockage on the “ridiculous” licensing fees that turntable.fm CEOs Seth Goldstein and Billy Chasen would face if they tried to take the service abroad legitimately.

Music start-ups – that is, successful music start-ups – are incredibly difficult to come by right now, as they battle their way through a field of confused copyright laws in order to make themselves heard. Turntable.fm was the most promising venture that had emerged in what seems like ages, blending social networking, chat and music recommendation into a Habbo-Hotel-esque melting pot of consumerism, animation, slanging matches and – most significantly – the human connection that is fundamentally missing from services like Pandora and Spotify.

The site could only get away with declaring itself a “non-interactive radio service” (under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) for so long, though, leading to its termination everywhere but the US.

Having had our time indoors, UK users now sit with our noses pressed up against the glass and dry mouths as we watch 1999-style chatroom havoc being wreaked across the Atlantic, with the added, post-1999 bonus of Twitter-esque celebrity involvement. Users can nod their heads along with Mark Zuckerberg in the coding room, or harrass Diplo as he plays Major Lazer track after Major Lazer track; meanwhile, we have to stick to Spotify and its compatriots, the older, worn-out bars across the street, and keep our fingers crossed for a change in the door police’s mood.

Billy Chasen of turntable.fm states “we are working very hard to try and get you in as soon as possible”