Oh, the Technology

Lots of buzz about a couple of new internet music services, Spotify and Turntable.fm. End of the world? Brave New World? Party time, excellent? I investigate…

Turntable.fm is a new chat-room based website where users take turns “DJ-ing” for the rest of the room. Listeners rate the songs either “lame” or “awesome”, and DJs earn points for receiving “awesomes”. I’ve spent some (too much) time in the only real jazz room over the last couple days, and I am somewhat addicted. Its fun to see what others think of your favorite music and great to find new music you hadn’t heard (or given a chance to) before, though it can be infuriating. Below is a rundown of my first couple hours in the “Real Jazz” room, as well as what percentage of the room “awesomed” the song (stuff I played is in bold):

1. Hat and Beard- Eric Dolphy- 78%. Hey, we’re getting off on the right foot here. Cool tune, and that 78% approve rate is pretty solid.

2. Barbados- Joe Lovano US Five- 61% OK, not so high. Maybe people don’t dig Lovano as much as I thought.

3. Django- Modern Jazz Quartet- 65%

4. Moanin’- At Blakey- 64%- A couple safe ones. Good music, but haven’t we all heard these before?

5. California Dreamin’- Wes Montgomery- 60%- I love Wes, but this was some over-produced garbage.

6. The Black and Crazy Blues- Rahsaan Roland Kirk- 70%- Now we’re talking. Great song, and well received.

7. Brews- Tar Baby- 64%- Again, a decent reception for a song I absolutely love, but not as high as I expected.

8. Bohemia After Dark- Cannonball Adderley Sextet- 68%

9. When Sunny Gets Blue- Ed Bickert Trio- 59%- The first one I hadn’t already heard, and it was only OK.

10. A Love Supreme, Pt. 1- John Coltrane- 64%- Wow. 64%?

11. Maiden Voyage- Herbie Hancock- 91%- Double wow. 64% for ‘Trane, 91% for Herbie. So its gonna be that kind of party?

12. Gangsterism Over 10 Years- Jason Moran- 72%– My most well-received choice of the night, and my last.

After a few return trips, I’m starting to see some real divisions between the traditionalists and more forward-thinking fans. I can’t tell you how many versions of “Autumn Leaves” I’ve heard. Nothing against that song, but isn’ the idea supposed to be about playing something interesting? Its pretty obvious that most people in the jazz rooms are casual jazz fans, put off by things (and names) they don’t recognize and excited by the things they do. That’s OK, and as the site gains users (I think it’s still in beta), there will be more diversity and maybe more than one or two jazz rooms, so the advanced kids can play while the newbies get caught up.

All in all, its a pretty great concept. The potential for new music discovery is amazing, and I really enjoy playing things people might not hear on whatever local jazz radio they have. I’ve already befriended David Marriott, creator of the Periodic Table of Jazz, and the great Donna M, whose Elements of Jazz blog is a must read, especially for twitter users. The active social aspect of Turntable is the highlight, and the closest the internet has come to recreating the feeling of hanging out with friends and listening to music. Like I said, I’m addicted.

The other hot new music site is Spotify, the music streaming service that took over Europe a couple years ago and has finally landed in the USA. The service offers three tiers of subscription, with the cheapest being a free service that is ad-supported and the most expensive ($9.99/month) offering ad-free and mobile playability through smartphone and tablet apps. The list of available songs is a massive 2.5 million and growing (compare that to Pandora’s 800,000, or iTunes 100 million). The interface is straight forward enough for anyone familiar with iTunes, and building playlists is fairly easy- as log as you know what you’re looking for.

Where Spotify fails is the lack of recommendations. Every other online music service makes note of what you listen to and suggests other songs/artists you may like. Spotify doesn’t offer this. They rely on a social network of users to create playlists and recommendations. Most of the hipster music magazines and blogs already have Spotify accounts and are publishing playlists that users can subscribe to and copy to their own accounts. There are also third party sites such as shareplaylists.com and spotifylists.com that allow users to submit playlists for sharing.

I’m not sold on Spotify yet. I can see the potential, but so far it doesn’t seem that much better than Pandora or Grooveshark. Once some of the dust settles and the third party and social aspects are more clear, I think the service could really take off. Will it take off to to the point where it will be worth $9.99/month? I dunno. The ads on the free version are incredibly annoying (and strangely, not targeted at all. I mean, if all my playlists are jazz, why would I suddenly click over to the the new LMFAO single? Is Spotify the last company on earth to hear of targeted marketing?), and the $4.99 version only gets rid of the ads, it doesn’t include mobile service. Without mobile, is the whole idea even relevant? And once Apple rolls out the iCloud, will I still need access to streaming music?

Both Turntable and Spotify are promising, and the potential for Spotify to be a game changer is clear. But for now, I’ll spend most of my time on Turntable. Now if people would just stop laming my Albert Ayler cuts…



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