How Long Until The RIAA Kills The Best Music Service Around?

from the countdown-begins dept

Over the past month or so, there has been tremendous buzz about a startup called It’s been written up in a few places and lots of the usual crew of Silicon Valley folks have been using it. In general, I tend to be skeptical of the “buzzy” startups out there, but over the past couple weeks I’ve been playing with the service, and have found — like so many others who use it — that it’s incredibly fun, addictive and amazing (and not great for productivity, at times). A bunch of folks associated with Techdirt have been using it and we’ve spent almost as much time discussing the legality of the whole thing.

If you haven’t used it, it’s a service that finally makes music social in a way that works. Basically, you and others go into a “room” which generally has a theme. Up to five people in the room can act as “DJs” and sit at a table in the front. Each of the DJs puts together a queue of songs and when their turn comes around, the next song in their queue plays (usually, it’s still a little buggy on that front). Everyone else in the room can hear the song and can vote on whether it’s “awesome” or “lame.” If it’s awesome, the DJ gets points, if it’s lame, the song can be cut off and you can get booted from your chair (I believe, though have never seen that happen). Also, all the folks in the room have cute little avatars, and their heads bob to the music if they think it’s awesome. When one song is done, it moves on to the next DJ in the row, and on you go: collaborative curated music playlists.

It’s difficult to explain what makes the whole thing quite so addictive and fun, but for those who get hooked, I keep hearing the same thing about how much fun the whole thing is. I have a few theories on why it’s so addictive, though I’m sure different reasons are there for different people. For me, frankly, this actually reminds me of when I used to actually DJ music on the radio (kids: look it up) decades ago. I used to co-DJ a music program, and part of the fun was just sitting around with my fellow DJs talking about all sorts of stuff while figuring out “what should we play next” and listening to great music the whole time. evinces a nearly identical feeling, which I’d long since forgotten about. So the nostalgia part definitely hits me.

But I think the reason that hits me so hard, and why so many people like, is the core underlying social aspect of it that so many in the music industry seem to ignore. Music isn’t an individual thing. It’s always been a social thing. We want others to hear the music we like. We like to share the experience. It’s a cultural thing. If only you hear a song, that’s one thing, but sharing that great feeling with a friend or others is something else. It’s part of the reason why people flock to concerts. But the recording industry has always focused on music as a solitary thing: as in, they want each individual to buy a song or an album and that’s it. The social part is an afterthought. Maybe it helps more sales, maybe not. That’s not important. It’s why so many music services today are kind of boring, frankly. You can listen to music, but that’s about it. There’s not much social about most of them (with a few exceptions)., on purpose or not, brings back that cultural sharing element. It makes just listening to music a party, and that’s incredibly addictive. And, as simplistic as the graphics are, something about them completely “works” in this environment. The little bobbing heads are really quite powerful. And, as Marcus Carab said after playing around with the service: if no heads in the audience are bobbing, “IT FEELS HORRIBLE.” That’s a part of that cultural sharing phenomenon. We all love music, and we love to introduce others to music we love… but many of us still fear that basic feeling of social awkwardness: what if we pass this along, and no one likes it? does a brilliant job of meshing together all of these elements, and really has made it work.

But is it legal?

Then we come to the big question. If there’s one thing we’ve seen over and over again, it’s that the big record labels and the RIAA simply can’t stand it when “someone else” figures out how to make music valuable. The standard operating procedure is to claim that whatever they’re doing is infringing, and then sue first as a part of a negotiating strategy to get massive license fees or to drive them out of business. Sometimes, as with imeem, they do both (get massive license fees, which serves to drive them out of business).

There were some questions as to whether or not already had deals with the labels. The way the music works is you can do a search, and if already has the track you can add it to your queue. If it doesn’t, you can also upload it from your personal collection. Various reports note that has a deal with MediaNet, which allows them to stream a ton of tracks at $0.002 per listener (and 10 cents per DJ, since that’s an “on demand” play). It’s not clear how it works with uploaded tracks. There are also some limits, as a friend of mine discovered when a bunch of DJs in a room all tried to play songs by a single artist. After a few tracks, you get a message saying you can’t for licensing reasons.

That sounded similar to what the (also quite cool) startup 8tracks does, in that people can upload songs and create playlists… but with a few limitations to avoid violating copyright law. There are a few basic rules that have been put in place at the behest of the recording industry to make sure such services aren’t really fully interactive (for which they want much higher priced licenses), so limiting tracks by a single artist, limiting tracks from a single album and not letting people see what’s upcoming are there.

What is now official is that the company does not have any licensing deals with the labels, relying on the belief that following those streaming rules and the basics of the DMCA make it legal. The issue is whether or not the labels buy that and decide not to sue. That would be the smart move, but think about who we’re discussing here. There’s a pretty good likelihood that someone will get upset (or, really, jealous of the massive popularity) and decide that they’re “not getting the proper cut,” and initiate legal action.

That would be a shame. The service really is the sort of thing that the labels should be encouraging. It’s an amazing tool for social music discovery. It clearly makes music more valuable. I’ve been introduced to all sorts of new music via the service, and have since purchased a bunch of CDs (yeah, make fun of me, I’m old fashioned that way) because of it. There’s also tremendous user engagement here, not just in picking the songs, but in voting on them and talking in the associated chat room. Still, almost everyone seems to think that the labels will do what they always do and sue. Again, quoting Marcus, “it must be illegal, because it’s awesome, and there’s simply no way something this awesome would be okay with the RIAA.”

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Comments on “How Long Until The RIAA Kills The Best Music Service Around?”

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Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Many, many online services launch without a specific business model in place, build an audience, then find ways to monetize, surviving on investment capital in the meantime (I heard of this one thing called Twitter that is apparently doing okay)

There are tremendous monetization opportunities in User engagement is very high – not only do people spend a long time on the site, they spend a much higher percentage of that time paying direct attention to the screen than most web services. The way the site works also lends itself to freemium models (not my favourite, but an approach that would likely be highly effective here)

So don’t worry – if it survives, the money will come in time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In fact, in true capitalism there would never be anything like “intellectual property”. Under true capitalism, government has no business sticking it’s nose on business: The market would automatically regulate itself (through various dynamics, such as competition, supply and demand, etc.). Only the strong and agile, who adapt quickly would survive.

If you loved capitalism, you would support the abolishment of intellectual property, not wave it around like an ugly flag.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> you can’t use someone else’s intellectual property for free.

For free?

The Labels would never think of a novel idea like this.

If someone else does, they would never license it at anything resembling a reasonable price. (Example: Guitar Hero)

If someone builds something novel that uses music, the dinosaurs will shut it down. (And probably 1000 other nearby innocent websites at the same time.)

If people (example TechDirt) complain, we’ll hear: you freetards just want to listen to music for free.

Listening to free music is why Internet radio must be stopped!

But who is it again that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century of digital music (eg, Amazon 99 cent mp3s, etc), and still isn’t there yet?

Similarly for Hollywood. They would never build something like Netflix streaming. Netflix did, but Hollywood was too blind to believe it would go anywhere. When it succeeded beyond the tiny imaginations of tiny Hollywood minds, they want to change the deal.

John Doe says:

Re: Re:

Why should it be so different from real property? I buy a Ford truck and I can paint it purple, put yellow racing stripes on it, slap a supercharger under the hood and rent it out for local delivery and Ford can’t say a word about it.

Now I buy a song, movie or book and I can’t do jack with it unless I pay exorbitant license fees.

So you see, copyright maximalists want IP treated like RP when it suits them, (ie. it can be stolen), and treated like IP when it suits them (you can’t use it unless I say so).

SysOp (profile) says:

Not about copying...

This will get shut off faster than snot.

I don’t think the problem is about lost music revenue from copying, but from not buying what you are told you should like by the marketing engine.

This service does an incredible job at finding what people think sounds good and will listen to. It in effect will defeat the media campaigns surrounding their latest release they are trying to market as the latest rage.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Not about copying...

I was about to say something similar. This seems like something that could be used for a music ranking and promotion system outside of record label control. A whats hot, and whats not. If they included that on the main page. Indies could work their way up the charts with ease. Tie that in with facebook and you have a great promotion system.

David Liu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not about copying...

In essence, it’s a crowdsourced radio station for basically every interest out there. And the marketing weight of each station holds so much more weight because these songs are being marketed by regular users rather than some commercial shill. It’d be brilliant…. if the music industry had any interest in expanding their horizons.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not about copying...

“if the music industry had any interest in expanding their horizons.”

They would probably require only music done by the big 4 labels, if they didn’t get that in writing, they would negotiate by law suit.

I love the idea of crowd sourcing the play lists with a mini-American Idol style system. Crap would sink to the bottom of the playlists and the gems would float to the top. You could have hundreds of these crowd sourced radio stations each gaining followers.

I wonder if you could do an app for facebook or uTorrent along these lines?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Tried to sign up

I think that’s more just a hiccup along the way in terms of the beta version. For one thing, they will keep the FB Connect open so they can inform you when they /do/ have room – however if you want to block it you can easily do so in your privacy settings.

You’re right that it’s a gaffe in terms of user experience… but I don’t think it’s earth-shattering.

CarlWeathersForPres (profile) says:

It’s not a public performance(friends and family in a limited setting), so I don’t think there’s infringement there. (106 (4-6))

There is not copying of the file for more than a transient time, so I don’t think there’s infringement down that avenue. (106(1) and (3))

This isn’t a derivative work (106(2)).

There aren’t massive uploads and downloads, so I don’t think there would be a case for contributory infringement.

I’m not really sure there’s an actual claim based on the current case law.

Trerro says:

They can only fight the future for so long.

The labels don’t want this kind of service, and don’t care if it’s profitable, because they know what the future is.

No one needs physical media anymore, because cheap MP3 players and ubiquitous computers have made it obsolete.

Soon, no one will need record company promotion services either – internet music services will do all the work, and bands will be free to play what they love, find an audience for it, and not be restricted (or milked) in any way by parasitic labels.

It’s a great future, and one I very much look forward to, but it absolutely permanently excludes the record companies, so you can understand why they’re trying to destroy the future instead of help make it.

It’s only a matter of time though. Music will move on to a new era (it’s already well on its way), and the record companies will be left in the dumpster of obsolescence where they belong, sandwiched between a typewriter and a fax machine.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: They can only fight the future for so long.

“It’s a great future, and one I very much look forward to, but it absolutely permanently excludes the record companies, so you can understand why they’re trying to destroy the future instead of help make it.”

Thats one of those things that techdirt seems to beat around the bush on. With all the talk of new business models, not a single one of them will work for the labels. The new business models will only work for the Artists.

CypherDragon (profile) says:

Re: Re: They can only fight the future for so long.

“Thats one of those things that techdirt seems to beat around the bush on. With all the talk of new business models, not a single one of them will work for the labels. The new business models will only work for the Artists.”

You say that like it’s a bad thing, when it should be quite the opposite…

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: They can only fight the future for so long.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing, when it should be quite the opposite…”

It is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. The huge middle men are being removed and replaced by online companies. The dave chappelle show leaving comedy central and going HULU or NetFlix is a perfect example. While the show suck IMHO, it is a trend that will continue to grow.

My point was that techdirt doesn’t say that the ISP’s will become dumb pipes in the end, that the media distribution companies will all fail, that content distribution middle men will fail, and that TV networks are no longer needed. I mean when you can do the whole billionare olson twins direct to DVD thing (internet in this case) why bother with the networks or labels.

fairuse (profile) says:

Pay to Play

I was wondering how joining turntable worked:

How to get in:
If you have a facebook friend already on turntable, you’re in! Just sign in below

(Login with Facebook button)

Can’t get in? You can add your e-mail to the invite list here (I removed URL) and we sometimes give out some invites.

The request an invite asks for e-mail address and asks a question for human to answer (bots do try answering you know).

Seems quite normal. Personally I decline Facebook logins if there is another way to login. Hope they revise this but I doubt it — social is the game here.

If you want to play you have to pay. The question is how much do you pay? How far does your information travel? There is no TOS or Privacy Statement on either of these two pages. This may be an oversight while development goes on.

I Suggest adding policy statements so folks have some kind of informed consent even though it is apparent Facebook policy rules here, but that is not clearly stated.

Just an observation.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s nothing but a different spin on Pandora. If they have the same licenses as Pandora they won’t have any problems.

The above article is just more of the idiotic hate-mongering on labels that Mike Masnick is known for; as by vilifying record labels, somehow it becomes ok to rip off music. Snore.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s nothing but a different spin on Pandora. “

That spin being the social and competitive aspects, which may make music more attractive and enjoyable and expose people to a wider range of music than the Pandora algorithm might.

“If they have the same licenses as Pandora they won’t have any problems.”

Well, their problem would be that their audience would be limited to whatever fraction of the world’s population happen to be sitting on US soil at the time, which would be a problem…

“The above article is just more of the idiotic hate-mongering on labels that Mike Masnick is known for; as by vilifying record labels, somehow it becomes ok to rip off music.”

Who’s “ripping off” music? I’m seeing a service that allows people to discover music they might want to pay for and puts a unique spin on a format that makes music more attractive. It’s no more “ripping off” music than if someone plays their records at a party.

The criticism of the labels is simply based on their typical reaction to new and innovative services – they first try to shut them down, and place insanely high licences and unworkable restrictions if they licence the service.

You’ll notice that the article is marked under “predictions”, and is essentially Mike saying “I hope this doesn’t happen, but this is the typical reaction of the labels”. If his “hate mongering” is wrong, then they won’t react in the way he predicts and I’m sure he’d b e glad to be proven wrong. If not, then he’s right and the “hate mongering” is actually the unvarnished truth.

Over to your side, the ball’s in their court now…

Anonymous Coward says:

This seemed like a pretty cool side based on the description here, so I went to it to give it a try…

…and never got past the first three screens. What’s the point in having a cool site if it’s too impenetrable to get to any of the cool stuff?

It reminded me of my experience with, another site I saw hyped, but when I tried it, it seemed virtually pointless, and some pretty basic features didn’t work properly.

I’d love to see more and better music sites, but crashed and burned for me, and after only five minutes, is already in a nosedive.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It reminded me of my experience with, another site I saw hyped, but when I tried it, it seemed virtually pointless, and some pretty basic features didn’t work properly.

Can you elaborate? While I’ve noticed a few little bugs here and there (it is in beta after all) I’ve found the site extremely easy to use and, for the most part, quite smooth-running.

FatGiant (profile) says:

It's gone!!

Since today, is US only.

Quote:We’re very sorry, but while we would love to let you in and rock out with us, we need to currently restrict turntable access to only the United States due to licensing constraints.

We are working very hard to try and and get you in as soon as possible.

If you believe this is a mistake and you are located in the United States, please e-mail help [at sign] turntable dot fm

Again, sorry, and we hope to see you soon.

Billy Chasen

I had fun for 3 days. Was recommending it to friends and family, but, now, it’s gone. Knowing how this works, I don’t expect to ever be able to use it again.

I really need to mince my words right now. Or I will say too much and regret it.

Have fun you that can.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: It's gone!!


I hate it when I’m right about this stuff, I called this above. It’s mind boggling how the labels haven’t bothered to bring their licensing into the 21st century and how they seem to think that restricting their audience to whoever happens to be on US soil at the time helps or protects their content. Note: people who are *in the US at the time*, since US citizens or residents are still unable to access their favourite services if they happen to be travelling or move outside the US…

This is why the industry is failing. Not only do they refuse to bring their business models in line with customers’ needs and the realities of the modern marketplace, they restrict potentially global services to a single country.

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