Spotify, Turntable.fm and how social media shapes music

Amidst much fanfare, Spotify launched its services in the United States on Thursday July 14th, offering a massive library of streaming music and, some might say, yet another nail in the coffin for record store employees with lush knowledge of obscure music.

Though Spotify offers little more than Grooveshark – a similar music platform which launched in 2007 – its U.S. launch has been heralded by music and tech blogs as a victory over the music industry, which has often butted heads with the Internet’s rapidly evolving digital landscape (remember Napster?).

On the other end of the social spectrum, Turntable.fm has been quietly gaining steam over the past sixty days, coasting through its ‘closed beta’ (to join, you have to be Facebook friends with a Turntable.fm user) ; people gather in musically themed rooms such as “Indie While You Work” and “Classic Hip-Hop.” Five lucky souls are chosen to deejay the rooms, which means they get to curate a playlist of songs chosen from their offline collection and online library. Listeners rate each song using a simple +1/-1 system. DJs who are voted down get kicked off the stage, while DJs who do well get points redeemable for fancier avatars.

In many ways, its a distillation of what makes social media and music discovery so validating. While Pandora closes in on a user’s specific preferences, Turntable.fm is curated by humans, not algorithms, and going into a room guarantees you’ll listen to something new. Music is no stranger to social media; in its heyday, one of MySpace’s most common uses was as a music sharing platform, as both bands and users could upload music to be shared. While MySpace remains a bastion for indie artists to share their creations, Turntable.fm is poised to fill a different niche, letting both curators and creators play music to the masses.

But is it legal?

The people at Turntable.fm certainly think so. Using the same defense as Pandora and 8tracks.com, Turntable.fm claims that their music streaming falls under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) – more specifically, that it is not an “interactive service”, a designation left intentionally murky. While Turntable.fm’s legal defense might prove valid, the RIAA isn’t a cheap foe. Although the scrappy startup has managed to secure venture capital funding, legal fees can snowball and leave the service without a leg to deejay on.

Much remains to be seen for Spotify’s future. While it is funded by paid subscriptions, advertisements are featured for non-subscribers. The natural evolution of these platforms tells us that nothing is certain, and we’re sure to see changes along the way.

One thing is for sure: social media will continue to shape the sharing of music.