Well. Here we are. It’s the final day of Turntable (tt.fm) and I, for one, am feeling a little emotional. It’s almost like I’m losing a friend. A confidant. A weird uncle who always shows up unannounced bearing gifts and smiles and insights into worlds I wouldn’t have discovered on my own. The nice thing about these feelings is that I’m not alone. Since the service launched in 2011, DJs have spun “over 400 million songs in about a million rooms.”1 With a community as active as that, there’s bound to be some broken hearts when it comes time to say goodbye.
On first hearing of the site’s shutdown, my mind went to a dark place. I sat at my desk and silently screamed obscenities at those who had the gall to stop providing the free service I’d enjoyed for years. Who did these people think they were? It was one thing to fail at Stickybits and another to give up on Piki, but to take away my tt.fm? Heads were going to roll.
After slapping myself upside the head to knock away that undeserved sense of entitlement, I rebooted and took another approach to the site’s closure. There was no need for negativity and anger. Instead, I would look back fondly on my tt.fm journey and appreciate the good it has done for my musical life and me.
I signed up for tt.fm on July 25, 2011. To tell you the truth, I didn’t do it because I wanted to hop in a room and play music with strangers from across the country. It was a matter of peer pressure. I was working at Edelman Digital and we all viewed ourselves as explorers of the digital frontier. Being an Early Adopter was a badge of honor amongst us, and my being two months late to the party was a needle my friends were jabbing me with day after day.
A huge smile took hold of my face when I first stepped into my co-workers’ room. I liked the site’s design and couldn’t believe that Dan, a community manager on my team, was playing NOFX. We had never really spoken about music before so to discover this similar interest was a welcomed surprise. I hopped up to the deck, lined up a song that I thought the room would like, and turned my attention back to the day’s work at hand.
The novelty of that particular room lasted less than a week. Auditory tastes were varied and people were quick to Lame the songs that didn’t jive with their musical worldviews. There were just as many tunes cut off after thirty seconds as there were ones played to completion.
I thanked my colleagues for the intro to the site, packed my bags, and went on the hunt for new rooms to hang out in. My brother introduced me to the Funk and Soul Cave and my buddy Jay brought me to the Ambient Chillout and Trip Hop room. The latter introduced me to the sounds of Röyksopp, Blue Sky Black Death, and Telepopmusik, among others. But it was the former that really cemented my loyalty to the site.
Without that room, I don’t know if I ever would have been introduced to the New Mastersounds. I still remember the first song of theirs I heard – Thermal Bad – and how I immediately stopped what I was doing to share the tune with friends. It was pure fire, plain and simple, and people needed to know.
Fast forward a few months to November, 18, 2011. It was a Friday. The evening was cold, the air was crisp, and I was more excited than I can put into words. There I was, standing in the Highline Ballroom with my ear plugs in. My chest was pressed up against the stage, the New Mastersounds were tearing through their set, and Eddie Roberts smiled down at us before slaying the first six notes of the song that stole my heart mere months before.
I turned around to face Kim, my companion for the night, made eye contact, and we started to dance. It was our third date. Or maybe it was our fifth? Who remembers. All I can say for sure is that we connected through the band’s funk riffs and I found myself thinking that this was the kind of girl I could maybe get serious about.
It was a moment made possible by tt.fm. I won’t come out and say the site is responsible for Kim and I getting engaged, but I can’t deny the small part it plays in our timeline.
Aside from introducing me to new music, tt.fm has been a valuable tool in learning more about the bands I already loved. I’ve been going to Phish shows since 1996. I know their songs, can identify teases in the middle of jams, and can wax poetic on the philosophies behind some of their more intricate lyrics like “the tires are the things on your car that make contact with the road.” It took tt.fm to show me just how much I didn’t know.
I always liked Cavern, but I didn’t know that the funk send-off from the Island Tour was my favorite version. The same goes for the Stash at UCF in 1995 and Wolfman’s Brother from Jazzfest 1996. Hell, without tt.fm, I don’t think I would have even known that Phish played Jazzfest. Can you imagine if I’d gone to my grave without that knowledge? A tragedy, for sure.
Now let’s forget about the big bands for a second, shall we? They’ve always had avenues that led them to new listeners. To smaller local bands, tt.fm represented an opportunity to find and convert sympathetic ears.
Are you a Chicago emcee with a fresh and unique flow? You could have popped into a rap-flavored room, hopped on the deck, and started spitting your rhymes. Do you play rock in Omaha but you’re looking to expand beyond the cornfields that ring your reality? It’s the same thing as our Chicago friend – you just had to find the right room, queue up your band’s best, and see if you couldn’t get some heads bopping.
I’m not just speaking hypotheticals here. I’ve seen this sort of grassroots fan acquisition happen firsthand. My brother plays drums for Sprocket, a four-piece improv rock band based in NYC. Their audience grows with every show, but the guys recognize the need to expand outside the city to reach the next level. Enter Phish and Other Jam Bands, the final room on my tt.fm journey. My brother started playing his band’s music, people paid attention, added the songs to their own queues, and now he has fans in cities the band has never played before.
It remains to be seen if these new fans will turn into new gigs, but all of the out-of-towners will be seeing their first Sprocket show when they visit NYC for the Phish New Year’s run. That’s an extra 20-30 paying audience members the band can count on that wouldn’t be there without tt.fm. Not bank breaking by any means, but a positive bump in the right direction.
I leave tt.fm with few regrets. It’s a shame that I never got to rock the monkey in the space suit, but I don’t think that’s the sort of shortcoming that will send my kids to a therapist. Maybe I should have been more truthful in my Lames. After all, the button was there for a reason, right? Why should I have felt pressured to bop my head to an extra-trancy Umphrey’s song if I don’t like the direction of the jam?
This is a sad day. There’s no doubt about it. But the communities that were formed in the three years of tt.fm will persevere. I have no doubts about it. Whether it be through real-life meet-ups, private Facebook groups, or new rooms on the clone site plug.dj, the friendships and music will continue to play on.by