Usually the first email I open in the morning doesn’t make me scream out “HOLY SHIT!” But “Hey! I plugged in the Turntable servers” will do that to you. It was Billy Chasen, Turntable’s OG founder and CEO, and the email included a password, which I immediately mashed into my web browser. You see, Turntable.fm was the Clubhouse of a decade ago: a bunch of social features that nailed the serendipity of being together in a novel manner while breathing life into a familiar format.
Music, as it became digital, also became lonely. The trade-off in having all the world’s recorded tunes up in the cloud was that a communal experience transformed into a solitary one. Single-player mode. Not because of consumer preferences but because of DRM, label negotiations, and dollars. Turntable immediately brought back the listening party. And it was super fun.
It was spring 2011 and the links started getting passed around. Join me here, now—a late Friday night with just some nerds spinning old-school hip-hop songs from our teenage years. Then some more people. And some more people. And some more people. And before you know it, Union Square Ventures is leading a round and I’m an angel investor in my favorite new product.
It didn’t work as a business. Labels were not ready to engage in a collaborative discussion. The team was not always rowing in the same direction together. And Turntable eventually went dark. Billy and I stayed lightly in touch as he, and I, grew older and saw and did more things. He has always been able to see around corners and turn human needs/interaction models into products. Sometimes just a bit early. But like with most fun projects, the relationships outlast the startup. (To that point, fun side story: Turntable was also how I met Sahil. He was this young kid who had just built Pinterest’s mobile app and there was an all-out effort to get him to join Turntable. Sacca sold him hard. So did I. He turned us all down because he wanted to do his own thing, which turned out to be Gumroad. Small world.)
Periodically there’d be a Twitter thread about Turntable nostalgia and we’d all reminisce about products long gone that haven’t been adequately replaced (Google Reader, RIP). Someone would chime in with a link to some collaborative playlist tool but that was never the magic of Turntable.
So now I’m hanging out in the iconic I ❤️ the ’80s room, just like back then. It feels comfortable, warm, lived in. The way a good consumer product can. Some startups struggle to find product market fit; Turntable had it, went dark for nearly a decade, and then just turns itself back on with the same PMF. Wow.
What now? Will Turntable become a “company” again? Is it just a joyous few weeks before the server bills become too expensive, or the code too janky? I don’t know and that’s part of the fun. Because right now it’s 2011 baby, and I’m waiting for a DJ spot to open. Gotta get my monkey avi back…