Turntable.FM Signs Licensing Deals With All Four Major Labels

The social DJing site can now legally stream music by Warner, Universal, EMI and Sony artists. Founders Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein made the announcement at South By Southwest.

Turntable.fm is going legit, with licensing agreements with all four of the major labels now in place. The announcement was made today at South By Southwest by Turntable.fm founder Billy Chasen and co-founder Seth Goldstein during the panel "Turntable.FM: The Future of Music Is Social," and follows reports last week that the site was nearing agreements with several labels.

"This feels like an all-time record speed launch - when we launched we really didn't come at this from the music industry, it was all new to us," Goldstein told Billboard.biz of the nine-month-old service's new licensing deals. "Our model is unique - we're not a radio service, not an on-demand service. We have interesting aspects that really require some out-of-the-box thinking. We felt that from the get-go the labels were absolutely different from what I'd been led to believe. They gave us a lot of time and attention. Compared to their user base, we're a tiny service in the broad scheme of things." 

Indeed, the traffic numbers of Turntable.fm tell a different story from that of Pandora and Spotify. Since debuting in late June 2011, Turntable.fm has yet to eclipse the monthly traffic record it reached during its full month in July - 207,000 unique web-based visitors, according to Comscore, although it has been steadily regaining traffic in recent months, achieving its third-highest month in February with 176,000 visitors. Pandora, by comparison, reached 17.4 million web-based uniques and the still-nascent Spotify was visited by 1.1 million uniques during the same period.

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Of course, the Comscore numbers don't include mobile, which is a recent area of growth for Turntable.FM since it launched an iPhone app in September.

But it is Turntable's potential as a promotional vehicle that has labels most excited. Stephen Bryan, Warner Music Group's exec VP-digital strategy and business development, sees radio services like Turntable.fm playing a pivotal role in the path to subscriptions and purchasing new music. "We see it as a sort of funnel to attract more lean-back customers into the digital space and figure out how to monetize them over time," Bryan told Billboard.biz. And although Warner has notably sat out other digital platforms like Vevo, for music videos, and certain artists like the Black Keys have resisted streaming their music through on-demand platforms like Spotify, Bryan sees a fairly widespread acceptance of the Turntable.fm model as a means of music discovery. "We want to see all our artists participate in these new businesses, and want to talk them through and get them more comfortable with them over time." 

Other labels see Turntable.fm as an artist-development platform. Bill Campbell, senior VP of global digital business development for Universal Music Group, told Billboard.biz that he likes the site's combination of social engagement, music discovery and gamification. He suggested that Universal artists could eventually create their own branded avatars for the Turntable.FM DJs or even create virtual goods as rewards.  

"Once you start to gamify music discovery, that's when you start really understanding what social engagement and loyalty comes down to," Campbell said. 

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He even sees potential to take Turntable.fm on the road, a la Maybach Music rapper Wale's promotion during his fall 2011 Ambition tour. "As artists are setting up tour dates, they could schedule a virtual date and tell fans to join them on such and such date. From a listening standpoint, it's a great way for artists to showcase their music to the world," Campbell said. 

Mark Piibe, EMI Music's exec VP of global business development, likes Turntable.fm's unique experience relative to the increasingly crowded music-streaming market. "Instead of just having an algorithm program where you hear one DJ who runs a channel on a we radio station, you have this constant environment where it's participatory and the DJs change. We don't see that with other of these kinds of services out there," Piibe told Billboard.biz. 

Also expected to evolve is Turntable.FM's ad model. The platform recently welcomed two of its first official ad partners last month when Pepsi and Intel teamed up for a Turntable Tuesdays program for SXSW that included branded DJ rooms and a DJ battle contest. The winning DJ, @Qbertplaya, scored a remote DJ gig at Turntable.FM's SXSW Interactive party on March 10 and an ASUS Zenbook UX31 Series Ultrabook from Intel. 

Goldstein says "no traditional advertising" will be accepted on the Turntable platform. "We're really focused on how we can improve the user experience, and we want to associate these brands as bringing value and talent for our consumers," he said.

Twitter: @billboardbiz