Turntable.fm Founder Launches Music Discovery App With A Human Side

Posted April 11

Were you a fan of the discovery aspects of social listening service Turntable.fm, but found the whole stress of DJing on the fly and all the incessant chatting to be a little too much? Well, the founders of that once-uber-popular service are out with a new iOS app today — one that lets you listen to tunes that friends discover on your own time.

Back in December, we first caught wind that the brains behind Turntable.fm were scheming a new app, one reminiscent of Pandora that would allow users to listen to a playlist of tunes curated not by an algorithm, but by their friends. That app, Piki, hit the Apple App Store today.

“The main idea of Piki is I just want all of my friends’ music and I just want to hit a button and click ‘play’ and hear it,” says founder Billy Chasen. “So, it’s all your friends’ music on shuffle. The flip side of that is that you’re also building your own profile and your collection by picking songs that you love. Those are the two main ideas.”

When you fire up the app, you’ll first be able to create your own profile where you can showcase your favorite tunes. Simply pick a username, pen a bio and upload an avatar pic (along with a header image — ala Twitter or Facebook) and you can start “picking” songs. Do you see where the name of the app comes from now?

To choose a tune, just press the plus sign at the top of the screen and either identify a song that’s currently playing IRL — Shazam-style — or search for a specific jam. Piki sources all of its music from MP3 service 7digital’s 22 million songs, so you’ll be able to find pretty much anything. Once you choose a song, you can write a description of the jam in question, dedicate it to another user by tagging them in the description, and/or share it to Twitter and Facebook.

After building up your profile, you can then start following your friends and other users — the app plugs into Facebook and Twitter to help you find them — and start listening and interacting.

The most action in the app is centered around the “Player” tab, which is basically an ever-changing playlist of songs that your friends have “picked.” You can either just start listening to tunes straight away, skipping those that you’re not into, or you can click the tuning icon at the top to filter songs and people by genre.

As you’re listening, you’ll be able to “react” to songs via a series of emoticons (stars, rock signs, fist pumps, etc) as well as “repick” songs to your own profile. You can also get more info on a song — as well as buy it via iTunes — by clicking on the “i” icon on the lower right-hand side of the screen.

Unfortunately, you can’t comment on songs, but you can send a user a message. Just click on their profile to reveal the “message” button, as well as scads of info about the user including picks, followers, follows and a button that will allow you to preview their picks. You cannot, however, listen to their picks as a playlist — still, you can control how often you hear their picks in the player by toggling the “frequency” icon.

In the future, Chasen says the app will launch on other platforms, with a Web version dropping in the coming weeks. He also hopes to go international this year, as well as add functionalities like caching and a subscription tier (right now the app is free). All of those features are hypothetical at the moment, though, as the team must wait on feedback from the general public before making any further steps.

Overall, Piki is a pretty solid app — although it is entering a rather crowded space when it comes to usability. There are scads of apps out there that seek to help users discover music, and it’s hard to stand out among such a packed crowd. Even successful services are up against the wall. For example, Chasen’s Turntable.fm was able to carve out a niche for itself in 2011, but over the ensuing months the service rapidly lost its golden child status in the music/tech space.

Chasen hopes that this time, however, it will be different — that the human aspect of the app will help differentiate it from the rest.

“Music is much better when it’s powered by people and hand-curated,” he says. “We found that out with Turntable — the quality of music when it’s powered by people and not an algorithm, the overall entertainment and quality and discovery of finding new artists goes up tremendously.”

When asked how he himself finds music, Chasen answered simply, “I haven’t found a good one. I keep trying to build it.”

It remains to be seen, now, if he has.

Image courtesy of Flickr, shankar, shiv