Opinion Take: Pandora V.S. Turntable by Christian Groves

An IPR  friend of mine recently challenged me to take a look at the  site Turntable in context of a recent Forbe’s blog by Dorothy Pomerantz; the blog is a short read, and I recommend checking it out.

In her blog, Pomerantz introduces a brief controversy through comparison between Pandora and Turntable. The blog title contains the premise that Turntable could pose a risk to Pandora. Which is true… anything, including chocolate covered bunnies, could pose a risk to Pandora. But you have to establish what this risk could be, and how it might effect the music business. I mean, I could pose a risk to the thumb tack supply of Canada (which is a meaningless statement). But I digress…

If you haven’t spent much time with Pandora yet, I’m going to share what I know about it here, and I’ll give you a taste of what my experience with Turntable looks like as well. Then I’ll wrap it all up in some more opinion as I eagerly await your response – I really would like to know what you think.

Christian Blog Photo

In theory, both Turntable and Pandora are a great alternative to enjoying music on the radio. Both sites allow users to choose the music they want to hear, and both sites offer a unique listening experience. But they really appear to target two different types of user.

As most savvy IPR students know, Pandora gives users the option of creating a virtual radio station which plays only the music the user likes. Its purpose is to offer music the user already knows, but also music the user may not have heard before. Basically, if it fits your tastes, according to their music genome project, Pandora will pick tracks for you as well.

Pandora’s music genome project analyzes everything from arrangement to melody, to rhythm, and other important digital information, as it chooses new music for the user – also based in user pre-determined preferences. If you like what you hear, Pandora gives you the option of purchasing what you hear right then. This is a great idea; I love it!

One of the reasons I’ve never been a big fan of radio is that I’m required to wade through all kinds of music I wouldn’t listen to just to get to the stuff I like. Because of this my preferred method of listening centers on iPod playlists or CD’s (and still does); old habits die hard. But, I must admit, I like the idea that Pandora allows me to listen to mostly all music I like without having to pay for it. Nice.

Turntable, on the other hand, combines the idea of social media meeting online “radio” in the same place. But it deals in what are called “listening rooms” where 2 or more can gather to check out playlists within different genres – cool idea.

Those commanding said playlists are “DJ’s”, and several DJ’s can compete for listener points within a listening room. Unfortunately, the only reason a DJ appears to need points, other than to get more of them than their DJ competitors, is to purchase new avatars. This isn’t much of a draw for somebody like me; my only purpose in going to Turntable would be to learn about new artists and hear music I’ve never heard before. In this context, at least, rewarding points to unlock new avatars is kind of pointless (my thoughts anyhow).

One thing that really caught my attention with Turntable, though, was where the music comes from. Since I assumed it was just a music database, like Pandora’s, I was surprised to find out that, although Turntable has a music library, it also allows “Dj’s” to upload music from their own libraries to play for listeners. Though curiously missing for me is the option to buy what I’m hearing on the spot… until I rest  my mouse over what I would call the track window. Then there are purchase options that pop up. This is something I would probably change for future iterations – but I have no idea what the Turntable mission is other than gathering users for itself.

Let’s be honest, most free music sites (file sharing types or otherwise) are about gathering users for possible, future revenue under the guise of befriending the free music seeker. It always used to crack me up when people would get their drawers in a bunch over having to pay for music they feel they should get for free… and they would often justify it by attacking the big, “evil” record label who they accused of having their own financial interests in mind. Aren’t businesses in business to make money? I’m pretty sure. In the meantime, file sharing not only hurt labels, it also hurt artists.. and helped them at the same time… but I’m just sayin.

Though Turntable is definitely user friendly with a very streamlined interface, I would like to see, at a glance, more of the obvious. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me what the DJ point system was for, or that I had purchase options for what I was listening to… or, for that matter, that I could actually be a Turntable “DJ”.  And, since Turntable’s primary appeal is to users who want to be more interactive with their online listening than your average Pandora user, I see these as important considerations. Even so, they do have a FAQ page available via a button in the top right of their listening rooms… it’s always there, and, if you go to said FAQ page, your music continues to play in the background. Good choice guys!


Pandora doesn’t require me to build playlists or interact with other listeners, and it doesn’t really differ that much from a radio listening experience. Once I choose my genre, I can let it go – no further interaction is necessary unless I want to purchase a track, or decide I’d like to listen to another genre. And Pandora is a great place to land if all you want to do is listen to some good music.

Turntable requires interaction. Though a listener can simply choose a listening room and let music play in the background while they do whatever, the point of Turntable is to get the listener more involved by rating a track and talking about it through an instant messaging system. The messaging system is something I didn’t find important enough to talk about above, but it does bear mentioning because it may be a big part of what makes Turntable appealing to a crossover crowd (i.e. those who want to blend social media with music listening).

Turntable is also new enough that it doesn’t work well in Windows Explorer, so make sure you use a recommended browser (Firefox and Safari both work well).

Turntable is also new enough that it requires you to either request an invite to use it, or that you have a Facebook friend that is already using it. So, your first use attempt maybe thwarted by technicalities – my second try immediately worked though.

I don’t see Turntable as any kind of a “risk” whatsoever to Pandora; both serve their own audiences for now. And, if Turntable was truly a “risk” (whatever this means), Pandora would simply have to modify its approach to compete; it already opperates more efficiently than Turntable, and my bet is on Pandora for the long haul.

What’s your take? (Please feel free to comment below)

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