Turntable.fm – A Digital Tool for the Lindy Hop Community

It’s a Wednesday night and I’m sitting in my living room listening to DJ’s Michael Gamble, Mike Thibault, Rob Moreland, Kristy Milliken and Nick Olinger and talking with Michael Quisao, Yossef Mendelson and 30 other lindy hoppers and DJ’s from across the country about what makes the music lame or awesome.

Welcome to Turntable.fm’s Swing Music For Dancers, an easy to use musical resource that allows lindy hoppers to listen to music DJ’s find swinging, explore an online collection of music to DJ themselves, upload songs from their own collections and talk with other dancers about what makes them want to dance or not dance. Endless thanks to someone I know only as an icon named “Hounddog” and their bot sidekick “Houndbot”, for slapping together our digital ballroom and giving us music geeks a place to hang out.

Why is Turntable.fm such a great new tool?

– DJ Rob Moreland pointed out a fair amount of the great music others are playing is buried and forgotten in his own collection somewhere, or the version he has isn’t as good as the one he’s hearing.
Score one for experienced DJ’s rediscovering lost gems and “upgrading” to better recordings.

– After scoring straight lames for Brian Setzer and Go Daddyo an aspiring DJ asks, “these songs kill back home in my remote college scene, why aren’t they awesome here?” Similarly, another DJ asks why the 8 minute live version of “In the Mood” and Manhattan Transfer’s version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” also isn’t killing it.
Score one for aspiring DJ’s having real time multi-media interaction with experienced and highly respected DJ’s and a medium to anonymously experiment and get instant feedback on what the play.

– “Isn’t this the J.C. Higginbotham on trombone?” and “That was such a Ben Webster lick on the saxophone right there.”
Score one for music geeks having a place to hang out.

– A DJ I hadn’t heard asked to play for Southside Stomp so I invited her into turntable.fm and she spent an hour and a quarter seemlessly spinning hard swinging tunes alongside balboa DJ Kyle Smith and Denver’s Daniel Newsome. Similarly, I’m now a “fan” of DJ Jesse Hanus, who I look forward to hearing spin, and my computer gives me a little message to let me know when she’s playing.
Score one for giving new DJ’s a place to set themselves apart and get a following.

– DJ Ali Connell got snowed in this week and couldn’t get to the weekly dance at MIT she was supposed to DJ so she arranged a video feed of the dance floor and DJ’ed the dance from her place using turntable… even letting me sit to play 2 tunes remotely from Norfolk.
Score one for not having to cancel a dance or find a last minute replacement to plug in an Ipod.

– 40+ dancers are listening to music and joking about all the money they’ll be spending for the cool stuff they want to buy to listen to or DJ.
Score one for good music being infectious.

There’s a lot to like on turntable.fm. Definitely check it out if you get a chance.

(Screen capture by Nick Olinger)

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4 Responses to “Turntable.fm – A Digital Tool for the Lindy Hop Community”

  1. Great post Bill! I’m going to refer all of my friends who have been asking, “What is this fm turntable thing?” to this post.

    Speaking as a DJ with a fairly small (but growing!) amount of music and musical knowledge, turntable is a great way for me to gain experience, learn from more experienced DJs, and find out about new music. I renewed my subscription to emusic a few days after starting to use this website.

  2. Jay Benze (Hounddog) Says:

    Thanks for the great write up Bill! I’m glad everyone is enjoying it.

    I’m going to try and get a queueing system set up on Tuesday so mods can turn that on and off. Once my deadline at work passes at the end of the month, I’m going to pimp that bot out like heck.

  3. Rob Moreland Says:

    Other bonuses for me:

    * Playing a few songs a night in turntable and listening to songs others are DJing (with Artist & Title shown in the app) has been a great way to stay current with what I own.
    * I used to have trouble using up all my eMusic credits. That problem is flat out gone.
    * I get a daily reminder that there are tons of dancers who don’t have the same tastes as I do. Seeing other DJs get awesomes and snags when they play things I don’t like doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If one of my jobs as a dance DJ is to keep people dancing, that kind of reminder helps me figure out what songs I DO like to play to get those people back on the floor.
    * I get exposed to current bands I’d never or rarely hear about, like Baby Soda, Smoking Time Jazz Band, or the Reynolds Brothers. They may be common DJ fodder in their locale, but I’d never hear any of them and know it without traveling to their region.
    * If you’ve ever hung out with DJs playing songs for each other, you know it can be chaotic. Some people monopolize things playing the last 20 songs he/she just discovered. Others interrupt 15 seconds into a song. No one has good speakers, it’s rare to get a good sense of the songs being played, and people often leave not remembering what most of the songs were. This room has been a great way to share music without any of that mess. Each DJ gets one song, then listens to up to four others before getting another turn, and the song name/title are there to be noted, saved into a playlist, saved into a Spotify list, or even bought from Amazon.

    And then there are the DJ games/themes. Over the past few weeks, we’ve done games/themes like:
    * Favorite underplayed songs > 240bpm, no trad jazz.
    * Colors (dominated by songs with “blue” or “black in the title)
    * Southern states (“Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Louisiana Fairy Tale”, etc)
    * Several other variations on locations, most recently songs with “Harlem” in the title.
    * DJ Song Association, where each song’s title should contain a word from the previous song’s title (my favorite, but easily the most difficult).

    They’re my favorite time to DJ on Turntable. When I’m DJing a dance, I have a lot of factors that help me decide what the next song should be, like the energy of the room, the context of the dance (comp weekend, afternoon dance at an exchange, etc), and the level and dance preferences of the people on the floor. In the turntable room, those factors are largely gone. What’s left is generally flow, ego, or whimsy.

    Games help give the DJs a reason for their next song. Yes, the quality of the music for the listeners can drop a bit during the game because the DJs take risks to find songs that fit the theme. And yes, flow usually goes out the window. But the cameraderie between the DJs goes way up. The conversation about the music increases. And everyone in the room seems to enjoy seeing what each DJ comes up with to fit the theme.

    The best part is undoubtedly finding songs you didn’t know you had. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played songs found minutes before with only a 15-30 second preview. I’d never do that at a dance, of course, but in turntable, it’s generally ok. There’s no floor to clear, and people are much more forgiving of a song that’s danceable for all but, say, that 20 second drum solo. And if the song sucks, you find out quickly.

  4. Benjy T Says:

    “It’s a Wednesday night and I’m sitting in my living room listening to …”

    And when Em and I were having our pre-Valentine Valentine’s dinner, the Sunday before the actual day, one Bill Speidel was on turntable helping to provide some damn good music to accompany it.

    Just because the avatars in the room aren’t bopping their heads, doesn’t mean that they’re not listening to and enjoying the music. With tunes this good, lots of people are using the room to provide the soundtrack for their everyday lives.

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