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Turntable.fm's Billy Chasen Discusses Piki: Human-Powered Music Discovery App Now On iTunes

Piki-logoThe folks at Turntable.fm are back with a mobile music app called Piki. Available today for free on iTunes, the iOS app is a well-designed, relatively simple app allowing you to listen to music from your web friends new and old. In many ways the product is the opposite of Turntable.fm's realtime event experience with the option to totally kickback and enjoy a steady stream of music.

I spoke with Turntable.fm co-founder Billy Chasen earlier this week about the new app from his team. Released in beta back in December, Piki is now available on iTunes with a web app to follow in weeks and an Android app scheduled in the next couple of months.

Turntable Lives

Since many web pundits love to leave a virtual trail of dead in their wake, I asked Chasen about the current status of Turntable.fm. He assured me that Turntable is "very not dead" and is under ongoing development.

Though Turntable continues as a real-time environment where groups of friends can hang out together, they are focusing more on Turntable as a "digital event space" with scheduled live events. Larger rooms are now available and thousands of people have been accommodated for special parties. For example, Tyco and other dj's recently held a festival event with a room that was active all day.

Chasen feels that real community and real relationships have been built on Turntable and seemed honestly positive about what they've accomplished.

Piki Focuses on What Turntable Doesn't Do

Given that Turntable lives, it would be inappropriate to call Piki a pivot. Rather the app is a response to the specific focus of Turntable which emphasizes people showing up at a particular time and requires curatorial planning on the part of dj's.

Chasen explained that they've been working on Piki for about a year but thinking about it longer than that. Basically they have been trying to develop an app that offers a leanback or "laidback" experience of music discovery and enjoyment that is still driven by human curation. So Piki offers a different take on things informed by the Turntable experience.

Piki Offers an Easy Onboarding Experience

I checked out the app and though there are details of usage that I didn't explore, the basic experience of joining and listening to music was quite streamlined. I chose not to connect to a social media account, which would have offered me music based on my current friends, and simply gave a song title to see what I'd get in return.

I was immediately subscribed to a group of interesting looking members and the initial picks definitely related to my choice with songs I haven't heard from bands with which I was more or less familiar. I was able to skip songs and find new music that I was happy to know about.

Chasen was pleased to hear that I found it quite easy to get involved, especially when I told him I wasn't the most deft with mobile apps though I am getting more comfortable in the space. He said they've emphasized a streamlined onboarding experience and have redesigned multiple screens since their launch in beta back in December.

Billy Chasen on Making Money and Music Licensing

When asked about how Piki would create revenue, Chasen explained that there were a variety of premium features being developed and that there would be a natural way to move to pro subscriptions. In addition, based on their experience adding virtual goods to Turntable, they're working on that aspect as well.

Music on Piki is licensed and they have deals with all the major labels. Here again the relationships they developed at Turntable helped with that process and the licensing for Piki is built on the back of deals made for Turntable. The music itself is powered by 7digital though they don't have plans for direct sales of music.

Chasen says that though licensing directly from labels is costly, the relationship is then much healthier and being totally legal also helps with fundraising from investors. In addition, it opens up more possibilities for collaboration with artists.

I asked him about apps using services like YouTube and SoundCloud to get around the licensing issue and he pointed out that there are numerous limitations to that approach, especially if one's app becomes popular. There are also a variety of terms as to how such content can be used. For example, YouTube requires that you show the video and all the ads.

In addition, there are numerous unknown variables and, if you do get popular and folks start paying attention, the labels will be coming after you in one form or another. Chasen considers such an approach a "ticking clock" for any business that's seeking to subvert the licensing process though he didn't attack developers for taking such chances.

Piki Is a Positive Next Step for the Team at Turntable

Overall Billy Chasen seemed in a truly positive place about what he's doing with both Turntable and Piki. One can see a lot of thought and work went into this new app just as it did with Turntable and it will be interesting to see if Turntable's brand helps Piki cut through the noise of the music app marketplace.

Official Site: Piki

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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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