Another Day, Another Groupie

This is going to be one of those multitasking posts, since I’m also attempting to DJ and watch Djokovic cruise to yet another Wimbledon final…  Are you sitting at work right now listening to Spotify, Pandora, or Songza for your daily music fix? Well guess what? I have something even better. Sure, Spotify is the bee’s knees because of it’s ability to share playlists, as well as what you’re jamming out to, but imagine if you could take Spotify to another level. Imagine creating a set list of songs in a genre of your choice with four other people all for an audience of other digital listeners. Spotify was the next step up from Pandora, but if you want a truly social music experience, you need to check out turntable.fm. Coincidentally, it just went down as I was writing this post, but thankfully they put up adorable kitten videos on their homepage as they sort out any bugs. They also use Amazon Web Services, and went down along with Instagram and Pinterest after those storms took out the AWS Virginia server, so they might still be recovering.

Turntable.fm, founded in May 2011 by Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein (previously of StickyBits startup fame), allows you to get on stage with anywhere from one to four other digital DJs and play songs from your playlist in thousands of different rooms for up to 200 listeners at a time. Rooms cover the gamut of genres, and you can find one playing anything from Indie to JPop to movie soundtracks. Other listeners can give you e-props for your spins by either “Awesoming” or “Laming” your song. Awesomes grant you a DJ Point, which unlock cooler avatars at various point thresholds. Turntable provides a huge database of music for you to meticulously craft your playlist from, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can upload tracks from your computer. As far as I know you can have thousands of songs in your queue at once. Love a song so much you want to download it, or add it to your own song queue? Turntable gives you the option to buy the song on Amazon or iTunes (lol.), or add it to your turntable, Spotify, Rdio, or Last.fm. Awesome, right?

I’ve been faithfully using turntable.fm since last June when I first heard about it, so DJ Coug is a pretty big deal as far as digital DJs go. Despite being over a year old, and launching both iOS and Android app versions of the site, it’s technically still in beta phase. You can’t create an account without linking it to your Facebook or Twitter, but over the past year they’ve been able to iron out a lot of issues that could make DJing pretty frustrating at times. It’s really apparent that the iPhone app, which released last September, had an enormous amount of love put into it and after a few updates, I’d have to say it looks amazing and operates nearly as effortlessly as the web version. Turntable also released an Android version earlier this year.

What if you can’t find a room you like? What if you want to play some Swedish Death Metal and everyone keeps laming your Opeth tracks in the normal metal rooms!? All you have to do is create your own room. Name it whatever you want, set some simple rules, and you’ll have it up and running in a matter of seconds. Turntable also gives you the option to share where and what you’re DJing on Facebook and Twitter, so all your pals can come DJ with you! I was having a similar issue last summer when I was DJing mostly in Rap & Hip-Hop rooms. Every time I tried to play a more popular rap song from the last five years, I’d get booed off the stage (if your song dips below a certain Lame/Awesome percentage, you’ll get skipped). What I’ve found is that a lot of turntable users (especially Hip-Hop fans) tend to be obnoxiously snobbish. “Oh you’re not playing Gang Starr or Jedi Mind Tricks? Ugh. Get off the stage!” I said to hell with Rap & Hip-Hop snobs and created my own room, where I can be free to play 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy, G-Unit, or even OJ Da Juiceman (AYE! OKAY!) with the full support of all my adoring fans.

Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge

So since last June, I’ve been spending most of my turntable time DJing in my own room, “Rap While You Work – Coug Lounge“, the name of which is a play on one of the more popular rooms “Indie While You Work”. Over that time I’ve accumulated almost 6,000 DJ Points (only 4,000 more DJ Points til the space monkey!) and 250 fans, who are people that track which room you’re in, and when you start DJing. Since last year I’ve been able to craft my own brand of room, focusing on playing mostly new, popular, and Dirty South rap, which is often shunned in the more popular Hip-Hop rooms. Last summer, there were times when my room would have nearly 50 listeners during work hours, but since I took a short hiatus over the winter, the room lost a majority of it’s fan base. Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of rooms are imposing awful new rules that go against what turntable.fm is all about. Some rooms enforce strict “No Laming” rules, or ones that force all DJs on the stage to awesome every song. Not in the Coug Lounge. The lame button is there for a reason, and if the room isn’t feeling a specific song, let the DJ know about it! Over the past few months, mostly during my job search, I’ve made a serious effort to resurrect the room. This has been difficult, since a lot of last year’s daily listeners have stopped using turntable. A handful have come back, and a lot of new fans have surfaced. Plus I’ve tried to make my room into a real community, adding a “bot” (CougBot) to moderate the room and keep a DJ queue, and a Facebook page to keep fans abreast of turntable news, new music from artists we typically play, and the room’s status. It’s actually been pretty successful, and thanks to some dedicated moderators and friends (MikeJules & BlowinStankE shout out!), the room gets up and running even when I’m not there.

However, I don’t know if it’s the type of fan that typically listens to rap music, or the addition of a lot of listeners on iPhone and Android apps (which makes reading welcome messages, room rules, understanding a DJ queue, and maintaining a consistent connection much more difficult), but a lot of people have an extremely hard time using the queue or bot commands. Additionally, a lot of listeners don’t have any patience to wait a song or two to DJ, or will only stick around for one of their own plays. This is much different than it was last summer. Plus, with the addition of services like BotCavalry, and Google Chrome plug-ins like TT+, people can create and run their own rooms with ease. I’ve noticed that this causes a lot of more reliable room listeners to go off on their own to create similar rooms. This not only causes the Coug Lounge to lose a reliable listener/moderator, but it splits potential listeners into several much smaller Rap & Hip-Hop rooms.

So if you’re using Spotify/Pandora/Songza at work, I encourage you to check out turntable.fm. And if DJing takes up too much of your attention during the daily grind, find a room that plays awesome music and just chill in the crowd! But if Rap & Hip-Hop is your scene, please check out Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge or like the Facebook page! Who knows, you might discover some swelly new music, collect some DJ Points, or even get discovered as the next great DJ. So until next time, keep your top let back and your beat down low. DJ Coug out.

The Greatest App You Aren’t Using

My apologies for no blog post yesterday. The Coug was out and about in the big city. Anywhosits, this post is going to be for some of the less tech/app-savvy readers, since if you own a smart phone and love apps, you better already have this installed (if you don’t, what are you doing with your life?). For the rest of you, there is an app out there that is probably the greatest app you aren’t using. No Kevin Durant, I’m not talking about Doodle Jump…

Man, that’s messed up.

I’m talking about foursquare (have you checked into this post yet?). Founded in 2009, foursquare revolutionized the idea of mobile “check-ins.” Originally, the app was designed for you to check into various venues around town to earn badges, mayorships, and to allow your broskis to see where you were at in the hopes that they might meet up with you/stalk your every move. But since it’s evolution to the newest re-design, released earlier this month, the app has become much more than simply a way to over share. 

Before foursquare most people relied on Zagat or Yelp! to find reviews of new restaurants and businesses. But now, with v5.0 of foursquare you can find reviews of venues regardless of whether they’re right in your backyard or in a strange far off land. And while it works great for restaurants, users can leave reviews anywhere, from bars, to dry cleaners, to art museums, to dentist offices, to strip clubs. With the new “Explore” feature, the app will give you recommendations of places nearby based on your check-in history or what you’ve added to your to-do list. For instance, I used foursquare last week to find The Garden Gourmet right in my own backyard. It, like thousands of venues on foursquare, had two awesome “specials” that are linked to your check-ins. One being the “Friends Special,” which is unlocked by checking in for lunch or dinner with a total of three people in order to get free desserts (awesome!), and the other being a free coffee refill every time you check in there (not as awesome…). But come on, who doesn’t love getting free stuff for doing basically nothing? What’s also great about the “check-in specials” is that if you link your American Express card to your foursquare account, you unlock even more awesome deals. During American Express Small Business Saturdays, almost every small business on foursquare has deals from Amex. All it takes is a check-in, and upon seeing how much you spent on your next statement, Amex will refund a portion of your bill just for checking into a small business. Dopeness.

While that’s an awesome example of finding a great place in my own town, I also just used foursquare to find a place to wet my whistle after a job interview in NYC yesterday. I was over on West 13th Street and simply searched “bar” in the explore tab to find The Brass Monkey on Little West 12th Street. Just from reading some reviews from Bravo, I learned that it was pretty inexpensive, had a rooftop bar, and had an awesome happy hour. So thanks to foursquare I was able to find a bar with an awesome happy hour where I could catch the end of the Spain – Portugal match with some crazy fútbol fans. All of this in an area I knew nothing about.

In addition to finding great places and checking in with your pals, foursquare, like a lot of check-in based apps nowadays, has incentives for checking in at both new places and your regular haunts. You can become the “Mayor” of a venue by checking in the most times over a period of sixty days. Additionally you can usurp the mayorship in a bloodless coup by checking in more times than the current mayor. Often times, if the place is cool enough, it’ll have special deals for the mayor, like free appetizers or drinks, or even a certain percentage off the total purchase. This is a great way to reward customer loyalty.

But what if you’re a fearless explorer? What if you love finding new and exciting places every time you’re out? Don’t fear, the folks at foursquare have you covered. An equally, if not more rewarding aspect of foursquare is unlocking badges. Badges cover a wide array of topics, from checking into 100 different venues, to holding down ten mayorships at once, to sponsored badges like the Starbucks Barista Badge, which you can get from checking into enough unique Starbucks locations. You can also unlock varying levels of badges like the Pizzaiolo badge. You unlock level one by checking into three different pizza joints, level two after five different pizza joints, level three after ten and so on. Some of the badges are easy to unlock and some are much more obscure, with foursquare adding their own unique brand of tongue-in-cheek humor to each one. Yesterday, I earned the “Bravo Newbie” badge by checking into the High Line Park, which was on Bravo’s NYC Must-Visit List on their foursquare. It was also on my foursquare to-do list so…double win.

Plus this was my view, so…triple win.

While it’s nice that foursquare added these cool extra incentives, the point is to actually get out and visit new places. Do new things. In addition to badges and mayorships, there’s also a weekly points leaderboard. Each check-in awards you with a certain number of points based on if you’re the mayor, if it’s your first time there, the venue category, and if you’re checking in with a bunch of friends. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are using foursquare for the completely wrong reasons. Even though the weekly leaderboard is absolutely pointless (and actually kind of hard to navigate to), it seems to be the only thing most casual users care about. I see my foursquare friends checking into ridiculous locations like intersections, parking lots, stop lights, and interstates just to bump their weekly points totals. I’ve brought this up with them and their argument is, “If there’s a venue for it, why shouldn’t I check in?” Because you’re not going anywhere new! There’s nothing interesting about checking into a freaking highway! If all you care about is being atop a leaderboard, go buy an Xbox and Modern Warfare and have at it. I’ve actually been unfollowing people on foursquare because I was tired of their inane check-ins cluttering up my feed. In the recent re-design, foursquare made it so your Friends tab displays more like a Facebook news feed, instead of just the most recent check-ins, which I like a lot better, but it made it so annoying check-ins such as those dominate your foursquare feed. To anyone who uses foursquare like that (you know who you are): You’re doing it wrong!

I was recently appointed a foursquare SuperUser, which may be the closest I’ll ever come to actually working for them (still waiting on that Community Support application I sent in dudes!), but it was probably the culmination of my social media existence so far (well, maybe my twitter appearance on Baseball Tonight). It might also be the happiest moment of my OCD lifestyle, since I would often refuse to check into venues that were uncategorized/mis-categorized or had no address. Now, if I want to check into a venue that looks like someone created it while tripping on bath salts, I can open up the foursquare SuperUser app, “Hopscotch” (ha!), search for the wonky venue, and edit it to my heart’s content! If you’re friends with me on foursquare and noticed that all your check-ins are magically fixed with correct categories and information, yup that was Coug. But if you see a venue that you want me to fix for you, I’d be happy to do so. With great power comes great responsibility. I am sworn to uphold the integrity of foursquare support personnel, and have vowed never to use this for evil!

So yeah, if you have a smartphone (even a BlackBerry!) and you love app culture, you have to be using this app. Even if you aren’t an app-fiend like me and you love discovering new places, you should give foursquare a try. Also, if you’re still relying on Yelp! for business and restaurant reviews, you have to make the switch to foursquare. The design is so much cleaner and free of clutter. I would go so far as to say that foursquare is a beautiful app. And if your hang up is not wanting people to know where you are, simply don’t share your check-ins on Twitter or Facebook. Plus, unless someone is actually friends with you on foursquare, they can’t see any of your check-ins or location information. Hey who knows, maybe you’ll get to usurp someone’s mayorship in glorious fashion. Happy check-ins! Oh and friend me up on foursquare!