Hacking Turntable for Fun and Music


Previous Solutions

Turntable is a collaborative DJ website that lets people play music to an online audience. Turntable, by default, doesn’t let you download the music you hear. If you hover over the track name in the UI, you can scrobble the track to Last.fm, find it in Spotify or Rdio, etc. Some people (myself included, but we’ll get to that later) wanted to download the files being played.

So, a Greasemonkey script was created to automatically download songs as they were played on Turntable. I’ve never tried this script because Turntable killed it somehow. This proves that Turntable doesn’t like people messing around with their service in this way.

There is also the manual way. Webkit (Chrome and Safari) and Firebug include a network activity inspector. When it’s open, you can see all the requests (and files) that the page requests. When Turntable.fm downloads songs to play, you can see the request in the network inspector for the music file, and it even says “audio/music” in the file type. From there, you can get the URL for the file on Turntable (Or MusicNet, another of Turntable’s music sources), and from there you can download the mp3. You can even download it directly from the network inspector, but I never got that to work well.

So, if you want to download music from Turntable nowadays, you have to go through an incredibly manual and annoying process filled with tedium. At least you have music playing in the background.

I was not happy with this situation.

My Solution

While walking, I considered the problem. When I was downloading the songs from Turntable.fm, I’m looking directly (with some parsing, thanks to Webkit or Firebug) into the HTTP stream, watching as requests and response go by. I would get my inspector to filter for requests for “Other” requests, then I would manually watch the incoming requests, looking for one that was tagged as “audio/media”, and that came from static.turntable.fm, or fp-limelight.musicnet.com.

I then realized that I could do this much more painfully in Wireshark. I could watch requests go, packet by packet, and I could then try and save the packets with audio data and concatenate them somehow, producing a full audio file. Of course, there was a much simpler way to do this: Node.js.

Node.js does stream redirection well, and can operate as an HTTP proxy. It could watch all the http requests flowing in and out of the computer, scanning each one carefully. I could install my server as the system proxy, and I’d be able to watch all the requests stream by, and identify which responses would hold the audio data.

Once I had the idea, implementation was simple. Just watch the request stream for the important URLs, and redirect the responses (containing the audio), not only back to the browser but into a file on the hard drive.

My solution worked perfectly. Occasionally, a song would start playing and be immediately skipped. This produced a file that, while it had all the relevant ID3 tags and declared it’s length in full, only had a few seconds of audio. This is essentially unavoidable without completely reworking the system to capture only download URLs, not to simply redirect the http stream.

You can find Interceptor here. It contains a more detailed readme, TODO, and the code itself.

Extending Interceptor

The music delivery architecture Turntable.fm uses is pretty simple. Make HTTP requestion, receive music file. When I started looking around, I noticed this architecture in quite a few places. For instance, Soundcloud. Soundcloud serves their sound files on ak-media.soundcloud.com, and it was trivial to add another URL source to Interceptor, having already added the 2 Turntable.fm sources.

While Interceptor obtained all the files Soundcloud sent, I ran into a small problem. The files sent by Soundcloud didn’t have ID3 tags. Turntable thoughtfully includes ID3 tags in the majority of the songs they serve but Soundcloud did not. Files intercepted from Soundcloud are less useful, and can be hard to identify.

However, the principal remains sound (pun not intended). After a cursory inspection of Grooveshark and Pandora, I believe they may be susceptible. Spotify, on the other hand, probably isn’t. They use a more advanced P2P, probably binary protocol that Node would have a harder time intercepting and a harder time interpreting. It would lots more work, and might not be possible.

Problems Intercepting

My understanding of proxy etiquette is sparse, and there’s a good chance Interceptor doesn’t follow the rules. In fact, I know it doesn’t. Dropbox seems unable to sync properly when Interceptor is on and proxying, and there are occasional hiccups during normal browsing (weird things like websites failing to load and their URLs duplicating in the browser address bar.) A little help fixing those things from people who understand proxies better than I do would be nice.

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