Spotify and Apple Music certainly have a strong position in the streaming music market—they have collected around 30 million and 13 million paid subscribers respectively. Two key pillars of their play are a mobile-first approach (table-stakes these days) and what most would consider very reasonable pricing, at $10 per month for a standard single-user subscription with unlimited access. Today though, Amazon is looking to shake things up with the launch of Amazon Music Unlimited. The new service offers unlimited access to “tens of millions of songs,” a conversational voice interface that understands everything from artist names and song lyrics to what’s “new,” and an entry price of just $3.99.
The service is of course available through all devices—at which point the prices hover around its competitors, at $8 for Prime members and $10 for non-members—but the bassline of this strategy is all about home base and an interface that uses exceptional intelligence, rather than just smooth visuals, to enhance the experience.
It starts with Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap or Amazon Dot; once you have a physical speaker unit in your home, you have access to the full experience of Amazon Music Unlimited. Based on the Alexa AI platform, the service can easily receive voice commands to play songs by name or by artist—“Play the Adele album” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” There is also, of course, the now fairly standard preference and habit-based randomize and surprise option available—like Google Play’s “I’m feeling lucky radio,” or the classic concept behind Pandora.
But the system also builds on some of that deep learning stuff about which everyone is buzzing. Amazon Music Unlimited understands requests for music based on a mood or a favorite decade—“Play something emotional” or “Play 60s rock music.” There is even intelligence to help you identify and discover songs through lyric snippets—“Play that song where it goes, ‘Pleased to meet you, won’t you guess my name.’” It even has comprehension of recency and commercial properties—“Play the new single from Meghan Trainor” (don’t even pretend like that won’t be your first request).
The service also has offline options and offers annual payments at a discount—for instance, it is $79/yr for the all-device Prime-Members package, earning you just over 15% in savings. But for only an additional $3.99 per month, compounding the already helpful digital assistant features you get out of an Amazon Echo unit (you can just talk to the thing to order a pizza), the Amazon Music Unlimited entry package may not be a bad complement to an existing Spotify account. It may just be different enough to consider a brand transition or perhaps a new hardware purchase. Or it may not be.
“One of the things that’s been lost in the age of digital music has been music’s primacy in the home,” Steve Boom, Amazon VP of Digital Music told Wired. “Historically, the home market has been driven by smartphones…Music is finding its way back into the home…and voice is the interface for that environment…looking at how people were listening to music in the Alexa environment, it’s a different experience than doing it on their phone or on their laptop. You talk to her naturally, you talk as if you’d talk to a friend about music. It forces you to reimagine how people interact with a music service.”
At the very least, it will be fun to hear children using lyrics to find rap songs.
Ben is a Toronto-based writer and public speaker with more than a soft spot for 90s hip hop. He has spent over 10 years in business & tech, more than 20 in the arts, and an entire lifetime in a state of perpetual judgment (highly recommended). He is the author of the blogs This Is Your Brain on Dating and Love Gone Cray and can be found pontificating on Thought Catalog, Notable.ca, The Toronto Standard, Offline Magazine, Gasm.org and Huffington Post.
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