NEW YORK—“Alexa, take on Spotify and Apple Music.”
That’s not something you’d likely bark into your Amazon Echo speaker, of course. But Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Music Unlimited, an on-demand, aggressively-priced streaming service powered by the Alexa voice familiar to Echo owners. It's one that's primed to muscle in on an already congested streaming market for music.
It also shows off Alexa's artificial intelligence smarts, such as the ability to find a song with limited information, a feet Google's Assistant showed off last week.
Amazon Music Unlimited debuts with a catalog of “tens of millions” of songs—Amazon won’t reveal a precise number—as well as curated playlists and personalized stations. That promises to makes it more of a viable competitor against Apple Music, Spotify and any number of other streaming services than the company’s existing Amazon Prime Music service, which has a far more limited catalog of some two million songs and will remain available at no extra cost to Amazon Prime members. All too often when you request a song on Echo, Prime Music only plays a sample.
In addressing the competition, Amazon Music vice president Steve Boom says, “We’ve earned our seat at the table. We’re one of the biggest music services in the world, period.”
As it happens, the leading player, Spotify, will still be available to subscribers on Echo. Same goes for Pandora.
One Echo, $4 a month
Members of Prime (who pay $99 annually for such benefits as free second shipping on select products you buy from Amazon as well as free streaming of certain movies and TV shows), can subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for $7.99 a month or $79 a year, which works out to $6.58 a month. Non-Prime members pay $9.99 monthly. There’s a 30-day free trial.
Music Unlimited subscriptions let you play music across any number of devices you own—Amazon’s own wares (Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Fire devices) as well as PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices and Sonos.
If you only want to listen to songs on a single Echo (or single Dot or Tap), you can get Music Unlimited for just $3.99 a month. That's much cheaper than rivals.
As part of the offering, Amazon has a redesigned Music app with album art, customized recommendations, and scrolling lyrics. While you can play songs through Music Unlimited on a computer or phone, you won’t be able to use Alexa to request those songs; Amazon’s digital voice is confined to Echo, Fire and other devices where it already has a presence.
Meanwhile, a $14.99 a month or $149 a year family plan (for up to six) is coming later in the year.
Aside from aggressive pricing, Amazon is banking on the simplicity that comes via voice to differentiate itself. You can engage Alexa in a conversational way, which promises to be especially useful if you can’t remember the name of a song or only remember some of the lyrics. You might ask, “Alexa, play Green Day's’ new song” and have it play Bang Bang, an example demonstrated to me. Or, “Alexa, play the song that goes, ‘We ain’t ever getting older.’” Alexa will play, Closer by The Chainsmokers.
You can also use your voice to request songs by mood (“play sad songs”) or era (“play the top hits of 1977.”)
Amazon says it’ll get all the new releases when other services get them, and will have all the same material (presuming no exclusives.)
The Chainsmokers, Jason Aldean, Lindsey Stirling, Sting, Norah Jones, One Republic, Kongos and other artists will lend commentary to certain tunes, through a playback feature Amazon calls Side-by-Side.
And during a demo of another feature called “Song of the Day” a DJ explained why it was playing the song I heard that particular day, Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. It happened to be the classic’s 50th anniversary.
Amazon Music Unlimited arrives ahead of the upcoming Echo-rival Google Home device from Google that will leverage Google Assistant and music from YouTube and elsewhere.
In the near future, I’m looking forward to a song-off comparing Alexa-driven Amazon Music Unlimited requests on Echo versus much the same via the Google Assistant and Home.