Those figures are comparable to competitors like Spotify and Apple Music, but where Amazon is focusing its competition is on a pair of special offers, as well as the tight integration with its own hardware ecosystem.
The service is cheaper for those with an Amazon Prime subscription, the company’s all-you-can-eat free delivery package. The monthly cost drops by £2, to £7.99, and an annual payment plan is available for £79 a year, taking the equivalent monthly fee to £6.58.
That’s how Amazon is hoping to entice users to upgrade from its other free streaming service, Amazon Prime Music. That service comes free with Amazon Prime, and offers a much more limited catalogue of just 2m tracks (that figure has increased by 500,000 to coincide with the launch of Music Unlimited). Amazon’s head of Digital Music, Paul Firth, says that Prime Music is intended to be a gateway service for users who wouldn’t otherwise pay for a separate streaming service, with Music Unlimited the obvious next step.
But there’s an even cheaper option for some. Owners of Amazon’s Echo systems, the company’s range of smart speakers, can sign up for a heavily reduced subscription to Music Unlimited that only works with one Echo per subscription. The monthly fee is just £3.99, a cut that Amazon has reportedly arranged in conjunction with the publishers (as opposed to the discount for Prime members, which is apparently coming out of Amazon’s pocket).
That subscription, which can only be purchased with a voice command directly from an Echo, also enables Amazon to push its other killer app: a collection of smart voice controls that let users ask for music from the smart speakers without needing to think of a specific artist or song.
One set of controls lets users ask for music by a time period, genre or mood: “sad indie music from the 90s”, for instance, or “happy 80s pop music”. The idea, Firth says, is to let music fans skip the step of having to think of a specific band that meets their mood, and just describe their mood directly.
Tracks in the database have been tagged with up to 11 moods; each of the moods had 5,000 songs tagged manually, and then machine learning took over. The same tags can be applied on a narrower basis, letting users ask for “Oasis songs from before 1997” or “happy Radiohead songs”.
Another set of controls is based on an enormous lyrics database that Amazon has integrated with its streaming service. Users can ask for a song based on its lyrics (“Play the song that goes ‘Sasquatch, King Kong, Godzilla, Loch Ness’ [Monster by Kanye West, in case you are wondering]”), or tap on a particular line in the Amazon Music app to jump straight there.
Amazon is also attempting to take on Spotify in an area where the latter is already strong: personalised playlists and recommendations. Spotify’s Discover Weekly, Daily Mix and Release Radar functionality, which create personalised playlists based on the users’ previous activity, have been well-received by the userbase, but Amazon is hoping that its own success in shopping recommendations will transfer over.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th November 2016 09.44 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010