There’s good news for Amazon Music in “The Infinite Dial 2018,” just released by Edison Research.
Monthly usage of the subscription service, flat a year ago, was up 6% to 9% in 2018. Those saying they used the service in the previous week were also up, 4% to 6%.
Amazon Music’s usage is a fraction of the listening to either Pandora (31% last month) or Spotify (20%), but it’s the biggest gain of any of the music services. Among 25-54-year-olds, Amazon Music is up 10%-13%.
The news is most dramatic among owners of smart speakers. Among all users, Amazon Music is the fifth audio brand used most often (8%), but among smart speaker owners, jumps to third place (15%) behind Pandora (34%) and Spotify (23%).
So what does Alexa’s in-house music service sound like? Here’s a recent listen to five of the service’s pre-programmed stations and playlists. I listened at the tier available to Amazon Prime users, not to the Amazon Music Unlimited service, although that’s the difference between a library of 2 miillion songs and tens of millions.
Even for Amazon Prime users, the channels were not just commercial free, but jockless and entirely unproduced. Both playlists and pre-programmed stations had the effective ability to not just skip songs but to fast forward or rewind by dragging and dropping the cursor within a song. Stations allowed you to thumb songs up-and-down; playlists did not.
Like Pandora’s All-‘80s station when last monitored, Amazon Music’s all-‘80s station was ultra-tight, at least in its first hour: not just songs you would hear on a major-market Classic Hits FM, but for most of the first 45 minutes, all songs that would likely be powers for those stations. The relative eccentricities come later in the hour. I went back to the station later and came across Stevie Wonder’s rarely heard “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” but that was unlike the rest of my experience.
- Michael Jackson, “Thriller”
- Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down A Dream”
- Bon Jovi, “You Give Love A Bad Name”
- Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
- Wham! “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
- Kenny Loggins, “Footloose”
- Phil Collins, “In The Air Tonight”
- John Mellencamp, “Jack And Diane”
- Outfield, “Your Love”
- Bruce Springsteen, “I’m On Fire”
- Tom Petty, “Free Fallin’”
- Foreigner, “I Want To Know What Love Is”
- Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science”
- Billy Joel, “Uptown Girl”
- Cure, “Pictures Of You”
- Romantics, “What I Like About You”
- Starship, “We Built This City”
50 Most Played Pop
My first intent was to listen to Amazon’s Top Pop station, but the first three songs I got were older titles, and I was looking for something more akin to Mainstream CHR. Even by going to the “50 Most Played Pop” playlist, what I got was heavily recurrent: CHR in texture, but Hot AC in timing.
- Imagine Dragons, “Believer”
- Ed Sheeran, “Perfect”
- Chainsmokers & Coldplay, “Something Just Like This”
- Demi Lovato, “Sorry Not Sorry”
- NF, “Let You Down”
- Halsey, “Bad At Love”
- Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
- Taylor Swift, “Look What You Made Me Do”
- Kesha, “Praying”
- Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back”
- Justin Timberlake, “Filthy”
- James Arthur, “Say You Won’t Let Go”
- Sir Roosevelt, “Something ‘Bout You”—the first jolt so far; Zac Brown’s “pop” side project
- Ed Sheeran, “Shape Of You”
Khalid, “Young Dumb & Broke”
- Calvin Harris f/Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean, “Feels”
- Logic f/Alessia Cara & Khalid, “1-800-273-8255”
The Yacht Rock station was interesting because there was more of an R&B component than most of the comparable playlists/channels I’ve heard elsewhere. (That makes sense, “Yacht Rock” is heavily comprised of music that also became part of the Smooth Jazz canon. So why play Christopher Cross and not George Benson or Earth, Wind & Fire?)
- Toto, “Africa”
- Steely Dan, “Black Cow”
- Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Sara Smile”
- Doobie Brothers, “Takin’ It To the Streets”
- Christopher Cross, “Sailing”
- Lionel Richie, “All Night Long (All Night)”
- Earth, Wind & Fire, “Reasons”
- Luther Vandross, “Never Too Much”
- George Benson, “This Masquerade”
- Michael McDonald, “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)”
- Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb, “Guilty”
- Boz Scaggs, “Lido Shuffle”
- Paul Davis, “Cool Night”
- Grover Washington, Jr., “Just the Two Of Us”
- Bertie Higgins, “Key Largo”
- Carly Simon, “You Belong To Me”
- Seals & Crofts, “We May Never Pass This Way Again”
- Chaka Khan, “Through The Fire”
The channel launched with the first true discovery of my listening, and an Amazon original. Top Country also featured Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” within its first few songs. Stapleton finally has an undeniable Country radio hit with “Broken Halos,” but “Whiskey” is an example of a song that looms larger in the public consciousness with streaming’s help, despite peaking at No. 57 on the Country Airplay Chart.
- Morgan Evans, “Truly Madly Deeply (Amazon Original)”—the Australian Country artist’s remake of countrymen Savage Garden
- Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
- Chris Stapleton, “Tennessee Whiskey”
- Garth Brooks, “Ask Me How I Know”
- Jon Pardi, “Dirt On My Boots”
- Eric Church, “Record Year”
- Brett Young, “In Case You Didn’t Know”
- Old Dominion, “Written In The Sand”
- Sam Hunt, “House Party”
- Kane Brown f/Lauren Alaina, “What If”
- Florida-Georgia Line, “H.O.L.Y.”
- Tim McGraw, “Humble And Kind”
- Luke Combs, “Hurricane”
- Walker Hayes, “You Broke Up With Me”
- Maren Morris, “My Church”
- Bebe Rexha f/Florida-Georgia Line, “Meant To Be”
- Thomas Rhett f/Maren Morris, “Craving You”
All anthems and, with the exception of the Wu Tang Clan song at the end, all songs that have become mainstays of Throwback Hip-Hop formats.
- Dr. Dre f/Snoop Dogg, “The Next Episode”
- 2pac, “Dear Mama”
- Salt-n-Pepa, “Shoop”
- Coolio f/L.V., “Gangsta’s Paradise”
- Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy”
- Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
- House of Pain, “Jump Around”
- Snoop Dogg, “Gin And Juice”
- Digital Underground, “The Humpty Dance”
- Warren G. & Nate Dogg, “Regulate”
- DMX, “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”
- Lil Troy, “Wanna Be A Baller”
- Cypress Hill, “Insane in the Brain”
- Naughty By Nature, “O.P.P.”
- Luniz, “I Got 5 On It”
- Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M.”
One other note. I took two shorter listens to the Classic R&B Station. The first time, it was very heavy on crossover megahits—“Brick House,” “Let’s Stay Together,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Respect.” But I inadvertently clicked the player off. When I came back, the mix was a little different: “A Change Is Gonna Come”; Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine”; Al Green’s “God Blessed Our Love” all in between the massive hits.
Since the first time this column compared Pandora to mainstream FM music radio nearly a decade ago, there’s been a thru-line. Often because of the rules governing programming of online music stations, audio channels are often more recurrent and gold-based than their broadcast counterparts, driven as much by the combination of megahits and the skip button (for those you truly can’t listen to again) than by music discovery.
Stories abound of songs with major streaming stories eons before radio acknowledges them. The tightening of almost every music radio format in recent years is often thought to be an almost existential response to the erosion of FM radio’s music discovery franchise—a figure not even included in The Infinite Dial this year. But maybe the issue is that with a significant amount of listening going to streaming services, there is effectively less exposure to new music, not more. The new music is there to be sought out, but what is the typical usage?
Alexa is mostly playing the hits. She’s playing them commercial free. And like Pandora on smartphones a decade ago, she has ease of use on her side for Amazon device owners. Broadcast stations are ramping up the promos that sometimes model a listening command for listeners, but usually encourage them to enable a skill, or even go to the station website to learn how to enable a skill. For subscribers, Amazon Music is the default unless a user sets another.
Broadcasters are correctly viewing smart speakers as an opportunity to reclaim listening at home, but that effort is still nascent. Amazon Music is already showing tangible results. It’s one more reason, as if one were needed, to address spotload and fix the streaming experience. And in these early days, asking for the order on smart speakers needs to be simplified and sold more often.