Publication Date: 10/12/16 – Today Amazon finally announced its long-rumored subscription streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited, and is promoting it with particular emphasis on Alexa voice commands you can use with it. So with Amazon Music Unlimited + Alexa, what do you stand to get?
Amazon Music vs. Amazon Prime Music vs. Amazon Music Unlimited
Let’s start at the beginning. To date, Amazon has offered three different music catalogs to its customers.
Note to Amazon UK customers: in its statements to the press Amazon has said launch of Amazon Music Unlimited in the UK is planned for later this year.
Amazon Music is the entire digital music “department” on the Amazon site: every digital track and album you can currently buy or get for free from Amazon. Once you’ve bought a given track or album or gotten it for free, it’s added to your personal Amazon Music Library (accessed via Your Account > Your Music Library on the Amazon site, or via the free Amazon Music mobile app) and remains accessible for you to stream or download indefinitely. Some of Amazon Music’s content—but not all—is included in Amazon Prime Music. Some of its content—but not all—is included in Amazon Music Unlimited.
Amazon Prime Music is a special subset of Amazon Music that’s offered to Amazon Prime members to stream or download for free as a benefit of Prime membership, so long as the track or album is included in the Prime Music Catalog. Like the catalogs of all music streaming services, the Prime Music catalog is subject to change according to licensing agreements between Amazon and the music providers. This means there is no guarantee that music currently included in Prime Music will always be included in Prime Music. New content is added regularly, and existing content is cycled out regularly as well.
Amazon Music Unlimited (AMU) is a special subset of Amazon Music that’s offered for AMU subscribers to stream or download as a benefit of Music Unlimited subscription. Just like Prime Music, the AMU catalog is subject to change according to licensing agreements between Amazon and the music providers. It appears that all of the Prime Music catalog is included in the AMU catalog, but the AMU catalog offers considerably more content. In addition to the tracks themselves there are AMU-exclusive playlists and according to a report on Ars Technica, AMU also offers a special “Side by Side” feature where the artists offer commentary on some tracks.
If You Already Have Prime Music, What Does AMU Add?
While Amazon’s not providing any kind of handy comparison chart, I’ve done some testing and it appears to me there are three added benefits with AMU: larger music catalog, AMU-exclusive playlists, and the Side-by-Side commentary feature. At first I thought the Alexa commands being touted in the AMU promotional materials would be exclusive to AMU, but every one of them** already works with Alexa and Prime Music even though I haven’t signed up for AMU—not even on a trial basis.
New Alexa Voice Commands Work With Prime Music, Too
You can already ask, “Alexa, play the song that goes [insert lyric fragment here],” or, “Alexa, play the song with the lyrics [insert lyric fragment here],” and so long as the song is included in Prime Music she will find the song and play it. You can also ask things like, “Alexa, play the most popular rock of the 90s,” or “Alexa, play the most popular pop of the 80s,” and again, she will curate a playlist matching that description from Prime Music. Try any of these types of voice commands being promoted in the new AMU videos and descriptions, and you’ll find they also work with Prime Music.
Note that I’ve specified Prime Music: these snazzy new voice command and search capabilities do not extend to your personal Amazon Music Library***. I tested this with searching by lyrics for, “ground control to Major Tom,” from David Bowie’s A Space Oddity and, “do you dream in color,” from Bill Nelson’s Do You Dream in Color. Both of these songs are in my personal Amazon Music Library but are not currently part of the Prime catalog. Alexa found the closest matches that are in the Prime catalog, but neither was the song I was looking for. However, a lyric search on music that is in the Prime catalog works perfectly.
***10/13/16 UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: By “personal” Amazon Music Library, I’m talking about previously owned digital music that has been uploaded to Amazon Music Library. Digital tracks purchased from Amazon are also included in each person’s Amazon Music Library and I’ve tested to verify the search-by-lyrics function does work on tracks purchased from Amazon. Since the great majority of my own Amazon Music Library is personal, meaning stuff I already owned and uploaded, search by lyrics still won’t work for most of my music library.
Asking Alexa to, “play the latest track from [artist],” will be subject to the same limitations. Bruno Mars’ latest track is 24K Magic; the track is included in the AMU catalog but not the Prime catalog. If you don’t have AMU and request the latest track from Bruno Mars, what you’ll get is the most recent track of his that’s included in the Prime catalog.
**Caveat: obviously, I can’t get Alexa to play AMU-exclusive playlists if I’m not an AMU subscriber
Conclusion: Worth the Spend?
At $9.99 per month this service is competitive with rivals like Spotify. At $7.99 for Prime members it undercuts competitor prices, but Prime members already get quite a lot with Prime music.
I’ve never jumped on the streaming train and have always preferred to buy the music I love and intend to keep, so I may not be the best person to advise anyone on this. Call me old fashioned, but I could never get behind the grab-bag approach of streaming services: you never really know what tracks and albums are (or aren’t) there until you try to find them, and the catalog is always subject to change. Even so, if the new search and curated playlist capabilities were extended to include my personal Amazon Music Library, I might be nudged into subscribing.
If you’re a big fan of streaming and want the maximum music catalog available to you, then it’s probably worth it to at least sign up for the free, 30-day AMU trial. Give it a whirl, see what you think.
$3.99 Plan Gotcha
It’s important to know that the $3.99 per month AMU plan only allows for AMU streaming and features on ONE Alexa-enabled device. If you want all your Alexa-enabled devices to have AMU access you’ll have to go for the higher-priced subscription option ($7.99/mo for Prime members, $9.99/mo for non-Prime). If you do go for the higher priced plan you will also have AMU access on all your mobile devices.
Does This Mean Prime Music Is Going Away?
I know many are already wondering if Prime Music may be cut back or eliminated entirely at some point in the future now that there’s AMU. I have no special insider knowledge on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised—or angry about it—if it happens. Prime benefits are always subject to change and so far, that’s only meant they keep expanding and getting better.
In fairness though, I’ve already admitted I’m not a big Prime Music user so it may have a bigger impact on others if it does happen.