Friday, June 20, 2014

Another Nostalgia Machine: A Review of Prime Music

If you're an Amazon Prime user, you almost certainly heard this week that Prime is now offering a free(!) music streaming service to subscribers. No ads, no listening limits, just songs upon songs for your listening pleasure.

I've no doubt that this development was intended as a balm to soothe the deep, deep cut Amazon gave us when it announced a jump in Prime subscription price earlier this year.

For the record, I wasn't too incensed by the price increase, since they're right in saying that the amount of stuff available on Prime (with free two-day shipping) had exploded, and they added a streaming video service that's...pretty good. But coming out with yet another free thing you get with Prime a couple months later was a very good idea. Beyond inspiring renewed loyalty among Amazon customers, this will also probably help them (continue to) eat the lunch of competing services like Pandora One and Spotify Premium in addition now to Netflix and Hulu.

Fine, great, whatever. As Sean Connery once said "gussy it up however you want, Trebek, what matters is, does it work?" Is Prime Music actually any good? And because I know how much you've got going on, I decided to test drive it for you so you'll know what to expect. So here are my early observations.


-- Free! (with Prime) Even my the bite of my unwavering cynicism was momentarily blunted when I got the e-mail letting me know that for no extra dollars a month I could now listen to a whole buncha music, and even better, it's...

--Ad free! That's right, boys and girls. Listen all you want without having to suffer commercials for Audible dot com, Advance Auto Parts, Lyft, or any of the myriad dumb events geared towards young professionals in your city.

--Pick a song. Any song! Sometimes I want to set it and forget it, like with Pandora or Songza. But other times, I really want to hear some specific songs, without having to listen to a whole bunch that are "kinda like it" first.

--Web-based. The player is contained in a browser, so no need to download any kind of client, though you will need an app to use it on your phone or import your own music to THE CLOUD. Again though, it's free and easy to get. The browser player has a pretty clean, crisp interface, once you get to it (more on that in a minute.)

Look, there's a guy in a sheep mask! And Cee Lo! And a band made entirely of women! WOMEN.
My album collection so far. I'm VERY eclectic you guys. Look, there's a guy in a sheep mask!
And there's Cee Lo! And there's a band made ENTIRELY of women! Wow!

- Good mobile functionality: The app, once you have it, is nicely laid out and integrates your music library well with the Amazon store.

-Playlists! Create your own, or listen to any of the several prefab ones on offer. A good way to find some stuff you never knew you liked. Which is good, because...


-- Selection: Simply put, it's not great. The collection they currently have on there skews a little old- basically, anything that they probably can't make much money off of anymore. A little taste to entice you into buying the new stuff.

Want to download R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People (1992)? Great, you got it. For Emma, Forever Ago from Bon Iver in 2008...kinda. We'll give you the two biggest songs from that one. 2012's Imagine Dragons debut Night Visions? NOT A CHANCE. WE'VE STILL GOT SINGLES TO SELL.

Of course, if something's been done to death on the radio already, a la Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, that one song by Passenger, or the Lumineers, it's probably there.

The newest full album I've found in my highly scientific study is HAIM's Days are Gone from 2013. Yeah. Right? So, you'll probably be grateful for a playlist that could maybe bring up some stuff you didn't know about.

-- Getting there: Finding your music dashboard from the Amazon landing page is really awkward. I've played around with it a little bit, and by going what seems like the obvious way, you end up hitting like 6 pages. You've got to go to the Prime page, the Prime Music intro page, then view a particular artist or playlist before you can see what songs you've added.


Oh. Here we are.
Which is great the first time you use it, you won't have any music saved yet so it's good to have a look around first. I highly recommend bookmarking your library once you get there, it'll save you some aggravation later, which I think is a goal we can ALL support. 

-- The Prime Music homepage: Unlike the music dashboard, the homepage for the service itself feels busy and overstimulating. Your eyes are immediately drawn to that "Happy and Upbeat Playlists" image link displaying a woman who looks like she's in bad ads for Gucci sunglasses, Maybelline, Beats by Dre, and jewelry from Overstock dot com all rolled into one. Ugh. 

What. Where...?....???

So I think the pros outweigh the cons, but the cons are pretty significant. Overall, Prime Music is a reasonably well-functioning tool to feed your nostalgia, great for reminding you what your life sounded like back when you were a cool kid, it's just not very useful for helping you forge ahead and avoid being that guy who stopped listening to good new music like a decade ago.  It gives you great control over what you're listening to and when, but I'm hoping the options for what to listen to will be expanded soon. If you already have Prime, the music service is an attractive alternative to paying for the premium versions of other services, though Spotify definitely has the edge for recent stuff. It's a nice perk to go along with the subscription, but I doubt this will change anyone's life or convince people who don't already have Prime to get it.

Frankly, though, if you don't already see the benefit to free two-day shipping on everything from top hats to 6-pound bags of Sugar in the Raw, I don't really know what to do for you.

And there we are. Prime Music, reviewed. Maybe you found it helpful. Maybe you didn't. Maybe you thought it was the best piece of writing you've ever seen and want to tweet it to all your friends & coworkers and give me all the +1s.  Either way, thanks for reading.


I wanna take you to that place in the Roche...