I spent about an hour handpicking songs for my first Amazon AMP radio show. The social-audio-but-with-music app offers the chance to play radio DJ with just a phone and your imagination. I was trying to pick a catchy name for my debut show – “The best House Classics” or something like that. Like all music boredoms, I was convinced that I was about to amaze people with my impeccable taste and hand-picked floor fillers. All you had to do was click the “Go Live” button. Once you tap it, the app will count you down 5…4…3…. I cleared my throat and then… silence.
AMP was initially reported as a clubhouse competitor of sorts, but that’s not really the best way to describe it. Yes, you can kind of use it as a live chat platform, but music is really the selling point here. When you create a “show”, you can add songs from the Amazon Music library and then stream them to your audience. In between, hosts do everything from chat about sports to comedy skits, have guests call or just let the music play. On paper, it’s the app I’ve been waiting for all my life, with its dual cassette deck and microphone. It’s just a shame that, right now in beta, no one is really listening.
I’ve spent the past two weeks exploring the app and hosting shows, and I barely reached four simultaneous listeners. Short. Usually I was lucky enough to have one or two people tuning in, but more often than not I was alone. And I certainly didn’t do a whole hour-long show talking to myself between 90s drum & bass tracks. Definitely not something that happened. Twice.
It’s hard to say if this is a true reflection of the interest in AMP as it’s in beta. It’s not hard to get in as long as you have access to the US App Store/have an iPhone. Technically, you also need an invite code, but since the official AMP Twitter account has one at the very top, the app is basically open to anyone who meets the first two criteria.
I speculated I’m at a disadvantage because I’m based in Europe, so my shows usually fall in the middle of the US workday. But I checked the app regularly, and even at typical American living and evening hours, other people’s shows rarely had more than 10 listeners, usually half that. But again, this is a beta, so no indication of too much. However, I bring it up now for the following reason: without a listener you can’t play songs and that’s a problem. Hence the silence at the beginning of my big debut show.
In fact, there are still a few limitations. Not only do you need at least one listener to play music, you can only play two songs from the same album or three songs from the same artist within a three-hour period. These rules make some sense to prevent misuse of the free app. But that is also a major problem during the beta phase. If I don’t have listeners, I can’t play a song… so I can only talk. But what’s the point of talking if no one is listening?
It certainly made for intimate moments. I was on a show from someone who had no listeners at the time. I could practically hear the host rushing excitedly to play a song now that they could. I then enjoyed a 1-on-1 human-curated show of hip-hop. Likewise for my own shows, there were definitely some weird moments where I realized I’m just playing songs for someone else. I ended up using a second account on a spare phone so I didn’t have to wait for someone to join (hence the DnB party) to fully test the service for this story. This should be less of an issue in the future, but it was frustrating in the beginning, sometimes waiting up to 30 minutes for a listener to join in so you could kick off a song.
Amazon also imposes other curious rules that seem a bit raunchy, if not difficult to enforce. For example, you can’t create a show that consists primarily of listener requests, you can’t announce playlists in advance, and you can’t announce a song right before it’s played. The difference between can and can It’s up to you.
Setting up a show is easy. Tap the top left button, add a title, pick some topics (tags), type a description, then add songs to a playlist or throw caution to the wind and go live, add songs later. I’d recommend working out a playlist as navigating the song menu screen isn’t very smooth at the moment. You can only enter general search terms – there is no filter by artist or song title or genre etc – so finding what you’re looking for can sometimes be a hit.
More importantly, the library does not appear to be fully populated at this point. AMP’s official help pages claim there are “tens of millions of songs”, but sometimes I couldn’t find what I was looking for. To be fair, this was mostly due to my weird taste in 90s dance music, but I found songs on decent labels that weren’t there.
For example, “gold dust” by DJ Fresh is definitely on Amazon Music, but was not available in AMP. This is a real crime, as anyone who knows that song will attest. I checked again over a week later and saw that a remix had been added since then, so it looks like the library is growing in real time. Even more surprising, another time I was looking for a song by Hot Chip and found that only half of their albums were listed.
A related issue is that you can’t preview songs before adding them to your playlist. In my case, a few times that meant I found a version of the song I wanted, but it wasn’t the version I expected when I played it, which made for a somewhat awkward record-scratching moment. If you’ve got better taste in music than I do, you’re probably fine, but if you were hoping to spin niche cuts or even some fairly well-known synth pop, you might want to rethink that plan for now.
I know AMP was designed to be a mobile experience, but I wish there were at least some tools to prepare your show on desktop first. I would often resort to searching for tunes on my PC and then just look up numbers on the phone while I was putting on the show. I also learned the hard way that if you schedule a show for the future and then sleep for the time it was set to, the show and any songs you added to it will disappear (I would have liked to have at least had the option to reschedule it!).
Related, you can’t add tracks to some sort of “record box” or bookmark them for later shows. I found myself coming up with great tunes for other shows but just had to keep a notebook for reference later. Likewise, once you’re done with a show, that’s it, poof… gone. There is no way for people to go back and listen again or scroll through your feed to see what you usually play, etc.
As it stands, the app also doesn’t provide a way to fade out or talk about a song while it’s playing. This may seem small, but it does mean that you either have to wait until the bitter end of a song before talking (and then “bed” without music) or cut off a song prematurely. I’ve heard people do both, but it would be nice to have a gentler way to transfer tracks.
Once your show is over, AMP will give you a small slideshow of statistics. As you can imagine this was a bit painful for me as it happily told me I had reached two listeners and liked one but this would definitely be cool once you have an audience.
Amazon has enlisted some popular creators to showcase the platform and give it some gravitas. These are instantly recognizable as these are the only shows a lot of people listen to. AMP promotes these accounts and they are on the website, but I do wonder where all those listeners go the rest of the time. The fact that you can’t currently click on the show’s listener count to see who’s tuning in means you can’t estimate potential listeners for your own show.
I am alive @OnAmp_ but there is no way to share the link etc so have fun with it!
— James Trew (@itstrew) Apr 15, 2022
In fact, the “social media” element of the app is possibly the most limited part right now. For starters, there is no way to share a link to your show. I know the app is in beta, but given how open it is, I would have thought link sharing is a basic enough thing to enable. AMP provides links to featured shows in its newsletters that you can fake to link to your own, but you’ll need to have the app installed for them to work, so that’s still less than ideal.
Discovery isn’t fully fleshed out at this point either. When you open the app, you’ll be presented with programs that are currently on the air as you swipe through them one at a time. Once you get to the end you’ll see what’s planned for the future, but right now there’s no real way to zoom in by genre or subject. You can search, but a host must have scheduled shows to appear in the results.
It’s also clear that Amazon is trying to encourage different voices to participate and host from the start. The company was explicit about that in the run-up to the launch and it seems to be working. The types of shows and the people behind them are all refreshingly varied and this in my opinion is important for AMP to find its way to stand out. The music aspect alone makes it different from rivals like Clubhouse, Greenroom and even Twitter Spaces. But the voices it amplifies will be the secret sauce.
This was really the most rewarding part for me. I thought it would be fun to host my own shows, and it was, but it was the exposure to other music that was most rewarding. I often joined shows without listeners to get them kicking off some tunes and found myself staying. Other times I thought I was going to dive into a show with a genre I don’t normally listen to and was more often than not surprised to find stuff I liked. Being a DJ is cool, but hearing new, hand-picked music is even cooler.
Rough edges aside, there’s a lot of promise here. Understandably, no one wants to listen to my favorite Happy Hardcore songs at 2pm on Wednesdays (which at least I could find on the app). But if, like me, you prefer the human touch to an algorithmic recommendation and the chance to explore new music worlds, then AMP makes a lot of sense. And of course, as with all such creator-based services as more people join in, the culture and taste of the platform starts to change organically (remember when TikTok was about people dancing to songs?). Once AMP is open to the public it will be interesting to see where it goes. For now, if you want to hear rando dance music, I will be here… waiting.
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