The new, new thing: ambient social audio
SPECIAL REPORT: Amazon entered the social audio space with a new service called Amp. Here’s why Amp is better — way better! — than Clubhouse and Spaces.
I’ll just come out and say it: Amazon Amp is BY FAR the best social audio service.
Because it’s “ambient.” It’s designed to provide a soundtrack for your life, without all the scheduled, trade-show-conference intensity of Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces.
Amp is currently iOS and US only. (You can use the app globally, but need a US-based Amazon account.) Download the app here, log in with your Amazon password and use one of the social network invite codes, which are: INSTAGRAM, TWITTER and TIKTOK. Once you get into Amp, please find me: Just scroll through the scheduled shows until you find one that I have scheduled, then click on my face and tap on the “Follow” button.
Alright. Let’s back up. What is Amp?
Amp, which launched Tuesday, is a social audio service, but with one big difference: It centers around music.
Amp lets you be a DJ. You can select from any of tens of millions of songs available to use (but not download) for your shows. You build a playlist, then play that music for yourself and your audience — the Amp users who choose to listen. Between songs, you can talk. And, like a radio DJ, you can open it up for “callers.” They queue up, and you can choose whomever you like to talk. And you have a conversation.
Currently live shows are featured on the app, and as you scroll through them you eventually see the scheduled shows in order, with the soonest first.
The result of this format is a very relaxed, easygoing ambient kind of social audio experience.
Unlike Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces (which can become a kind of extrovert Hunger Games of microphone hogging and bloviating pontification, and where far too many conversations descend into boring chatter about crypto), Amp shows are great for everybody. Even the most extreme introverts can host shows without discomfort.
Every show is completely in the control of the person who started it. And so the conversations are going to be great.
Right now Amp is dominated by people playing music. It’s the first week, so there are hardly any users. But in the future, I think Amp will be amazing for radio-style “talk radio” and other kinds of personality-driven shows. In other words, for podcasting.
Amazon intends to kickstart Amp by promoting celebrities. Nicki Minaj's “Queen Radio,” formerly on Apple’s Beats 1, is coming to Amp. Other Amazon-sanctioned shows from Pusha T, Tinashe, Travis Barker, Lindsey Stirling and other stars.
What it’s like to host an Amp show
The Amp iPhone app has a big button in the upper left corner that says: + Create Show
When you click it, you’re taken to a “create show” page where you can add a show title, give show “details” and click on up to three canned topics, which are styles of music and categories of spoken content, such as “tech” or “travel” (two of my favorites).
You can either schedule for later, or click a button to “go live.”
But before your show begins, you can tap a “Playlist” button at the bottom right of the screen, where you can search for songs and artists from among tens of millions of individual song titles. They pretty much have everything. And then you build a playlist of songs, with no more than two songs from any specific album, but as many total songs as you like.
When you’re ready to go live, you just click the button. Even if you’ve scheduled a show for a particular time, you can go live early or late if you want to.
A countdown alerts you that you’re about to go live, then tells you you’re live.
You can either talk or click the “play” button on the first song in your playlist.
You can’t play the song until you have listeners. Which is awkward, because when that first listener joins, they’ll hear nothing until you hit play. And so right now launching a show is a process of going live, then sitting there in silence staring at the “people” button waiting for your first listener so you can hit the Play button.
But there’s a workaround. Use a second iOS device — either an iPad or an iPhone running the Amp app — and join your own show. Then you can play music and when the first actual person joins the music will be playing already.
When the music is playing, your phone’s microphone is turned off. If you don’t select additional songs, your mic automatically goes live when the song stops.
I’ve talked to people who have already forgotten that their mic was live, and so listeners could hear their personal conversations until they realized their error.
The show page has two buttons at the bottom — the “Playlist” button at the bottom right, which I mentioned, and a “Show” button at the bottom left. The “Show” button takes you to the Show page where you can mute and unmute your microphone, open the “phones” for callers and basically control the show. If you have more than one caller, they queue up in a callers page, and you can select them and invite them to talk. When they talk, your mic is still live and you can have a conversation.
Everybody on Amp is using the Clubhouse and Spaces etiquette of muting one’s microphone when you don’t intend to talk. Because everyone on the show can see whose mic is muted or not, unmuting a mic is a signal that you’d like to talk.
You can invite one person at a time to talk, or several. You can host a show with selected guests by simply inviting only the intended guests to talk.
Your shows can go on for hours and hours, and listeners can just have it playing in the background.
Let me be clear: This is ambient social audio for both hosts and listeners. You can host a show while you’re doing other things. Because until you choose to talk, your playlist is just playing music. You can host long shows WHILE YOU’RE WORKING.
Many podcast listeners — and this is something nobody really talks much about — just have their podcast playlists playing in the background all day. They pay attention when something grabs their attention or tune it out when it doesn’t. For many people, podcasting is ambient. And Amp is even more ambient.
Amp is similar to an ambient social audio service called Stationhead, which has more features (and already supports Android), but one that depends on Spotify or Apple Music. In other words, your playlists are from one of those other services, and the listeners can’t hear the music unless they, themselves, subscribe to those services. With Amp, just using the Amp app gives you and your listeners the ability to hear all the music. No third-party subscription required.
With the entry of Amp into this space, Stationhead is essentially toast.
The future of Amp
There is no monetization for Amp right now, and there probably won’t be for many months. Ads seem like a no-brainer. I also believe Amazon will be able to monetize music like streaming, paying labels for usage. I would also expect a paid subscription tier. Subscribers would be able to save songs to a playlist and listen to that music any time.
If Amp takes off, it’s going to be great for the music industry, because there will be thousands of super fans promoting their favorite music, and Amp will become a great way to discover music.
Amp is already better for music discovery than Spotify.
With Spotify, they present you with suggestions, but the suggestions tend to suck. They’re based too heavily on what you’ve listened to before. Spotify is a great service for listening to music you already know; it’s a lousy service for discovering new music. Amp is better for discovery, and if Amazon can combine Spotify-like playlist building while you’re using Amp, they could take on Spotify.
I also think Amp could become a podcast platform. You can already do a live “podcast” on Amp by simply talking and inviting “guests” to talk. You just can’t publish as a podcast. I imagine that Amazon could add an asynchronous mode to co-exist with the live option, enabling you to subscribe to shows and listen later.
But if you could, Amp could take on the podcast platforms like Spotify’s Anchor.
Amp is very bad news for Spotify, potentially.
And finally, right now it appears that Amazon is relying entirely on keyword matching to sort and filter and recommend. When you sign up, you tap on the “tech” and “travel” and “techno” and “classical” and “movies” buttons, and when someone starts a show with those same keywords, you get the recommendation. But Amazon is almost surely building an algorithm that will do much more sophisticated recommendation. And they’ll have to if they want to compete for attention with TikTok.
I think Amp is going to be huge. But even if it doesn’t blow up, Amp is already a super fun way to discover music and have conversations.
I think you should give it a try.