Amazon AMP preview: Like the app, my radio show needs a little work

Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself.

James Trew / Engadget

I spent about an hour hand-picking 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 tried to pick a catchy name for my debut broadcast – “The best House Classics” or something like that. Like all music bores, I was confident I was about to blow some minds with my impeccable taste and hand-picked floor fillers. All that was left to do was click the “Go Live” button. Once you tap it, the app counts you down 5…4…3… . I cleared my throat and then… silence.

AMP was initially reported as something of a Clubhouse competitor, but that’s not really the best way to describe it. Yes, you can sorta-kinda 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 Amazon Music’s library and then stream them to your audience. In between hosts are doing anything from chatting about sports, to comedy skits, having guests call in or just letting the music play. On paper, it’s the app teenage me, with his dual cassette deck and microphone, had been waiting for all his life. It’s just a shame that, right now in its beta form, no one’s really listening.

I’ve spent the last week or two exploring the app and hosting shows and I barely peaked at four simultaneous listeners. Briefly. Usually I was lucky to get one or two people tuning in, but more often than not I was alone. And I definitely didn’t do a whole hour-long show talking to myself in between ‘90s drum & bass tracks. Definitely not a thing that happened. Twice.

Three screenshots showing different users profiles for users of Amazon AMP.

It’s hard to tell if this is a true reflection of the interest in AMP, given it’s in beta. It's not difficult 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 given that the official AMP Twitter account has one right up top, the app is basically open to everyone who meets the first two criteria.

I speculated I am at a disadvantage being located in Europe, so my shows tend to fall in the middle of the American work day. But I checked the app regularly and even at typical US commute and evening times other people’s shows rarely had more than 10 listeners, usually half that. But again, this is a beta so not an indication of too much. I bring it up now though for the following reason: without a listener, you cannot play songs and that presents a problem. Hence the silence at the start of my big debut show.

In fact, there are a few more restrictions. Not only must you have 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 the free app being abused. But also that presents a big problem during the beta stage. If I have no listeners, I can’t play a song… so I can only talk. But what is the point of talking if no one is listening?

It certainly made for some intimate moments. I joined someone’s show when they currently had no listeners. I could practically hear the host excitedly rushing 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 when I realized it’s just me playing songs for someone else. I ended up using a second account on a spare phone so I wouldn’t have to wait for someone to join (hence the DnB party for one) to fully test the service for this story. This should be less of a problem in the future, but it was frustrating at the start, waiting up to 30 minutes sometimes for a listener to join so you could kick a song off.

Amazon also imposes other curious rules that seem a little ornery if not hard to enforce. For example, you may not make a show consisting mostly of listener requests, you may not announce playlists ahead of time and you may not announce a song until just before it is being played. The difference between can and may I’ll leave up to you.

Setting up a show is straightforward. Tap the button top left, add a title, choose some topics (tags), type a description and then either add songs to a playlist or just throw caution to the wind and go live, adding songs later. I’d recommend having a playlist fleshed out because navigating the song menu screen isn’t very slick right now. You can only enter global search terms – there’s no filter by artist or song title or genre etc. – so finding what you want can sometimes be hit and miss.

More importantly, the library doesn’t seem to be fully fleshed out right now. AMP’s official help pages claim there are “tens of millions of songs” but I sometimes couldn’t find what I was looking for. To be fair, this was usually down to my weird taste in niche ‘90s dance music but I did find songs on decent-size labels that were absent.

For example, “Gold Dust” by DJ Fresh is on Amazon Music for sure, but it wasn’t available in AMP. This is a real crime as anyone who knows that track will attest. I did check again over a week later and saw that a remix had since been added, so it seems the library is growing in real time. More surprisingly, another time I looked for a track by Hot Chip and noticed only half of their albums were listed.

A related issue is that you can’t preview tracks before adding them to your playlist. In my case, that meant a few occasions where I had found a version of the song I wanted, but golly was it not the one I was expecting when I played it, making for a slightly awkward record scratch moment. If you have better taste in music than I, you’re probably fine, but if you were hoping to spin niche cuts or even some fairly well known synthpop you might want to revise that plan for now.

I know AMP is designed to be a mobile-first experience, but I do wish there were at least some tools to prep your show on desktop first. I often resorted to finding tunes on my PC and then just looking up tracks on the phone while setting up the show. I also learned the hard way that if you schedule a show for the future and then sleep through the time it was set for, the show and all the tracks you added to it disappears (I’d at least have liked the option to reschedule it!).

Relatedly, you can’t add tracks to some sort of “record box” or bookmark them for later shows. I found myself thinking of great tunes for other shows but had to just keep a notepad going for later reference. Likewise, once you finish a show, that’s it, poof… gone. There’s no way for people to go back and listen again or scroll through your feed to see what you tend to play etc.

Screenshots from the AMP app showing how many listeners and likes a show received.

In its current state, the app also doesn’t offer any way to fade out a song or speak over it while it’s playing. This seems minor, but it does mean you either have to wait until the bitter end of a song before you talk (and then with no music “bed”) or cut a track off prematurely. I heard people doing both but it would be nice to have a more gentle way to transition tracks.

Once your show is over, AMP will give you a little slide show of stats. As you can imagine, this was a bit painful for me as it gleefully told me I peaked at two listeners and had one like, 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 identifiable as they will be the only shows with a bunch of people listening. AMP promotes these accounts and they are featured on the website, but I do wonder where all these listeners go the rest of the time. The fact you can’t currently click on the show's listener count to see who’s tuning in means you can’t size up potential listeners for your own show.

In fact, the “social media” element of the app is possibly the most limited part right now. For starters there’s no way to share a link to your show. I know the app is in beta, but given how open that is, I would have thought sharing links is a basic enough thing to enable. AMP offers links to recommended shows in its newsletters which you can adulterate to link to your own but you need the app installed for them to work so that’s still less than ideal.

Discovery is also not fully fleshed out at this point. When you open the app you’ll be presented with shows currently on air as you swipe through one by one. Then once you reach the end you’ll see what’s scheduled for the future, but right now there’s no real way to drill down by genre or topic. You can search, but a host needs to have scheduled shows for them to turn up in results.

It’s also clear that, right from the start, Amazon is trying to encourage diverse voices to join and host. The company was explicit about that in the run up to its launch, and it seems to be working. The types of show and the people behind them have all been refreshingly varied and this I feel is important to AMP finding 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 for me was really the most rewarding part. I thought hosting my own shows would be fun, and it was, but it was the exposure to other music that was the most rewarding. I often joined shows with no listeners to allow them to kick off some tunes and then found myself staying. Other times I figured I’d dip into a show with a genre I don’t normally listen to and was more often than not surprised to find things 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. It’s understandable that no one wants to listen to my favorite Happy Hardcore songs (the ones I could find on the app at least) at 2pm on a Wednesday. But if, like me, you kinda prefer the human touch over an algorithmic recommendation and the chance to stumble into new worlds of music then AMP makes a lot of sense. And of course, as with all such creator-based services as more people join, the culture and flavor of the platform starts to change organically (remember when TikTok was about people dancing to songs?). Once AMP is open to the public proper, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes. For now, if you want to hear rando dance music, I’ll be here… waiting.