First there was the walkman, then the iPod, and, now, it’s Alexa. The Amazon assistant is transforming how people listen to music. So much so, that Billboard has ranked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Steve Boom, president of Amazon Music, 12th on its 2017 Power 100 list.
Amazon is a latecomer to the music industry — Apple has long held a monopoly on downloads and Spotify is the leader in streaming services — but the company already has an edge with its voice-powered assistant. Powered by machine learning, Alexa can offer what others can’t: the ability to discover music without ever looking at a screen.
Alexa is able to search both quicker and more in depth than a person typing on a computer. Because of that, it’s able to create complicated playlists in a matter of seconds.
Boom is so confident about ability of voice-activation technology to reshape the music industry that he thinks the industry is on the cusp of a “Golden Age.”
“When you have nothing to look at, it’s liberating,” Boom told Billboard. “You’re not constrained by the technology — you’re only constrained by your imagination, and when you talk to Alexa, you ask for music in ways that would be difficult to do in a visual app.”
That innovation has given Amazon a leg up in the music business. Its subscription-based streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited, launched last fall. Alone, it doesn’t offer much motivation for listeners to switch from their existing service, but that’s where Alexa comes in.
“If you’re asking people to pay for streaming music in a world where there are a lot of free alternatives, then you need to build a service that they want to use every day,” Boom said. “And that’s one of the beauties of this device.”
Both men are optimistic that Amazon Echo devices will be streaming music everywhere — Bezos has one in every room in his house, even the bathroom, and the company is working with automakers to bring Alexa to vehicles. But to them, innovation in the music industry doesn’t end with voice-activation technology.
It’s possible, even, that Amazon is already working on the next big thing. In the interview with Billboard, Bezos bragged about how Amazon had thousands of people working on Echo and Alexa for almost four years before anybody knew. He didn’t give any hints on what they’re working on now though.
“If there’s another gigantic step change out there, we don’t yet know what it is,” Bezos said. “But we’ll keep looking for it.”
It’s clear what Bezos isn’t working on though, and that’s a political career. The Amazon founder said he loves being an inventor and has no motivation to change his life by entering politics. Billboard’s interview took place on Inauguration Day, and the interview alluded to how Bezos felt that day.
And I have to ask — as we’re doing this interview, President Donald Trump is being inaugurated. How do you feel about that?
Bezos: Well, I’m, you know… (Looks down and is quiet for a moment.) I feel that this interview is about music.