Amazon Music unveils hosted streaming radio service dubbed DJ Mode

Today, Amazon Music announced a new feature called DJ Mode, which it is hyping as a hybrid of streaming and DJ-hosted radio. Essentially, DJ Mode stations are hosted by artists, DJs, and other music industry figures. Hosts provide stories behind particular tracks, discuss the music scene of a particular genre, or simply try to entertain you as you listen.

The first DJ-hosted stations to go live are three of the app’s most popular — Rap Rotation (hosted by hip-hop personality DJ Letty), Country Heat (hosted by Nashville radio personality Kelly Sutton), and All Hits (hosted by Seattle radio host DJ Karen Wild).

smartphone showing amazon music Billie Eilish takeover station

As of now, the only artist-hosted station is the Billie Eilish Takeover station, on which the pop star shares some of the inspirations, influences, and stories behind her most popular tracks. Artists such as The Weeknd and Bruno Mars will chime in on other stations as well, discussing their process and sharing insights into their music, but on a more limited basis.

We took this feature for a spin, and although the idea is intriguing, it’s half-baked in a couple of different ways. First, let’s discuss the rollout and UI integration.

Amazon says you can access these stations using Alexa (e.g., “Alexa, play Rap Rotation in DJ Mode”), the all-new Car Mode, or the Amazon Music app for iOS, Android, and Fire TV. That sounds great. The problem is, at this juncture, you’re not likely to find these stations unless you already know what you’re looking for.

For instance, while the Billie Eilish Takeover station is promoted on the app’s homepage, nowhere is it mentioned that this station is part of the new DJ Mode, nor is there any explanation of what DJ Mode is. To top it off, there’s no dedicated tab that you can use to access the available DJ Mode stations.

For now, you’ll need to use the Find tab to search for them by name or the Stations filter to scroll through the available radio offerings. But even this is trickier than it should be. For instance, if you search “Rap Rotation,” in the Android app, the Top Results tab will display the Rap Rotation playlist, the Rap Rotation video playlist, and the standard Rap Rotation station — but you’ll need to scroll down to find Rap Rotation in DJ Mode. Searching “Rap Rotation DJ Mode” will get you where you need to be, but again, not if you don’t already know what you’re looking for.

The second problem with this feature is that — as of right now — it’s barely a feature at all. Let’s use the Rap Rotation station as an example. We listened to this station for about an hour and barely heard from our host, DJ Letty. Every few tracks she would chime in with a very quick cut, offering a tiny morsel of context about the song ahead, and then it was back to business as usual. The Billie Eilish takeover was a bit more interesting, with some (slightly) longer cuts and more substantial stories between tracks, but once again we found ourselves forgetting about the presence of our host.

In sum, Amazon may be on to something here, but it needs to commit to this feature if it’s going to promote it as a differentiator in the competitive music streaming landscape. For now, we’re more excited about its decision to upgrade all of its Amazon Unlimited subscribers to Amazon Music HD, but we are interested to see how DJ Mode develops in the weeks and months ahead.

DJ Mode is available today for U.S.-based users with an Amazon Music Unlimited or Amazon Music HD subscription.

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