Amazon recently released a feature that allows you to ask Alex for music based on what you’re doing. Amazon even announced that it would be able to «play music for kids». Okay Amazon. Of course. But what else do you have? I decided to see what other activities Alexa could play music for.
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Alexa can already handle a lot of voice commands for music playback. She can find music by artist name, song title, playlist name, Pandora-style «stations», and activity-specific playlist curators. The point of all these commands is that you don’t have to learn proper syntax or tech-y commands. You just ask Alexa for some music and she gives you the music you want.
With that in mind, I set about testing some of the actions to see if Alexa could find something suitable. In some cases Alexa returned a playlist specifically designed for what I wanted to do, in other cases it tried to make an educated guess as to what kind of music I wanted and play a station that seemed close. I considered it a success if I got music that completely set me up for what I said I wanted to do, whether or not Amazon specifically intended to support the activity. With that in mind, let’s go through my now messed up Alexa voice history.
«Alexa, Play Music for Baby Birth»
Why not give Amazon a freebie and start with an activity that the company has clearly confirmed? I asked for music for kids and Amazon replied, «Here’s a playlist for kids making music: hot, sweaty summer nights.» Pump your brakes a little, Amazon. You can’t just dive in. You have to start slowly, build up to that. At least it gave me an example of how Amazon handles «supported activities». Alexa confirmed that this playlist was deliberately (presumably by a human) to accompany the physical act of love.
So what’s the first song on this playlist? Signs of the Times by Harry Styles. hrmm. I’ve never claimed to be the leading expert on the novel, but starting with a song that has the lyric «You look pretty good here, but you’re not very good» wasn’t exactly my idea to set the mood. However, if you don’t pay attention to the words, the music sounds pretty sweet.
Alexa did what I wanted? Yes, but with a few stars. Officially having a baby is a supported activity and I got a named playlist specifically designed to accompany this act. Amazon employees and I may have a different taste in baby food music.
«Alexa, listen to music for dungeons and dragons»
Okay, time to complicate things a bit. Dungeons & Dragons is always better with some music in the background. I thought Alexa could help me with my next campaign. I said, «Alexa, play music for D&D.» She replied, «Here’s a station you might like: Shawn Mendes.» So two things: First, we have now learned that when Alex doesn’t have a specific playlist for an activity, she will improvise with the radio station. Secondly, we learned that Alexa will create a terrible DM.
Maybe it’s my fault though. I tried a second time, stating it clearly. «Alexa, play music for Dungeons & Dragons.» This time we got something more suitable. She began playing the official Dungeons & Dragons role-playing soundtrack. It technically fits, but I’m worried she’s being too literal instead of thinking about my request. However, if I want to be picky about my campaign soundtrack, I should choose my own songs instead of complaining about my inefficient robot assistant.
Alexa did what I wanted? While not super creative, it is still a technical success. Until the crowds of Amazon engineers who no doubt also run D&D groups want to share their playlists with the rest of the world, I think that’s the best we can hope for.
«Alexa, music for the storming of the castle»
At the request of my colleague Justin, I asked Alexa if she could play music suitable for storming the castle. She only gave me a soundtrack good enough to pretend, that he was storming the castle, so I didn’t expect much. However, Alexa helpfully informed me that I could unlock Storming the Castle with Amazon Music Unlimited. Which, you know, makes sense. Funding a war is expensive, and you don’t want to storm a castle with nothing but a wheelbarrow, a cape, and your wits, do you?
Alexa did what I wanted? Not without an extra $7.99 per month on Amazon Prime. To be honest, I don’t need to spend extra money to get music, basic daily tasks.
«Alexa, Kung Fu Music»
I asked Alexa to «play music to practice kung fu moves.» She told me to stop being such a bore, but then she started playing music. First, she plays on the cover of «Kung Fu Fighting» by Cee Lo Green and Jack Black for the Kung Fu Panda movies. Okay, I’m a little impressed. However, as the playlist went on, it started playing bad covers of songs like Beat It and Eye of the Tiger. Out of curiosity, I checked the queue in the Alexa app.
What I found confused me. Alexa started playing an album called Kung Fu Kung Fu. The list said that most of these bad covers were made by a group called Panda. Although Panda is a real band, they didn’t write any of these songs. The album also included several tracks with kung fu sound effects, but these were closed behind a Music Unlimited subscription. The weirdest thing was that the album had several reviews recommending that I «WATCH THIS BAND LIVE ASAP». Man, you just didn’t live long enough to hear «Monkeys, Tigers, Birds, Lions (Battle Sounds)» live on stage. ,
Alexa did what I wanted? I asked for kung fu music and I got a spam, probably an illegal album with bad covers and stolen tracks filled with SEO Kung Fu Panda. But that first song was pretty good. D+.
«Alexa, play parting music»
Suspecting that my relationship might not last long if I kept asking Alexa to play music for ridiculous assignments while my friend was in the room, I decided to start and ask Alexa to part with the songs. She’s back with the radio station, implying that no one at Amazon created a split music playlist that looks like an oversight — 2000s pop music. The first track was Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira. Not exactly what I expect when I think about the sad parting of music.
I tried a second time to ask if I would get a different result. She started playing Shawn Mendes. What do you think, Alexa? Campaign D&D?
Alexa did what I wanted? No. She tried to make me listen to happy music instead of letting me be sad. Amazon should probably have Alex’s Inside Out watch.
«Alexa, listen to music to distract yourself from my existential fear»
If Alexa becomes a true personal assistant, she needs to solve unique human problems. It’s like lying awake at night, chasing away the flood of worries and fears about the nature of your existence in a cold, empty, carefree universe. Hey Alexa, is there any music to go with this?
Alexa misunderstood my request and said that she couldn’t find any «Backroom Card Game» songs from «my existential dreadlock». Hold the damn phone. The back room of card games?! Is there a black market where Yu-Gi-Oh players compete in illegal tournaments? And if so, Alexa, could you find me? Also, I am very disappointed that My Existential Dredd is not a real band. They will swing so much .
Alexa did what I wanted? Well, she didn’t play any music, but I walked away from her answer with a lot of questions that not let me sleep at night, so I’ll call it a win.
«Alexa, playing heavy metal music for relaxation»
Amazon boasts that Alexa can not only find music for certain activities, but you can also choose which genre you want, such as «connection jazz music.» So let’s see how creative she can get. I asked Alexa to play some heavy metal music for me to relax. You know if your relaxation idea includes less Mozart and more Mastodon.
To my surprise, Alexa with zero qualifications. The first thing was damage inside the car. While distinctly metallic, this track was so soothing that I could see it chilling in the chair. Many of the songs she played seemed like one or two minute tracks between other songs on the album, but they all fit together perfectly. They were naturally cold, though still distinctly metal.
Alexa did what I wanted? Yes. Surprisingly, Alexa curated a metal music station that was easy enough to take a nap with.
In my tests, I also tried a few common queries with mixed results:
Alexa was able to find music to read and write. She chose some classical music for reading, but some electronic music for writing. This is probably the most intuitive Alexa I’ve come across in my tests.
Asking Alexa to «play cooking music» didn’t work, but «play cooking music» didn’t work. I thought maybe she couldn’t handle the specifics, but when I asked her «breakfast music» she was ready with a playlist of «Easy in the Morning: Acoustic». So obviously Alexa is more of a morning person.
I asked Alexa to «play music for the games». She started a Video Game Music radio station, which is good for the nose, but it made me realize that every game I play has a soundtrack already adapted to the game. Maybe I should just use this.
Overall, the new activity feature is good, but it’s a bit of a hit or miss. However, this is just one arrow in Amazon’s quiver. If you’re looking for background music that suits everything you do, Alexa has something to match. Or she will play Shawn Mendes. I hope you like it.