Feature Friday: Voice Interface For Music

We finally got an Amazon Echo in our home a few weeks ago. We have had one at USV for quite some time and have had fun hacking around on it. But I really wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen when we got one at home.

We have Sonos in our homes. I often joke that I have more Sonos devices than any other person. It may be true.

But since we’ve been able to just call out the music we want to listen to and get it, I have been using the Amazon Echo a lot more and the Sonos a lot less. And we only have Echo in one room whereas we have Sonos throughout our house, connected up through in wall/ceiling speakers. I wrote that convenience trumps quality many years ago, and I am reminded again how true that is.

The other night we were at the dinner table in the kitchen hanging out and chatting after dinner and there was no music on in the kitchen where we have Sonos. I desperately wanted to call out some music but obviously could not. I could have gotten up and gotten my phone and put some music on via the Sonos app. But I didn’t. That got my attention.

We’ve already had this on our phones (Google Now and Siri) but there is something about having this on your home audio system that is really sweet. I suspect many of us will be calling the music we want to hear using voice commands in the coming years.

If you haven’t seen the Amazon Echo playing music, here’s a short video of made of the experience just now.

#Music#voice interfaces

Comments (Archived):

  1. aweissman

    Fred you should know that as I played that video, the Alexa in our kitchen starting playing the music you requested. Feature, or bug? 😉

    1. JimHirshfield


      1. LE

        Good for someone’s screenplay.

    2. JimHirshfield

      Upcoming USV investment: a network of connected Alexas.

      1. Ana Milicevic

        That’d be cool. I want to be able to tell my Alexa to play music on someone else’s. “Hey Alexa – queue Turtles All the Way Down for Jim”. Fun – at least for the first few days.

        1. JimHirshfield


    3. Ana Milicevic

      Alexa – play the Downeaster AlexaAnd loop.

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    4. fredwilson

      Oh hell yes. That is awesome

    5. Mark Essel

      hehehe. kinda creepy cool, people talking to machines, playing videos, talking to machines. The audio/talk interface just works.

    6. ShanaC


    7. Chloe Alpert

      That needs to be sorted for future of voice payments.

  2. LIAD

    1. Alexa hurry the F up! Way too much lag between recognising the command and the music starting.2. Voice activated ambient devices powered by cloud AI trends to hardware conmodotisation and design becoming increasingly irrelevant.Winner best AI and largest data set. Hello Google. Loser premium hardware brand. Goodbye Apple.

    1. kirklove

      Fred’s vid is odd and not common. Our Alexa is near instant. To me that’s the huge draw. Even over voice, is the speed of response.

      1. Pointsandfigures

        Probably Alexa didn’t like his choices

    2. SubstrateUndertow

      Too early to dismiss the importance of good localized hardware !If it gets too cloudy out there it just might start raining on our privacy/autonomy parade just as we begin to viscerally appreciate the mounting long time implications.Talk to the wrist it delivers everywhere-convenience that auto-geofences everything me, with bio-metric lockdown, smart sensing and local AI that defends my algorithmic personal-cloud priorities/autonomy.There is a crucial tipping point between collective AI/Datasets and the as-of-yet poorly defined/appreciated private AI/Datasets which facilitate my orchestrating them as a bio-extention of my personal/visceral autonomy/control/security.We are the Borg, and we, and only we, shall decide on how to assimilate ourselves into the collective/individual AI tipping point :-)Remember millions of years of biological evolution has decidedly prioritizes distributively-redundant autonomously-localized wetware.I’m not so sure that Apple is as blind as many imply. It seems more likely that they are very consciously placing their bet on an integrated tipping point between cloud and local hardware ?

  3. JimHirshfield

    Can you rename it? I want to call mine HAL

    1. Ana Milicevic

      I’m sorry Jim, I’m afraid you can’t do that.;)

      1. JimHirshfield


  4. JimHirshfield

    It’s all computers. Why can’t Alexa interface with Sonos?

  5. Steve Poland

    I have 4 Sonos devices in the house. I figured these will work for 10-15 years, which is awfully ambitious for an early adopter like me, but nonetheless that’s how I felt a couple years ago.I don’t use Sonos nearly as much as I should. As you said, convenience. Unlocking phone, firing up Sonos app, … It’s like 15 seconds it feels like. Same for my Spotify app in my car, which is frustratingly slow to fire up. Same for my record player that’s purposely in my dining room thinking I’d use it more, but the mental fatigue kicks in and I don’t use it nearly enough as I’d like. (I do have twin two year olds that run and jump all over my house, so I really don’t want to play it when they are awake due to scratching/jumping).I don’t have the Echo yet, but I already know I’ll be addicted to the convenience of telling it to play music. Ditto if it were in my car.

    1. JimHirshfield

      You could just sing. Zero latency.

  6. Ana Milicevic

    Interesting how something relatively new and not clearly fitting into any existing category (like the Echo) can become almost indispensable overnight = namely, you now want to interact with other devices the way you’re able to interact with it all in a matter of weeks. The iPad did that for magazines and screens alike and the iPhone for phones. Suspect we’ll see many rapid shifts of this kind in favor of convenience over the next few years.

  7. RichardF

    I use Google Voice with google Play Music to do a similar thing, it’s incredibly accurate and fast. I wish Google would hurry up and release Google Home.

  8. awaldstein

    Convenience is everything.Sitting working, samthecat on my lap and this post makes me want to listen right now to Arthur Lee’s first Love album.Wish just wanting was the same as listening to it.

    1. Ana Milicevic

      You can almost hear it in your head! 🙂

      1. awaldstein

        I can!–as I saw them perform live way back when in West Hollywood.

  9. kirklove

    Integration with Sonos is the one feature I really pine for with Alexa.We have a DOT (not even the tall one) and we default to that sometimes over the sonos, because it’s so easy. Curious why your vid felt long. Alexa is near instant in our house.Related:Voice feels right at home. In public though you still feel like an idiot.Interesting dynamic there.

    1. fredwilson

      we don’t have any music services set up on ours. it’s all Prime and I’m not a subscriber to their service. might be because of that

    2. LE

      In public though you still feel like an idiot.Reminds me of when bluetooth earpieces for cell phones came out or for that matter phone integration in cars. When you would talk it (with nobody around) felt weird. But after a bit (and with more adoption) it no longer felt strange, right?

  10. jason wright

    and what if the Alexa of the future will not stop?my enjoyment of music is at its peak when the experience of listening is serendipitous and not chosen. i don’t know why that is, but it is.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      It’s more of a surprise for your brain and, thus, more entertaining.

      1. jason wright

        probably that’s it. i would want Alexa to have a ‘surprise’ mode.

  11. aharris

    My understanding is that Sonos re-org’d recently and is working on voice command.

  12. Ron Zember

    Try asking Alexa who she’s voting for 🙂

    1. Pointsandfigures

      She is programmed to say “Jeff Bezos Buy stock in Amazon”

    2. Donna Brewington White

      The programmers obviously have a sense of humor.

  13. Gotham Gal

    Andy…I just had the same experience. Bug..

    1. fredwilson

      i sent andy’s comment to Jess and suggested an art project based on that “bug”

    2. falicon

      Currently you can pick between calling it “Amazon” or “Alexa”…if you are anywhere near a T.V., you will need to call it “Alexa” because commercials, movies, and tv shows actually say the word “Amazon” quite a bit (compared to Alexa).Eventually they’ll have to release the feature to call it whatever you want (not sure why they didn’t do that in the initial versions, but it’s pretty much everyones 1st question/request)…once they do that, it won’t be as big of a problem.BTW – anyone with (youngish) kids and an echo prob. experiences a lot of shouting the first few days the echo comes home (they love to yell over each other trying to get it to do their command over the others). In my experience, most moms seem to get quickly annoyed with it.

      1. markslater

        We have a major problem. Its teaching my 6 and 4 year old to shout orders…..and then get annoyed when it does not work.This is a major UX problem for the kids….Alot of the parents at school talk about not wanting their kids to be order screaming monkeys….

        1. falicon

          +100 – the price of growing up with v1 technology I guess. 🙂

        2. Pointsandfigures

          This is a point I might have never considered. It’s far different behavior than the technology that changed me from being the channel changer on a television.

          1. markslater

            Yes – we are creating a “master-slave” persona here that alot of parents are having an allergic reaction to.

          2. LE

            Maybe all commands should end with “please”.

          3. PhilipSugar

            This is a really good point. I am sure every generation has said “this new technology is changing my kids for the worse”This has been the fastest change in technology we’ve seen, so it is especially scary.I mean think of this. I can be on a plane to Singapore texting my kids and when I land I have phone and high speed internet.

          4. Susan Rubinsky

            Good parenting is good parenting, despite whatever technology exists. Teaching etiquette and what is appropriate in different settings is key and good parents teach that. Teaching respect and discipline is key and good parents teach that. What the current technology is does not change that.My Grandma nailed it when she told me (I’m papaphrasing), “Young people think they are experiencing the greatest advances of all time but imagine growing up like I did. No one had cars when I was a kid. A lot of people had horses and carriages. In my lifetime we put electricity, telephones, radio and tv in our houses.” She lived through all that yet still managed being polite, dress appropriately for the occasion, and act with respect toward others.

          5. PhilipSugar

            Agree with your parenting commentAgree that my 99 year old grandmother has seen the most changeBut I think when it comes to computing technology which is what we are discussing the fastest rate is right nowYou can say technology doesn’t make a difference but it does. Not that you can’t raise good kids but you have to take it into account for instance I don’t allow phones at the tableMark makes a really good point for parents about the device

          6. Donna Brewington White

            Yes, Susan. YesThese devices bring out what’s there. After being introduced to Alexa and learning that it would answer questions, my 4 y.o. quasi-goddaughter ended her exchange with Alexa by saying “I love you.”I wish her parents had raised my kids.

          7. Susan Rubinsky

            I love the “I love you”!!!

        3. K_Berger

          Need a setting to require the word please in all requests. Then you need the setting where you must say thank you after it happens.

          1. ShanaC

            actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Also having the UI talk sass back if you don’t

        4. ShanaC


      2. Donna Brewington White

        Youngish kids in the house?15 y.o. son, 40-something husband, same.

        1. falicon

          😉 Men remain kids at heart for life…

    3. ShanaC

      I’m being really entertained by thisBut I am also in no way surprised.In the early days of speakers, if you heard you name called from one, semi-indistinctly, wouldn’t you turn your head?

  14. sigmaalgebra

    Sorry. For selecting music, I prefer a text interface. There are some great tools for handling text; the tools for handling voice are much worse and nearly always a pain. Text remains a darned effective way of handling information.Yes, at times, text doesn’t work, and, indeed, my startup is for some of those times, but, still, when text can work well, typically it’s the much better way.

  15. creative group

    FRED:Listening tastes are eclectic. HOV to Dillon to funk. Geek and Kool.MS (Don’t know the name but Cortana is integrated) Apple (Don’t know the name but Siri is integrated) Google Home (Is far Superior in features and integration ) (Fred will be switching just like the phones)

  16. Joe Lazarus

    The lack of native integration with Sonos is what’s been holding me back from getting an Echo. Hopefully Sonos will integrate with Amazon’s SDK for devices.Incidentally, it’s interesting how the strategies differ between the big tech companies with regards to voice. Apple is working with external developers, but wants to own the device. Google has a fairly open approach on the hardware side through Android, but seems to think they can solve most of the software. Amazon is the only true platform, offering SDKs for both software and hardware partners. Google seems to have the tech lead, but my bet is on Amazon, not just as the early leader, but because of their platform approach.

  17. Ben Lucier

    I’m in the same boat, Fred. I switched from Apple Expresses driving my in-celing speakers throughout my house to Sonos instead (combination of Playbar, Connects, and Play:1’s)The Philips Hue lightbulbs are a similar example… WiFi, colour-changing lightbulbs are awesome, but gimmicky since when they launched you HAD to use your phone to turn them on/off. In the end, we stopped using them for several months until… Philips released an easy, convenient wall-switch. We now have the Hue throughout out house and we love it.Sometimes products are awesome… but there has to be a component of convenience if it’s going to be successful. I think companies forget that, or don’t realize it quickly enough.

  18. Mike Masello

    What would be more convenient is if the delay was cut in half.

    1. Pointsandfigures

      Alexa, I want it NOW

  19. Shaun Dakin

    Agree. We have two now in our home. Connected to Spotify etc. The thing that crushed it for us was connecting to Philips hue lights. Every day we are asking Alexa to turn the lights on and off.It is the single most used device in the home other than our smartphones.

    1. LE

      How do you like those hue lights and which ones did you get (and how many)?

      1. Shaun Dakin

        Love them.. mostly got the basic white and then 5 of the overhead color… love them.

  20. William Mougayar

    Yup. I’ve experienced this 3 years ago with The UBI, Echo’s predecessor (am an advisor to them). They had a successful Kickstarter campaign 3-4 years, then Amazon called them and did an NDA with them, and one could argue they copied them. https://www.kickstarter.com…The power of these devices are not just in giving them single commands, like Play this, or what’s the weather now, or what’s the distance from Toronto to New York. But it will be in self-configuring Web services in the cloud that are personalized for you. For example, we configured a voice call where if you said to it, “Where is William”, UBI would send me an email. Or, when I was 10 mins from home, automatically my UBI app would notify my wife by voice. They also had an interface with IFTTT so you could have your recipes voice activated for input or output.So many possibilities when you combine voice + Web services + logic + Internet of things.

    1. awaldstein

      Why add IoT to this?I like your train of thought but in my opinion IoT, which is a questionable construct though a juicy one adds fud to an interesting idea.(As an aside, everyone copies everything. Those who win the market deserve the success they get.)

      1. FlavioGomes

        I think he’s referring to internet connected devices like the Echo. One day you’ll be talking to your expresso machine. Or your expresso machine will know that you are 5 min away…and start brewing. (ala williams example)

        1. FlavioGomes

          I should add…I remember when the Internet was considered a “juicy questionable construct.”

        2. William Mougayar

          Theoretically, there is not much that a smartphone can’t do when it comes to voice commands.

          1. FlavioGomes

            It may just be the conduit for device communication. Why all the redundancy when we have the phone which is likely with us at all times. Although “Shower on 93 degrees” would be a questionable use case for that 😉

      2. William Mougayar

        IoT because you can get devices to do stuff, and they have data about themselves which could trigger other actions.

        1. FlavioGomes

          Yes…its more than just a fancy remote control. Its data and data triggered automation/events. Which leads to prescriptive analytics and machine learning opportunities and applications. But the consumer side is lagging. They haven’t yet found a model to make money beyond localized hardware. There is some promise on consumers selling their privacy in the form of data. Thats the value exchange currently. But the industrial IOT is way ahead. You’d be surprised at how quickly the industrial is adopting IOT infrastructure. (McDonalds is one of the biggest users)

          1. William Mougayar

            Of course, that’s your business! 🙂

  21. markslater

    Why do i always feel like sonos gets the “greatest missed opportunity” award?

    1. Dan T

      I liked the phone control ability of it so much that I used it in my house where all the speakers were hard wired . . I have multiple sonos controllers all housed together in the same cabinet with 5 zones. I would LOVE to voice activate it . .

  22. Andrea Canidio

    If you enjoy Alexa for playing music, you may enjoy the skill “music quiz”:http://alexa.amazon.com/#sk…There are also a lot of interesting things going on in the “coding for voice applications” space. For example, these guys: https://www.alexa-designer….

  23. Pointsandfigures

    Imagine this sort of technology in a trading room, or in a manufacturing plant. Eventually, the AI will get so good it can handle multiple requests and commands for tasks. For music it would be “Alexa, play some JayZ at the beginning of the party and when I am cleaning up play some Bob Dylan”. And it will just know….

  24. Vendita Auto

    Steve Jobs right as ever, simplify the product = success

  25. Simo

    Fred – try ordering an Amazon Dot (smaller echo). You can use an audio jack to connect sonos to Alexa and make it smart.

  26. Martin Wawrusch

    Check out my friends company, josh.ai – it bridges your sonos with a voice interface.

  27. kidmercury

    offtopic, but have to give fred props for calling a 7 game series here. i thought he must’ve banged his head on something the morning he said that. lo and behold here we are, game 7 sunday night! go cavs!

    1. LE

      Not into sports but even I thought of that this AM when I saw what happened.

  28. LE

    I am thinking you should be able to control all of your music (on any device) from a wearable like the Apple Watch. I am sure that is in the pipeline. Ditto for TV content.This app is close but no cigar:https://itunes.apple.com/us…Idea being voice activated from anyplace from your wrist.

  29. JaredMermey

    Someone hacked a skill to summon their Tesla. That was pretty cool. Think there is a YouTube of it.

  30. JaredMermey

    @fredwilson who ya got for Game 7? Everyone else?

  31. LE

    Is that jazz on vinyl? What’s with the wait it takes to cue up?

  32. Vasudev Ram

    I had done some experimenting with text-to-speech and speech-to-text in Python a while ago. Basic stuff. Good fun.If anyone wants to do the same, feel free to check out these posts:Recognizing speech (speech-to-text) with the Python speech module (Python recipe)https://code.activestate.co…Python text-to-speech with pyttsx (Python recipe):https://code.activestate.co…The recipes above also link to posts on my blog with more info.You may have to do some tweaking at OS level to get it to work on your environment.

  33. Mark Essel

    I dig it. Now I wanna grab one. Ordering it.

  34. Salt Shaker

    Audio quality standards have been on the wane now for decades. Here’s the progression: (LPs, cassettes/8-track, CDs, downloads, streaming). When we purchased our first Sonos my better half said, “oh good, now we can get rid of those B&W’s.” Not gonna happen, I said. Convenience trumps quality for the masses but there’s still a market for high end audio, although perhaps shrinking. Still have a collection of 300+ vinyl LPs. Pops and clicks for me are like comfort food.

    1. Jim Ritchie

      I stop watching video after she asked for a Justin Bieber song…I kid, I kid.

      1. Alex Capecelatro

        Sadly our music choice was market tested (and child approved). They don’t call it “pop” for no reason 😉

  35. Pete Griffiths

    The one feature that the Echo doesn’t have that will make it yet bigger is telephony.A market that should be huge for Echo is nursing and care homes. One of the most difficult and humiliating aspects of being in care is the complete dependence many have on the staff to do things as basic turning on TVs, listening to the radio, playing audio books. And of course the staff are run ragged on what are really just silly little tasks. I bought an Echo for my blind mother and it changed her life (and that of her carers!). If my mother, and others like her, could use the Echo to make and receive calls it would be a killer one stop shop.Google recently announced their entry into this market. They will most definitely be able to do telephony so Amazon had better get off the dime.

    1. ShanaC

      The aging is a really underserved market. Which I totally don’t get, because eventually Medicare will pay as it is cheaper than a human

  36. Joshua Montgomery

    You could voice enable your existing Sonos system using the open source Mycroft package from Mycroft AI. It allows folks to add Alexa like features to anything – including a Sonos speaker system. – http://mycroft.ai

  37. Salt Shaker

    Apple should buy Sonos. Apple’s a device company whose foray into music began w/ the iPod. It’s music strat is now in shambles, lacking vision and meaningful differentiation. Apple Music now competes in fundamentally a commodity biz with other streaming services, each trying to drive paid subscription, which is where the money and margins truly lie. Apple has the resources to take Sonos to the next level w/ respect to tech, distribution, design and marketing, in addition to logical compatibility w/ other Apple products, including Apple Music, Beats, Watch, etc. At its core Apple is a hardware biz, as is Sonos. Amazon w/ Echo will own this space unless Apple makes a move. Uncharacteristic? Yes, but perhaps necessary.

  38. Vasudev Ram

    Great, Amazon, just what we needed – a machine to talk with, when a lot of humans can’t communicate well even with fellow humans.

  39. lindsayrgwatt

    I’d love it if Soundcloud had an Echo skill. I can’t wait for the day I can ask Alexa to play my Soundcloud stream and it just starts.

  40. mrstone

    The new echo Tap has an audio output that can be directly connected to the audio input of some Sonos models for convenience AND high fidelity. I own both and it works great.

  41. John

    As kids, we usually fought over controlling the TV channel. My kids fight over what’s playing on Alexa.

  42. Jan Schultink

    If Alexa could play anti-noise, you could selectively mute certain people in a meeting on command 🙂

  43. bfeld

    One the Amazon Echo Dot comes out, it’s game over. If Sonos wants to stay in the game, they’ve got to get voice recognition going now.http://www.businesshabit.co

  44. Donna Brewington White

    I mainly bought the Echo for music but it has been the source of other entertainment.I wish I had videotaped my little four year old friend asking Alexa a series of questions, so grateful for the responses that she said “Alexa I love you.”I’ll let you try it for yourself to hear the response.Alexa will also respond to “Who’s your Daddy?” Learned this due to having a 15 y.o. boy in the house.BTW buying the remote turned out to be a good investment. Also opens the door to assorted practical jokes.

  45. John Revay

    Few observations Sonos Vs Alexa1. Last year Sonos reved the Play 5 – player….one of the little know features that was added to the unit was a Mic.”Built into every Play:5 is a tiny microphone. Although it won’t be active on day one, it’s clear what the company plans to use it for: Down the line, it’s going to become yet another sensor in our increasingly smart homes. In this case, the microphone will be used to help Sonos’s speaker read sound waves in the room and better understand where it’s located in the room and what that room looks like.”http://www.fastcompany.com/…2. Earlier this year – Sonon announced some layoffs – course correction”The second target is voice. Explicitly mentioning Amazon’s Echo products, the CEO said that voice recognition will be a big change for the company best known for speakers.”https://www.engadget.com/20…3. I was hoping at or prior to the WWDC this past week – that Apple would announce they were buying Sonos – no such announcement was made

  46. Brad Barrish

    Fred, I’ve been a long-time reader (lurker). I work at Sonos. If there’s anything you need or just want chat, feel free to hit me up. I’m based in LA. Happy to talk.

  47. JimHirshfield

    Now you’re talkin'(See what I did there)

  48. fredwilson

    Ooooooh. I am so down to try this

  49. rich caccappolo

    cool – I’ve connected alexa to sonos (as a speaker) through the line-in and it works OK, but I have all music files in the amazon cloud else would be dependent on Amazon prime only. Use of a skill would be better – looking forward to trying it. thanks

  50. ShanaC


  51. LE

    Alexa doesn’t need to confirmDefault case of “play” makes sense. Kind of like google “I feel lucky” besides no plane will crash or files get deleted if the wrong song/artist is played. And you can always say “stop” (I am sure) if you don’t like what it does.

  52. daryn

    This skill, and a couple Echo Dots as line-in on your Sonos (assuming they aren’t all in a closet somewhere), seem like a great solution until Sonos/Amazon come out with what I’m sure is just a brief matter of time away.