I’ve been a user of Google Play Music for quite some time now – almost exclusively because they uniquely allow you to upload your own music (or other audio) to their servers. You could upload 50,000 tracks to the site.
Why is this important? Maybe you have music that hasn’t been commercially released? Your friend’s composition or a non-official mix. Or music that hasn’t made it to streaming (Want to hear The KLF on Spotify? Good luck!). Or Or audio that isn’t music at all – e.g. audiobooks you’ve bought elsewhere.
And perhaps, you might already have a fairly healthy music collection and want a way to listen to it on the go.
Anyway, Google Play Music is morphing into YouTube Music, and it has its pros and cons.
- 100,000 track music storage – they’ve doubled this during the transition from GPM to YTM! This is my primary reason for using YouTube Music.
- Integration into wider YouTube apps – it’s just fine, not amazing, but it’s there. (A bit like accessing TV and movies you’ve bought on the Google Play store via the YouTube TV app.)
- Works well with Google Assistant. Sometimes too well.
- You get video versions of songs where appropriate if you want them. That said, the videos often have lousy audio compared with the studio audio quality.
- You can’t easily browse your own music. This is awful. On the browser, you can’t jump around browsing your library, you have to wait for an endless screen to load. So if you have a lot of albums in your library (as I do), you rarely see past the “B”s because it takes so long. It’s even worse in the mobile app. GPM used to have a speedy slider that let you jump to, say, “N.” No such ability in YTM. If you’re going to let people upload 100,000 tracks, you must let people be able to navigate them! Easily my biggest issue.
- Device connectivity not as good as Spotify. Sending audio from your phone to your to speakers is fine, but Spotify has more hardware integration than Google.
- The YouTube Music Android TV app is… not really an app at all. It arrived last month, but it’s just a way to directly navigate to the Music tab of the regular YouTube video app. There’s very limited functionality – no search for example. It’s vastly inferior to even the GPM app, never mind Spotify.
- You can’t “cast” music in a browser. You could with Google Play Music, but there’s no functionality for that in YouTube Music. I couldn’t believe this basic functionality wasn’t in there and posted a question about it on the YouTube Music sub-reddit. It got deleted for being provocative! (That sub-reddit is full of complaints incidentally). You’ve got to think that’s going to be fixed ahead of Google’s expected new Android TV sticks that are said to be replacing Chromecasts.
- YouTube Music has a decent, but inferior selection of tracks compared to Spotify. It’s particularly bad at soundtrack compilation albums. An example is above. I wanted to listen to the iconic Drive Soundtrack album. To be fair, Spotify was also a mess for this one – pushing me towards a playlist at first, and then the “album” itself also being messed up. How can it be that hard to get a 2011 soundtrack so wrong?
- YouTube Music doesn’t seem to capture – or display – play count. I really liked this in Google Play Music. You could see what you were listening to the most. I lost that when I moved across (or at least will when GPM finally goes).
- Uploading isn’t as easy. In GPM there was a tool that could watch an “Uploads” folder. I would drag music I bought into that folder, and it would upload in the background so that next time I checked the app it was there. With YTM there is no app, so you have to drag the files directly into an upload screen on the website. This is fine, except where you have a large quantity to upload, since you need to leave that screen open.
- If you don’t pay the £9.99/$9.99 fee for unlimited music, you get a severely reduced feature set in YTM compared with GPM. Don’t forget, this is for listening to music that you already paid for. See this long rant on Ars Technica.
You may notice that my cons list is somewhat bigger than my pros list. The ability to have a massive uploaded library still trumps most of those issues – although they need to let me navigate my uploaded library better. And I trust that improvements will come in due course. Some should be trivial, like letting me Cast from my desktop, or building a half-way decent Android TV app.
I had thought that once upon a time, paying for YouTube Music meant getting rid of YouTube adverts. I never got that benefit, and today it’s a £2 (or $2) upgrade. Given how awful YouTube ads are, both in their repetition, them trying to sell me things I already pay for, and the utter mess that is mid-rolls on the platform, perhaps I should stump up.
I confess that I don’t like the algorithmic stuff from any streaming service I’ve used. Without wanting to sound snobbish, my music listening is quite eclectic – cheesy pop songs one minute; modern classical the next – but the algorithms just seem to pigeonhole me.
It’s clear that Spotify (and Apple Music) have better support. The former has a much stronger ecosystem with more playlists from both users and publishers, and a stronger community.
It particularly pains me that there isn’t some kind of cross-platform playlist format because YouTube Music (or Google Play Music) is rarely included in published playlists. During lockdown I have enjoyed the playlists created by artists on the Invada Records site, but they’re exclusively in Spotify. To shift them across to a service I can use, I either had to hand build them myself, or find a service that could “translate” them. Most of the latter seem to be subscription offers that get close to the cost of just paying for two streaming services at the same time! Meanwhile The Quietus has just launched its subscription packages, tiers of which come with Spotify and Apple Music playlists. No use for me then unless I want to hand rebuild them.
I would also note that Amazon Music is fast becoming the #2 music streaming platform – although that’s complicated with the “lite” Amazon Music Prime which as the name suggests, comes with Prime membership and provides access to 2m songs. Then there’s Amazon Music Unlimited which offers a full 60m song catalogue. Finally Amazon also offer Amazon Music Unlimited HD with higher quality encodes for a premium price.
Again, it’s rare to see an Amazon Music playlist shared in the wild. Or a Deezer one. Or a Tidal one.
I don’t really blame companies for picking the biggest streamers, but I would note that as someone who prizes music ownership as opposed to monthly licencing I’m definitely in the “spends-more-than-average-on-music” camp.
I absolutely cannot recommend YouTube Music right now. It serves my particular purpose better than most of the other services however.