Google announced that they’re pivoting their focus to YouTube Music over their current music streaming service, Google Play Music. It was an odd move, but considering so many users stick to regular YouTube for their music needs, it makes sense for Google to cash in and change their plan, despite pretty decent GPM popularity in the Android community.
The new YouTube Music wants to house your music library (which you can’t port over from Play Music yet) and mix it in with videos, remixes, and custom playlists from YouTube proper, creating a visual, totally customized experience.
As someone that’s spent a ton of time with Google Play Music over the years, alongside some dabbling in Spotify, Apple Music, and an in-house Plex server, I figured I’d give the new YouTube Music a spin and do an actual review on it. Let’s dig in.
When you first fire up YouTube Music, it does the typical new music service setup. You’ll pick a few things you like to listen to that gives YouTube something to work with, then you can get started by searching out your own music or jamming out to the recommended tracks. All of this happens in the far left page of the interface, referred to as the Home tab.
There’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary just yet; you’ll get quick access to your favorite artists based on your listening habits, recommended artists based on other music you like or listen to, and tons of playlists, some of which are curated and some that YouTube just wants to recommend. There are some video sections, too, but we’ll check those out later.
So far, the recommended algorithms work pretty well for me, only showing other artists that I do like despite a few different genres blending together in my library. The playlists can be good, but they can also be pretty off the wall, too. If you want to try and nudge listeners into specific genres or moods that’s well and good, but showing me country playlists is never going to get me to listen to or enjoy country music. Sorry, Google. And that’s unfortunately where the recommendation engine starts to get more irritating than anything, and makes YouTube Music start to feel like it’s aimed at very casual users that aren’t picky about music. Other music services, like Apple Music, at least try and keep things tangentially related in their recommended sections.
That’s not to say that YouTube Music can’t get recommendations right, though. It recommended a Southern Metal BBQ playlist as similar to Black Label Society, which is perfect, but just above that it’s recommending throwback jams without trying to curate anything; there’s just a playlist for every possible genre that existed in the 90’s even though Google knows I don’t care about 90% of that.
There’s a lot of other stuff mixed in to this tab, some of which is neat and some of which is distracting. Videos of live performances of bands I like? Pretty cool! Energy boosting playlists at 2AM? Why would I want that? Oh, and the new music releases and new videos are buried pretty close to the bottom of the tab, which also seems like a very strange choice.
The next tab in the interface, labeled the Hotlist, really lost me. Again, if you’re into all kinds of music and you’re less picky than me, I can see how this would be cool, but it’s just a flurry of popular music videos with zero recommendations or curation. I’m pretty deep into my own music library and don’t listen to much mainstream or popular stuff, so most of these videos don’t appeal to me at all. If I wanted to explore some new music there’s definitely some value to this, but maybe curating things that I’m more likely to enjoy is better than throwing everything at me all at once.
The last tab is where you’ll find your library, and oh boy, I didn’t think it was possible to screw up a cloud music library. Google found a way, though. This library is entirely merged with your existing YouTube library, so any artists that you’ve previously subscribed to will be here, and any playlists or liked music you have will also show up. That goes the other way, too, and that’s where things get incredibly frustrating.
Maybe I’m alone here, but my YouTube experience and my music listening experience are totally different. I’ll watch a goofy YouTube music video and I might even like it, and I’ve got a few playlists of some really good video game or movie soundtracks to check out every so often. But these are not things I want in my music library. Inversely, “subscribing” to an artist to track them in your library will also subscribe to them on YouTube (you’ll probably notice many artists have their YouTube subscriber count listed in the new app) and actually using both services will intertwine the two and gum up recommendations and fuzzy up your YouTube feed with stuff you may not really want.
You can use YouTube Music without subscribing to any artists, but that means you’ll exclusively be browsing by album lists or playlists, or possibly just searching for specific songs you want to hear. Again, if that’s your thing there’s no problem, but I generally like to have an artist view to browse over a discography and find what I want to hear right now. You know, like what I do in Google Play Music.
This review has gotten pretty negative, but it’s not all bad. YouTube Music has a really cool offline mixtape feature that intelligently stores music offline for you so you’ll always have something to listen to even if you lose your internet connection, and there are a ton of user-made playlists, remixes, and even cover songs that you don’t normally find on typical music streaming services.
But again, so many features and decisions just feel like they were made with no serious consideration for enthusiasts or users with massive music libraries, or just people that are into more obscure music. Recommendations are good when they’re available, but so much content is non-personalized that sometimes it almost doesn’t really feel like your music library.
There are also plenty of missing features from Google Play Music that Google says are coming to YouTube Music at some point, but right now, they’re gone. All of the music you’ve purchased from Google Play still has to be accessed in Google Play Music, you can’t upload your own MP3 collection, and there’s very little control over the audio quality of music you stream and download. There are options to control the resolution of videos that you’re streaming, but you’re stuck with whatever Google decides to stream the audio at. It just feels half-baked.
If you just really like the visual component of music, YouTube Music is great. For everyone else? Stick to Spotify or Apple Music, or even just Play Music. Google’s got a ton of work to do.