YouTube Music, Google’s new take on music streaming, is now out in 17 countries. The launch includes the new YouTube Music service, as well as YouTube Premium, the replacement for YouTube Red. You can subscribe to YouTube Music on its own, or get it as part of YouTube premium, which also includes such features as access to YouTube Originals and Google Play Music. It also removes ads.
The concept behind YouTube Music is that it turns YouTube into a music service, allowing background play, downloads, and a music player interface through the web or apps. With so much music being available on YouTube, both officially and unofficially (including covers, live performances and unpublished artists), it has the potential to offer something that other music services cannot. As it also gives you access to a library of normal, video-less music, it has the potential to offer the best of both worlds.
Unfortunately, the initial launch has left me rather unimpressed. Eventually, Google Play Music will be eliminated in favor of YouTube Music, but right now, Google has two services that do not cooperate. At all.
When I logged into YouTube Music, my playlists from Google Music were nowhere to be found. In its place were my YouTube playlists, which seem to be included or excluded based on whether the content is considered music. My pure music playlist works well enough, but a playlist I have of song parodies currently sits at 9/21 songs being available in YouTube Music. The rest simply say “Song is unavailable”, without an explanation. Another playlist I have of non-music audio is missing completely, which is somewhat understandable, except for the fact I have it in Google Music – downloaded from YouTube, then uploaded to Google Music. Most people might be fine with a YouTube Music that isn’t YouTube Audio, but as that’s a distinction that is left to the user in Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Music, it’s an unfortunate one.
Furthermore, my own music that I have uploaded to Google Music is impossible to get at, as it’s not in the song library of YouTube Music and the two services don’t talk to each other. It looks like they both have access to the same library of music, but that doesn’t help me when my primary reason for using Google Music is that most of my music doesn’t actually exist in such libraries, and Google Music allows you to have an online music library of your own creation. Even if my music was available in their library, manually recreating playlists with hundreds of songs in a new service that is supposed to replace the one I’m on seems dumb when it’s the same company.
I wish I could say that the brand new apps that come with the service vindicates it somehow, but not really. They’re the most bare bone of music apps, to the extent that you’re left grateful that they included a Shuffle feature. I’m particularly annoyed by the experience on my iPad Pro, as like the Google Music app, the iPad app doesn’t support multitasking features, so using it in split screen or slide over is impossible. That’s actually a huge issue. For what seems like a web player packaged as an app, making it inherently perfect for scaling, that seems like an unnecessary oversight for a 2018 app that is in theory cross-platform and a competitor to Apple Music.
Therein lies the problem with YouTube Music: it’s not finished. It’s actually extremely bare bones at the moment. YouTube Music might be fine for a lot of people, maybe even most people, especially those who currently manually look up YouTube videos to listen to music. Having it included with YouTube Premium, which also includes Google Play Music, helps a lot, and the 3 month free trial helps even more. However, for those looking for an end-all music subscription service that brings official releases and other content together, YouTube Music is not that.
That “yet” is key here – the service just released, and it will get better, eventually replacing Play Music. The question is if it will do that soon enough. The music streaming scene is pretty saturated, and with a 3 month trial being activated by many of its potential users at launch, alongside all the PR at launch, the clock is ticking to turn what’s essentially a beta at best into what it has the potential to be. By the time that 3 month free trial starts expiring for people, there better be a lot more on offer to make people stay.