I’ve been a Google Play Music subscriber since day one. Literally—as soon as the landing page went live, I signed up. And I’ve been with it ever since. When Google announced that YouTube Music would be taking the place of GPM (at some point, anyway), I was curious how good it would be in comparison. And initially, that answer was apparent: not very.
Fast-forward some number of years later, and I figured it was time to give YTM another shot, especially considering that the plan is still to phase Play Music for YTM sometime in 2020. The good news is that it’s still nowhere near as robust as Google Play Music.
Oh wait, no, that’s the bad news. There is no good news.
What Is YouTube Music, Anyway?
Now you may be asking yourself, “what’s the difference between Google Play Music and YouTube Music, anyway?” Or, maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, what the hell even is YouTube Music?” Those are both great questions! I actually covered this topic at length a couple of years ago, but here’s the quick and dirty version:
- Google Play Music is Google’s music streaming service, a la Spotify or Apple Music.
- YouTube Music is also a Google music-streaming service, slated to take the place of Google Play Music … at some point.
- If you have Google Play Music, you also have YouTube Music (and vice versa). They come together. The two services are different means to the same end, though they are not created equally.
- YouTube Premium is an ad-free YouTube experience and is part of GPM and YouTube Music. Or, GPM/YTM is included with YouTube Premium … however you prefer to see it.
Got it? YouTube Music is like Google Play Music, but it’s using YouTube’s massive music catalog instead of a completely different service. So, technically, it has more stuff to choose from—especially if you’re looking for rarities or other uncommon jams.
The main benefit that Google Play Music had at launch was the ability to upload your entire music catalog and stream it from anywhere, which YouTube Music has been missing up until recently. With that addition, YTM is theoretically one step closer to replacing GPM. But the overall experience is still not great, especially not in direct comparison.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that nothing is shared between the two services. Your tracks, likes, play counts, playlists, personal library … yeah, all separate. That means the catalog I’ve spent years building on Google Play Music isn’t available on YouTube Music. Google says this is coming … again, at some point. Woof.
Okay, But Why Is It Bad?
On its own, YouTube Music isn’t terrible. It’s not great, either—if you’ve never used another streaming music service, then it’s probably fine. But if you have, then it’s immediately apparent that it’s just kind of … bad. The user interface is sketchy—not quite YouTube, not quite a music player, but somewhere in the gray area between the two. Where Google Play Music feels like, well, a media player, YouTube Music feels like a mishmash of things. It’s just not straightforward.
For example, as soon as I open the app (or the site), I’m greeted with my “favorites,” though there’s no clear indication of why these are my favorites. I assume these are just things I’ve listened to a lot because I never selected any artist, album, or song as “favorites” in the app. It’s mostly accurate, at least, so that’s something.
You know what would be more useful here? Recent activity. I’m a creature of habit, and I listen to the same things a lot. (It drives my wife insane.) So, having the last things I listened to here is much more useful to me, and I imagine the same is true for many people. For reference, Google Play Music has a “Recents” button at the top of the Home page as soon as you open the app. I use this all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, you can find your recent activity on YouTube Music—but it’s under the Library tab the bottom. I used the app for a couple of weeks (at least) before I realized that’s where I could find my recently played stuff. Why? Because nothing about “Library” says, “this is where you’ll find things you’ve recently listened to” to me. In my mind, the Library is a place where your music collection is stored—playlists, stuff like that.
This made me curious about what else was in the Library, so I dug into a bit more. Downloads, playlists, albums, songs, and artists are all here, which is par for the course. I tapped into the Songs menu to see if there was anything there because I’ve never actually added anything to the library on YouTube Music. Remember, nothing I’ve done on GPM applies to YTM, so I expected it to be empty.
To my surprise, the Songs menu was loaded with stuff. What sort of stuff, you ask? Videos that I’ve liked on YouTube. Not all videos, mind you, just ones that have something to do with music. Like, anything. That means a video that a good friend of mine made where he was comparing some guitar pickups was on that list. It’s not an actual song, of course, just him noodling around for a “tone test.” But apparently, because I liked it on YouTube, this is something I want to listen to leisurely.
But it’s not.
This also had me wondering what other kind of YouTube activity was part of YouTube Music (and vice versa). Playlists that I’d made on YouTube are also present here, again assuming they have anything to do with music. That’s fine—I don’t have a lot of playlists on YT. (Though I do on GPM, and did I mention that it sucks they’re not available on YTM? Because it sucks).
Here’s the fun part, though: every time you listen to a track on YouTube Music, it shows up in your YouTube viewing history. I don’t know about you, but I frequently go back through my YouTube history to find specific videos I’ve recently watched. But with my listening history also showing up here, that is almost impossible. I have music playing while I’m working all day, every day. We’re talking about hours and hours of music playback, just absolutely littering my YouTube history. That is obnoxious, and I hate it so much.
In Conclusion, YouTube Music Is a Damn Mess
Google Play Music is far from a perfect service, but man, it’s been solid for me over the last 8 years. I have a GPM family plan, so not only do I use it, but so do my wife and kids. And, we all seem to enjoy it for the most part. (Though damn, I really wish it did something like Spotify’s year-end stats.) It’s its own thing. It’s a streaming-music service that does what it’s supposed to do: stream music.
But YouTube Music is this other thing that is part YouTube, part music streaming, and it makes the entire service a convoluted mess. I don’t want my liked YouTube videos in my music-streaming app, nor do I want my recently played songs in my YouTube history. I want the same, separate, that I currently get from YouTube and Google Play Music, and I’m absolutely certain that I’m not the only one.
Because Google is still planning to replace GPM with YTM sometime in the back half of 2020, this all concerning. I hope Google has plans to fix this in a way that makes sense—I’m okay with YouTube Music replacing Google Play Music, but it needs to offer the same features and separation from YouTube as GPM. Otherwise, it’s a total bust.
But the hell of it is that I’m sure Google recognizes the huge benefit offered by YTM in that it’s part of YouTube Premium. As I said, my entire family is on my GPM/YTM plan, so none of us have seen a YouTube ad in years. This ad-free experience is enough to keep me from every completely abandoning YouTube Premium, but if these YTM issues aren’t fixed before GPM is phases out, I’m going to be left with a choice: either get rid of YouTube Premium and move my family over to Spotify, or simply deal with the shitty YTM experience.
I’m not keen on either of those choices.