After years of false starts, YouTube is now serious about music streaming. For the most part, YouTube Music accomplishes all of this, but there are parts that are overly complicated. Got all that? Now that streaming music services have already captured the die-hard music fans and power users, they have shifted their gaze toward the casual listener.
Older services like Pandora have relaunched with an emphasis on ease of use over everything else, and YouTube Music is no exception. While that is good in many areas, there are a few power user features that are missing, and that may deter some from switching over from their current streaming service until those features arrive.
Despite a few setbacks in getting to this point, YouTube finally has a legitimate challenger for Spotify and Apple Music. With a well-built app, YouTube Music has a real fighting chance in the streaming market. YouTube Music is an extremely simple app. There are three tabs: Home, Hotlist, and Library. Yes, YouTube has kept the same subscribe structure for following an artist that exists on the video version of the service, which can be either good or bad, depending on how you use YouTube.
Google has put an emphasis on likes, including thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons in the now playing window for every song and video. The more you use it, the better your recommendations will get. As YouTube explained to me, it gets both implicit signals searching for an artist, listening to multiple songs and explicit signals liking a song, subscribing to tell which artists you prefer. The one thing the Library is missing is a way to filter through your library.
Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify all have music videos available in their apps. It has all of the music videos, and it has given them prime placement without being overly pushy about it. Like most streaming services, as you listen and like or dislike songs, the recommendations will continue to improve. The home screen can display recommendations based on your location as well, a feature that has moved over from Google Play Music. And those recommendations can vary based on time. I listened to some music for about an hour, giving thumbs-up and thumbs-down on every song, to see how good my resulting Mixtape could actually be with limited feedback.
With just that hour of feedback and listening history, my Mixtape was on par with my Daily Mix from Spotify, which has seven years of my listening data to work with. You can choose how many tracks you want — up to songs, or about six hours of music — in case you want to free up space on your device or if you will be offline for an extended period of time.
Look, we all know that Google is really good at algorithms. Creating playlists is also more difficult than it needs to be. YouTube says that will change this summer when users will be able to add both albums and other playlists to playlists.
There are also no descriptions on any playlists, which is a strange omission. That deep layer of knowledge in search is largely unprecedented in a streaming service. There are still plenty of bugs and little annoying ticks the service has. It will recommend artists on the home screen instead of specific albums or songs directly, which means you have to click a few extra times before you can begin listening. Still, YouTube Music gets more right than it does wrong. While it may be leaving plenty to be desired for those of us who have been streaming music for years — although there are some fixes in the works — it is an excellent jumping-off point for people who are finally ready to get into the music streaming world.
For an initial launch or a third launch , depending on how you want to count YouTube Music is further along than any other streaming service that has debuted in recent memory. To reach this point, it needed all the time it could get.
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