What if this time it’s the right one? Google’s strategy regarding online music has been somewhat erratic in recent years. While Google Play Music is supposed to be the offer dedicated to music listening, users are sulking to massively favour YouTube. The online video sharing site has become one of the most popular players in the streaming music market.
So much so that YouTube even took the opportunity to launch the Red offer in the United States – since renamed Premium – for $11.99 a month. It offers access to all videos (musical or not) without advertising, but also to original YouTube creations. Faced with this hodgepodge of offers, it is difficult for the user to navigate and for Google to defend brand consistency.
Until maybe today. Google finally clarifies its position: with YouTube Music, its video-sharing site will now be the advanced basis of its strategy in music. Nevertheless, Google Play Music remains – we imagine that the brand couldn’t decide to stop it overnight – and it’s a cheap way to do it. Moreover, the YouTube Music subscription at 9.99 euros (14.99 euros for a family subscription) also gives access to Google Play Music… and vice versa.
What do you get for this prize? The ability to play all of YouTube’s music content (and only music content) without any commercials, download songs to your device to listen to them offline, and be able to use the application in the background (when using another application or when the phone is locked) without the music turning off. That is, all the basic features you’d expect from an application of this type and offered by Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer. Incidentally, Google is also taking the opportunity to launch its YouTube Premium offer in France to benefit from all these features on all the videos on the site (not only music) for 11.99 euros.
But video is not so much a question of video with YouTube Music. Above all, the catalogue is made up of audio files (AAC 128 to 256 kb/s for the app, OPUS 128 kb/s and AAC 256 kb/s for the web version) equivalent to those of competing services. The complete albums and discographies of the artists are thus well present on the platform, in addition to the videos uploaded by individuals. So there are four types of content:
- Music in audio (songs, albums, playlists)
- Official concert clips and videos
- Videos filmed by fans in concert (sometimes awful, sometimes of amazing quality)
- Songs or videos posted online by independent artists not signed to a label
The last two points are very interesting because they provide access to content not available on competing services. Finally, only SoundCloud Go+ offers an almost equivalent offering with 120 million titles by emerging artists. Google, on the other hand, did not want to tell us how many tracks were available through its new application.
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Concretely, the application (available on Android and iOS, in smartphone, tablet and web versions for computers) opens up to different lines of personalized proposals depending on the place and time. Because yes, Google knows (almost) everything about you. So it can determine whether you are at work, at home or at the gym. This results in playlist headings proposed each time in a different order: “maximum concentration”, “relaxation break”, “energy peak”. Nothing very original in comparison with other services, but at least they have the merit of appearing at the right time, depending on the situation in which one finds oneself.
As you continue to scroll down the home page, you are also offered artist themes: selection of the best of the work of a singer or artists similar to a band you love. To do this YouTube Music asks you to determine your favorite artists when you first launch the application and then learns as you use it over time. There are also the classic playlists of weekly new releases. There are also three video sections: recommended clips, concerts and new videos.
Also note the very advanced search features of YouTube Music. You can of course enter the name of a band or a song, but also the lyrics; and it really works very well. Another clever search tool: describe the song. At this time of the World Cup, if you wonder what the fans are singing in the stadium, you can grab “po po po po po original” to get Seven Nation Army from the White Stripes.
However, the preferred entry point remains the playlist “Your mix” automatically concocted according to the algorithms, between classics and novelties. In fact, we were very surprised by its immediate relevance just after the launch of the application. A very small minority of songs seemed to us to be out of place according to our tastes. This completely faded after two days of use.
On the other hand, this personalised ‘Your mix’ playlist is YouTube Music’s only YouTube Music proposal when Apple Music puts three of them forward (Favourite Mix, Chill Mix, Discovery Mix) and Spotify four (Your Daily Mix 1 and 2, Discover Weekly and Your Release Radar). Even Deezer offers different variations of its Flow, inspired by artists frequently listened to by the user.
In addition to the home page, there are two other tabs at the bottom of the application: Hotlist or the equivalent of the YouTube trends that turns into a kind of top 50 (no customization here so) and Library where you can find all the songs, albums or videos added, liked or downloaded on the device.
The application’s player is classic and therefore rather successful: play buttons, thumbs like or dislike and a more complete menu to share the song, download it, add it to a playlist or access the album it is part of. Another very interesting playback feature is that when watching a video, you can activate an “audio mode” that will stop the images to focus only on the soundtrack of the video being played and the following ones. When a song is available as a video clip as well as in pure audio, we prefer to listen to it in the latter version as the sound quality seemed much better to us.
In use, some defects were felt. The first comes from the almost systematic absence of song lyrics. While its competitors are offering more and more of them in their catalogues, Google is still struggling. The only way to display them is as subtitles in the videos and not as full text that can be scrolled manually. Finally, only the Android version offers these subtitles, the one dedicated to iOS being devoid of them.
Google told us that the same account can be installed on 10 different devices, which of course cannot be used simultaneously. However, we would have liked – and this is not the case at the moment – that a reading continuity be proposed between various devices. With Spotify, if you’re listening to a song at home from your iPad and need to leave, just open the app on your Android smartphone and it will tell you that a song is playing on another device and offer to stop the playback on the tablet and continue it on the smartphone. It’s much more fluid and convenient in everyday life, when you regularly use several devices.
Last criticism: although the recommendation algorithm is efficient, we regret that Google did not put a little more human resources to concoct playlists with small onions. There is a clear sense that there is a lack of editorialization in this area. The champion of the genre remains, for example, Apple Music, which generally offers several playlists for an artist: the indispensable ones, but also others dedicated to little-known songs, influences, artists who have been inspired by them or another one for live versions. You won’t find any of this on YouTube Music.
Despite these few flaws, after more than a week of intensive use, YouTube Music convinced us. We want to say “finally”, because it’s the first time that a music offer from Google is coherent, ergonomic and efficient. The recommendations are relevant and the classical catalogue of record companies, enriched by user content, is an advantage over its competitors. If there is still some editorial work to be done on the playlists, YouTube Music can now be seen as a serious challenger to the market references.
- Download YouTube Music on Android (free)
- Download YouTube Music on iOS (free)