YouTube Music review: A mixtape full of promise

By | 25th May 2018

Guess who's back, back again. YouTube Music's back. Tell a friend.

AC
Score
4

YouTube is one of the most-used video platforms in the world, and much of that popularity comes from the diversity and depth of music it offers. It's no surprise that YouTube would seek to capitalize on its massive library to try and better market itself to music lovers, but the original YouTube Music that launched back in 2015 was too limited, too clunky, and had too little cooperation from the music labels. By the time it got its act together, everyone had written it off.

This time, Google has learned from its mistakes. It has worked extensively with record labels. It has consolidated its music teams and completely overhauled the app design and how it presents traditional music alongside its ever-growing library of music videos, live concerts, covers, remixes, and user-uploaded music.

This time, YouTube Music is ready to rock you. Well, almost ready.

Jump right in — YouTube already knows what you like

For most music services, when you sign up and start using it, you have to suffer through a setup process. you pick a few genres or artists that you like, and then the service will generate suggestions based on your choices. YouTube Music will let you tell it what artists you like if you want to, but honestly, if you already had a Google account — and thus a YouTube account — YouTube probably already knows what you like.

When you open YouTube Music for the first time, the only thing it'll ask you off the bat — apart from if you want to subscribe to YouTube Music Premium — is to access your location so that it can suggest music based on where you are and what you're likely doing.

The constantly shifting recommendation carousels on the Home feed are based on your location, history, and time of day, and they're really useful, especially when you're building up a traditional "library".

But if you want to be scared by how well YouTube Music knows you, start Your Mixtape.

Your Mixtape is an endless mix of videos YouTube compiles based on your library and history — and if you want to know just how dead-on YouTube Music knows you, this is the best way to tell. My first time firing up Your Mixtape, I hit the thumbs down and next track buttons 5-6 times in the course of an hour. I'm three days in with the new YouTube Music, though, and I'm not reaching for my phone to change the songs anymore.

Instead, I'm reaching for my phone so I can add the current track to my library.

Not only does YouTube Music learn your tastes faster than Spotify, it has way, way more music to serve up, thanks to a library that has just about every song you could ever search for.

YouTube Music has everything: mainstream music, 500 kinds of covers, and more pirates than Disneyland

YouTube is one of the most-used sites on the internet, and as such, it is home to an ungodly amount of uploaded music. Some music has been uploaded by the legal owners and record labels, like Ariana Grande and Daughtry. Some music has been remixed 12 ways to Sunday or covered by an up-and-coming musician. And then there's a lot of music that was uploaded without copyright consent.

YouTube Music is great because it knows what I like, and has all the obscure stuff I go to YouTube for anyway.

YouTube Music serves all of them up in the same app and in the same search results.

To its credit, YouTube does the best it can to comply with international copyright and media laws and has cooperated extensively with record labels in recent months and years to improve the legal music offerings on the platform.

One of YouTube Music's tentpole features is the addition of official album, single, and song listings for tens of millions of tracks from most of the top labels. This makes YouTube Music look and behave a little more like a traditional music player, and it makes this label-uploaded music easier to distinguish as it sits in the Song and Album categories rather than the free-for-all that is Videos.

But there's a vast, vast amount of music which either can't be uploaded by the labels or has not been commercially released — unreleased demos, tracks stuck in a vault, soundtracks from the Disney Parks firework shows — and the only reliable place to look for this music is YouTube.

This kind of music being included in YouTube Music is priceless. It allows normal users to try and patch the holes in YouTube's library — much like the music locker on Google Play Music — and it allows users to mix that music they won't find anywhere else with the latest songs from their favorite artists in one place.

Everything ties to YouTube, for better or worse

Speaking of one place, YouTube Music is fed by — and feeds back to — your YouTube account. Just as YouTube Music pulled on your YouTube history to attain its stunning recommendations, everything you listen to in YouTube Music goes onto that same YouTube history. All of your YouTube Music searches appear in your previous searches when you search on YouTube. This can be an annoyance when trying to dig through your YouTube histories for a video you want to rewatch, but the real double-edged sword is this:

Every album you add to your YouTube Music library populates in the main YouTube app in your Playlists as a 'saved playlist' titled "Album - ALBUM NAME HERE". Every playlist you make or save to library from YouTube's recommendations is added to your Playlists in the main YouTube app, too. For many users, this is good news, as it means that you can access your playlists and albums from either app or website, should you only have access to YouTube but not YouTube Music on a device.

However, for YouTubers that actively use playlists in the main YouTube app, be prepared for your Playlists list to explode, especially on the YouTube app where you can't filter your playlists between created and saved playlists. If you'd like to filter your playlist to only show playlists that you made and curated, you'll want to head to your Channel page and click "Created playlists".

Hopefully with this overhauled YouTube Music experience, YouTube will either give us a way to quickly filter out YouTube Music playlists and watch history in the main app when we want to just look at the videos we've been watching — or even better, give us playlist folders so we can keep the Album playlists out of the way — but for now, you have one YouTube watch history, one YouTube search history, and very limited options on playlist organization.

YouTube Music (Key) Beta 2.0

Regardless of the hype around YouTube Music right now, this highly revised service is still very, very clearly unfinished. Not all albums are populating in search results properly, even when they're in the system. Not all albums for an artist are appearing on their page, even if songs from those albums are appearing in their song lists. Downloaded music storage is displaying oddly on phones with microSD cards, like the Samsung Galaxy S9.

Casting from YouTube Music is a bit of a roulette game right now. Your playback queue can change order (and even content) when it begins casting, and shuffle and repeat vanish from your playback controls while casting. Some of the casting quirks date back to the previous versions of YouTube Music, but they need fixing now more than ever.

That said, almost every single UI change that comes with the new YouTube Music is an improvement. The options menu that pops up for songs is more robust — even if it has a tendency to scroll when to try to hit an option — and YouTube Music's Last Played section of the Library tab is a godsend, especially when trying to start back up a station or playlist you stumbled upon days ago. Tapping a playlist opens it to view rather than autoplaying it, a welcome change.

Download controls are easier to find and use for albums and playlists, and the Downloads section is the first category in your Library so that you can switch to offline tunes quicker when you're on the go. Of course, Downloads are only available to YouTube Music Premium subscribers...

What is YouTube Music Premium and why do I want it?

YouTube Music has two tiers of service, like most music services: Free and Premium. YouTube Music Premium is $9.99/month for an individual, and it is included in your current subscription if you subscribe to Google Play Music Unlimited or YouTube Red. Family plans for YouTube Red/Google Play Music are available for up to 6 people at $14.99/month. YouTube Music Premium has a short but highly important feature list:

  • Removes ads
  • Enables Background playback, which allows you to listen to music with the screen off or while using other apps on your phone
  • Enables Offline playback, allowing you to download music for listening to when you're out and about without burning through your data cap
  • Google Home integration allows you to play albums/stations/artists via Google Home and on Chromecast Audio. With a Free account, you can only cast to TVs

If you're going to purchase YouTube Music Premium, you should splurge $2/month more for YouTube Premium, which extends the ad-removal, background playback and offline playback to the main YouTube app, as well as giving you access to YouTube Originals.

Jump on this bandwagon, because it is going places

Many look at YouTube Music and wonder if it's going to last. Listen to the app for one day and I can all but guarantee you'll know that answer is 'no'. Even if YouTube Music's recommendations weren't uncannily accurate, even if its selection didn't trounce any other music subscription on the market today, and even if it weren't the streaming platform with a damn-near universal sharing option — a YouTube link — we know YouTube Music is a long-haul endeavor for Google.

They've been building up the team and the contracts behind this for years, and Google intends to make it their only music service in a few short years. That's right, Google Play Music — and its free, 50,000 music locker — is going to be (eventually) migrated to YouTube Music, which means not only is YouTube Music going to have the best selection and the best algorithms, it's going to have the best music locker service, too.

So does YouTube Music have some kinks to work out? Absolutely. Is it worth your time, attention, and your money? You bet your Bluetooth headphones, it is. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some unreleased Disney Parks music to go savor.

See at YouTube