From music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to video services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, there's more and more subscriptions anxious to get your money every month, but one of the best values in subscription streaming isn't one subscription, it's three.
Three services, one goal
The oldest service in this little subscription pack is Google Play Music, which launched back in 2013 with the service's last major overhaul. Google Play Music's subscription — called All Access at the time — allows you to mix your free personal, uploaded library of 50,000 songs with Google's subscription library of 40 million songs. You can store your music offline for convenient playback without blowing your data cap, and you can use Play Music on up to 10 devices.
If you can get it, YouTube Red is a must-have subscription.
YouTube Red was the next addition in 2015, allowing you to ditch the ads on YouTube as well as view Red-only Originals programming. While Red's original programming has been expanding and improving, it's still safe to say that the best features of YouTube Red are the three features you can use with regular YouTube videos: ditching ads, saving videos offline for playback later, and background play — the ability to listen to YouTube videos while you do something else on your phone. For people who use YouTube to listen to music, this feature was crucial.
For music-listening YouTubers, there was another addition a few months after YouTube Red: YouTube Music, a dedicated Android and iOS app for browsing and listening to eligible musical YouTube videos. While YouTube Music is technically available for free users, there's not much to do in the app unless you're a YouTube Red subscriber. YouTube Music's app has a more immersive UI, and more importantly, a dark UI. The stations in YouTube Music are also more customizable than the ones in the main YouTube app.
Standout features, overlooked services
While YouTube remains one of the most popular video sites in the world, Google Play Music is to most an afterthought behind Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Even among YouTube users, YouTube Music is seldom used, if users remember it exists at all. Each of Google's services on their own doesn't always live up to a $10/month price tag, but when combined, they earn their keep and then some.
For instance, even if you run out of devices for Google Play Music, YouTube Red and YouTube Music don't have device limits, ensuring that you'll still have some music capabilities and all of your video perks on all devices. YouTube Red allows you to make and download playlists almost as easily as Google Play Music does, and the playlists containing compatible videos appear in both YouTube Red and YouTube Music, allowing you to make playlists on YouTube's desktop app and listen on the YouTube Music Android app.
Then, of course, there's Google Play Music's Family subscription, which allows users to pay $16/month for up to six users instead of $10 for one. In addition to sharing access to 40 million songs in Play Music's streaming library, the other members of your Family subscription also get YouTube Music and YouTube Red, eliminating their ads and enabling offline/background playback. Even though my family doesn't use Google Play Music as frequently as I do, they're more than happy to be rid of YouTube's ads and take advantage of offline playback.
Merger on the horizon
Google having this ill-advertised, kinda confusing three-for-one subscription isn't exactly helping subscription numbers, and of course having to support three separate apps with different libraries, capabilities, and UIs divides Google's efforts and keeps users from having a unified library. There's been talk of Google merging the services into one, and Google confirmed its intentions to merge the services back in the summer. In fact, the music teams for Play Music and YouTube merged some time age, but for now the user faces three separate but linked services with their own perks and pitfalls.
Regardless of the confusion surrounding Google's Play Music/YouTube Red subscription, it's hard to deny the benefits of the bundle when you see them all together:
- Access to 40 million songs in Google Play Music's subscription library, as well as up to 50,000 personal uploaded songs from up to 10 devices and from most internet browsers
- Combine personal, uploaded music with subscription library tracks in playlists and personalized radio stations
- Download all your favorite music for offline playback
- Watch billions of hours of videos on YouTube from creators big and small around the world without ads on your phone, computer, or TV
- Listen to YouTube videos while completing other tasks on your phone, or with the screen off, with background playback
- Save YouTube videos locally to play offline
- Watch YouTube-original shows and movies
- Listen to or watch millions of musical YouTube videos
- Explore new music through customizable radio stations
- Take your favorite musical YouTube videos offline with Offline mixtape and offline playlists
Really, if you live in a country that offers Google Play Music and YouTube Red, you'd be crazy not to subscribe to all that. Even Netflix doesn't offer that much for $10/month, and we all know you can find way more stuff to watch on YouTube.
Updated January 2018: Updated to reflect name changes and the continued wait for a unified service.
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