When Google launched the big YouTube Music revamp in 2018, there was a lot of excitement that the company was eager to take on the likes of Spotify and Apple Music with full force. What we actually got was a half-baked service that required over a year of updates to catch-up to its competitors — leaving a bad taste and first impression in a lot of people's mouths along the way.
I dabbled a little with YouTube Music during its early days for work purposes, but after all of my assigned articles were completed, I turned my back on it and continued to use Spotify as I've been doing for years. Fast forward to about a month ago, and I felt it was time for a change. I've loved having Spotify as my streaming service and have virtually zero complaints with it, but in an endless quest to save money each month, it became an expense I found hard to justify.
Worth a shot
No streaming service is perfect, but YouTube Music has reached the point where its quirks don't really interfere with its service and truly excellent mix algorithms.
My parents and I share different subscriptions that we use. I pay for the Disney Plus bundle, they pay for a Google Play Music family plan we've had for ages, and it works out great. My wife and I have used that Google Play Music subscription (which includes YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium) for watching YouTube ad-free, but up until recently, I ignored the inclusion of YouTube Music due to my allegiance to Spotify and all of the grievances my colleagues have aired about it.
I was effectively spending $120/year for a service I already had access to.
Here's the thing, though. With Spotify, I'm paying $120 every year to get music streaming — something I already have access to with that Google Play Music / YouTube subscription. From a budgeting point of view, that doesn't make any sense. So, I decided to cancel my Spotify Premium plan and exclusively use YouTube Music for a full month. To be perfectly honest, it's been way better than I was expecting.
YouTube Music has been well-deserving of the criticism it's gotten over the last few months. It didn't get gapless playback until late last year, albums and playlists couldn't be sorted until this past August, and it's handling of offline downloads used to be a disaster. All of that made me anxious to rely on it as my streamer of choice, but as Ara pointed out last month, most of YouTube Music's major bugs/issues have been ironed out.
I'm a pretty casual music listener. I like having tunes playing throughout the day while I work, and I tend to stick with the artists I've come to love over the years (while venturing out to find a new one every now and then). With Spotify, 90% of the time I would throw on one of my Daily Mixes and just let that play. Spotify's been learning my taste and preferences for a solid few years, so the Daily Mixes are a sure-fire way to find music I know I'll enjoy.
I was disappointed to see that none of my Google Play Music history from way back when was carried over to YouTube Music, so a lot of this month has been a process of digging up artists and songs I enjoy, tapping the Like button, and letting YouTube Music get a good understanding of the kind of stuff I listen to. Overall, it's done a pretty solid job.
YouTube Music has learned a lot about my music tastes in a very short amount of time.
Your Mix is my default way to listen to music. It's an endless stream of songs you've liked, or YouTube Music thinks you'll be interested in, and I've been quite happy with it. The picks tend to be spot-on, and as you make your way through the playlist, more and more tracks are endlessly added to keep you listening all-day long. It tended to be a bit repetitive during my first couple of weeks, but as I've gone about liking songs, it's gotten better and better.
Speaking of liked songs, I appreciate that liking a song doesn't automatically add it to your library. This is something Spotify does, and I always found it incredibly annoying as it would clutter up my library with songs I liked but didn't necessarily want to save for endless listening.
Liking a song in YouTube Music helps the algorithm get smarter and adds them to an automatically created "Liked songs" playlist, but they don't clutter the albums or artists' sections in your library. Compared to how Spotify handles this, I vastly prefer YouTube Music in this regard.
Continuing with the positives, I love how clean and simplistic the YouTube Music app is for both mobile and web. The dark theme looks gorgeous, all of the settings are easily accessible, and it's been perfectly responsive on Android, iOS, and with the desktop site on my iMac. Also, as silly as it sounds, I really dig the custom YouTube Sans font. What can I say — I'm a sucker for good fonts.
This hasn't been a perfect experience, however, and there are some quirks with YouTube Music that have definitely stuck out to me. Most notably, YouTube Music's library can be...weird.
I discovered a song called "Cradles" in a playlist I was listening to one day, really liked it, and decided to search the artist (Sub Urban) in the app. When I did, I found two different artist pages for them. One has two of Sub Urban's older singles, while the other just has their latest one — but also shows Cradles in the Videos category but not under the Singles one.
I thought this was maybe an issue with Sub Urban having two different YouTube channels, but a quick search on the YouTube app reveals just one channel. What gives?
Here's another example. I started listening to Flora Cash last year, and they created a song (Born In The Slumber) for the Death Stranding soundtrack. The song is available on YouTube Music, but only under the artist of "Death Stranding: Timefall." If you go to Flora Cash's artist page, it's nowhere to be found.
Lastly, YouTube Music makes weird decisions on which albums to pull certain songs from. Flora Cash has another great song called "You're Somebody Else," but if it comes up in my Your Mix or I search for it in the app, it appears on a NOW That's What I Call Music album rather than Flora Cash's own one.
These things aren't deal-breakers, but as you run across them over and over again on any given day, they're reminders that YouTube Music still has work left to do before it's as polished as its many competitors.
My first month with YouTube Music has me excited and hopeful about its future.
And you know what? I'm perfectly fine putting up with some annoyances like that if it means I get to keep an extra $120 in my pocket every year. YouTube Music still isn't perfect and lacks the beauty that is Spotify Connect, but it's nowhere near as bad as people had led me to believe.
YouTube Music is a perfectly competent streamer, and the YouTube Premium bundle still remains as one of the best values in the digital landscape. If you're doing what I used to do and have YouTube Premium while also paying for Spotify (or any other streaming service), I urge you to at least give YouTube Music a shot. It's a perfectly enjoyable experience, and you'll save some cash at the same time. What's not to like?
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