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YouTube Music's offline playback policies aren't just a nuisance, they're a disgrace

Gradient YouTube Music Notification
Gradient YouTube Music Notification (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

YouTube Music re-debuted almost a year ago as a promise of unparalleled selection and algorithmic prowess, but it was feature-light and bug-heavy. In the 11 months since, it's been a long and very slow road to fix the bugs and fill in the gaps in the app's performance, with it taking nine months for Android Auto support to be implemented and four months for audio quality controls to roll out to all users.

Casting from YouTube Music is still a mess and library management still needs work, but the biggest problem with using YouTube Music as your one and only music service — which is what I've done since setting up my Galaxy S10 (opens in new tab) — is that offline music, the music you rely on when Wi-Fi fails and signal is spotty, abandons me night after night when I need it most: on exhausted evening drives home.

For most normal music apps, you download music once, and that's that. So long as you connect your phone to the internet more than once a month, the music stays downloaded and you can keep the tunes flowing. YouTube Music is different, partially by necessity. Because YouTube Music relies upon YouTube's video library, it checks downloaded content once a day to ensure that everything downloaded hasn't been pulled from YouTube by the uploader or YouTube staff.

The problem here is that when YouTube Music makes this check, it deletes all downloaded music and then re-downloads it again. Every day.

YouTube Music can make this check at any time, but it usually does it in the afternoon or evening when the device is plugged in to charge. You'd think this wouldn't be much of an issue — if you're plugging in to charge later in the day, one would assume you're plugging in at home after a long day at work — but plugging in your phone for Android Auto in the car or topping off from a portable battery can trigger these checks, too, as can re-opening the app after clearing it from Recents.

The current song ends, but the next song never starts.

Even worse: if you have Download over Wi-Fi only turned on, YouTube Music will delete your downloads while on mobile data and start "Checking for incomplete downloads", leaving you with no music until you get to Wi-Fi again or kick over to mobile streaming. It's happened to me a dozen times in the last two months alone.

The current song ends, but the next song never starts because the downloaded playlist deletes itself. Even if you have streaming over data turned on, YouTube Music still halts your listening. If you're listening to a downloaded album or playlist when the downloads delete themselves, YouTube Music won't kick back over to streaming. You have to open the YouTube Music app and start a new queue up from scratch. That's not something any driver should have to hassle with at 70 miles an hour.

Noooooooooooo

Setting aside the egregious amount of Wi-Fi data re-downloading your offline library every day uses up, this stranding of users in transit — particularly while plugged in for Android Auto — is downright dangerous behavior for a Google-managed app to be presenting. I've resorted to downloading an emergency mixtape of MP3s in case I lose the offline library I pay YouTube $12 bucks a month for — and I have needed to use it more than one.

That's completely unacceptable.

Don't worry about YouTube Music replacing Google Play Music and don't even worry about YouTube Music not being as feature-packed as Spotify. YouTube Music has not been able to get offline music to work consistently in over 11 months of service, one of the most basic fundamental functions a music app performs.

And so long as YouTube Music is failing the fundamentals of a being a music app, it is dead in the water to any potential subscriber.

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Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

29 Comments
  • Had my issues with YTM, plenty in fact. But I can't say I've ever had this issue here. I've never had my offline music redownload or had issues playing it even when without internet for 24hrs so that's odd. I really wish they'd get the service to the level it should be at by now.
  • Same here. I have 300+ songs saved offline and have never had this issue.
    Every once in a while i'll catch the "checking for incomplete downloads" notification but it never downloads anything, unless I had something in the cue to download once connected to wi-fi.
    I'm wondering if the author of this article had some cleaner app that was clearing the cache.
  • I appreciate the Avengers and Star Trek soundtracks making an appearance in this article!
  • It was that or Disney fireworks music, so I went more mainstream nerdy.
  • Had all my music uploaded to gplaymusic some years ago, something like 15.000 music's - not a problem. Started since last year to rebuild my library on YouTube music (since gplaymusic is ending) and never got the same experience. Some music can't find (and can't upload my own), playlist messy (ordered by date of addition, not alphabetical), and doesn't tell me when it's duplicated (have 4 equal music's but random in the playlist - not easy to spot). They have a long way to go...
  • Oh well, I was deciding what streaming music service to use. Finally decided that, bugger 'em all. I'll use whatever non-subscription method is available to find something I like, then buy the download from Amazon.
    There's not much in the 'new releases' that I find all that interesting anyway, I'm 62 and set in my ways. Google seem to be intent on self-foot-gun-application these days. I wonder what they'll bollocks up next?
  • This. It's not an age thing. I have the music I like, and streaming services are pretty piss poor at servicing that niche, anyways... (That, or the recommendations are beyond terrible.) I buy the music or Albums I want from Amazon, then download on my PC and copy to my Phone's SD Card, my iMac (backed up via Time Machine) and my Kindle HD downloads its own copy automatically. Basically, just download from OneDrive on the other machines and Import into iTunes [with consolidation] (iMac) or move into the relevant Folder (on Phone). I have gigs of music that I've bought over the years. I probably saved hundreds over subscribing to streaming services, and I've never felt the need to do so in a long time. The only streaming service I've ever subscribed to was the Microsoft Zune Pass, because the 10 free tracks a month more than paid for the subscription - and I got a ton of music from that subscription :-P God, that was such a great deal... Since that ended, my music purchases have decreased tremendously, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I snagged a lot of my faves when I was subscribed to that service. I don't need a new copy of "Moonlight Sonata" or Stravinsky's Firebird Suite... Streaming services are so awful for people who like Classical Music (or anything not Pop, R&B, Rock). When they said GPM was going away, I deleted my Library and uninstalled the App. I only used it as an "additional backup location," anyways, since the actual music player is trash compared to Samsung's. I did buy two tracks from there, but just deleted the purchases, too, since they are backed up in multiple places (Other Devices, Time Machine) and I hated the way Google made you install their downloader just to download the files from their service (Amazon doesn't do this).
  • Yack! I tried it once (I was a very early subscriber to Google Play Music All Access) and the experience was janky. With what you're describing here, I'm beginning to get fearful of what's going to happen once the Play Music option goes away. :( I've uploaded all my CDs to Google over the years to have universal access to my music plus all the stuff that I can't possibly catch up to. Does any other service allow for uploading your own tracks with at least the quality that Google Play Music allows (320kbps) ?
  • Technically Plex, and there are several music apps that will stream or downloading and sync from Google Drive/OneDrive/Dropbox. None as easy as GPM.
  • I haven't had this issue. What drives me crazy is that I will playing downloaded music and randomly (too frequently) there's silence. The music is "playing" but no sound. So I have to open up the phone and stop, then start the music again to fix it. Stupid.
  • I THOUGHT THAT WAS JUST MY PHONE! Oh, good, I'm not crazy.
  • This exact thing happened last week with me. It was a 4 day trip. Had downloaded about a 100 songs. Played nice on the first day. The next day, all gone! And I was on roaming. The day I returned home and connected to the home wifi, all were back! Royally screwed the experience.
  • I know that feel so hard. I had to download some MP3s for emergencies to make sure I'd never be caught without at least SOME music again.
  • Google play music gives me issues, for one I hate that I lose my now playing queue if I accidently click a song I'm searching for, there's no undo. Another is sometimes the songs don't download correctly and it skips to the next one after it reaches a certain point in. Recently it's been skipping the middle of the song and it's frustrating me.
  • I've been on Play Music for a while. I guess it's getting time to jump to Spotify.
  • Don't jump just yet. GPM is still alive for now and YTM has worlds of progress to reach before it has enough feature-parity for migration.
  • I have not experience this issue with YTM. My only complaint is that when I first started using YTM back in late 2016 / early 2017, it's algorithms for suggesting new music seemed better. That and if I remove a song from my offline playlist it will put it back on. You would think if you skip past a song enough times it would remove it and get something new.
  • Thumbs down is literally the only way to keep it from popping up again.
  • I've been using YTM music for about 6 months now (4 months on iOS and now 2 months on my Pixel) and I've never experienced this issue! I have a handful of playlists downloaded, and they are always there when I need them, along with my offline mixtape. The only issue I had on iOS was that it didn't seem to update my downloaded playlists very often (i.e. if I added a song to the playlist, I had sometimes had to manually sync it before it would download the new song for offline). But that hasn't been a problem on Android, and I use the offline feature almost every day (up in the mountains where service is spotty). I do miss some of the GPM features, and there are some UI/design quirks with YTM. I switched from Apple Music and I honestly haven't run into any major problems. Also, I wish the audio quality was better, seems to be higher fidelity on GPM, if only slightly.
  • Haven't had that happen to me UK based if that makes any difference.
  • Google should pull a Groove with YTM and ditch it for a Spotify partnership.
  • Only if they improve Spotify's service. Right now its far too limiting for people coming from GPM. You can't (truly) upload missing files, your library and downloads are (laughably) limited to 10k songs, and it doesn't support a ratings system (like thumbs up and down). If Spotify, at the very least, removed the library and download caps it would be a more solid service. But it's a joke right now for anyone with a serious library.
  • My main music players are Qobuz for the quality, Amazon Music for the selection, and GPM once in a while just because I have purchased music in there.
  • Same problems occur regularly with Google Podcasts. I have to re-download episodes CONSTANTLY due to download failures, or them just flat-out disappearing. It's incredible that a software developer of Google's scope is consistently having these issues.
  • One other thing which is for certain (after death and taxes) is that technology will desert and confound you when it is needed most.
  • YTM is OK on my iPhone XS Max but it's still buggy, same on my Note9. My downloads haven't disappeared at all on either phone but I do have issues with my Note9 where YTM will choose to stream a song I have downloaded instead of downloading it. The same thing happens on my iPhone. I have to go to the Downloaded Songs section but, when I do, album art does not display on CarPlay (or my iPhone's lock screen). It displays on my Note9's lock screen but not in the notifications or in Android Auto. It's still a mess and has a ways to go before Google can even think about replacing GPM. There still needs to be better compatibility with CarPlay/Android Auto, Sonos needs more options too, people should be able to mix their local and downloaded files without problems, downloading a music video should download the video and not just its audio, liked songs should display that they're liked everywhere on YTM, playlists should show more than 5k songs, YTM's library should at least match GPM's, where the Hell is Rammstein?, and I can keep going on. Their ads during New Years and the Billboard Awards make it seem like YTM is a final product when it isn't.
  • lol reason #496 I went back to an iPhone. it just works....
    i like android. it simply isn't good enough to be a daily driver. stuff like this article are the norm for android.
    just ok? …
  • I had the same problem, talked to Tech Support and after a week of trying things they solved it via an app update. Never had the problem again.
  • Anyone using Napster (formerly Rhapsody->Real Player)? I've been with the service in all its forms since 1999 & still love it. Haven't had issues with offline play, & has always been stable for me.