Today, YouTube Music is where it should have been 18 months ago

YouTube Music needs to grow up
YouTube Music needs to grow up (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

You might not know me, but if you do, you know that I refuse to leave home without headphones. Music doesn't just soothe the savage beast; it makes me and my life better — keeping my energy up while I work, keeping my mind sharp while I drive, and keeping me sane as it blocks out the din of a thousand crying kids leaving the Magic Kingdom at closing time.

I require a lot from the apps that provide my music, and when YouTube Music first launched in 2015, it was a neat idea marred by a complete lack of features. Even when it re-launched in May of last year, things were still pretty rocky, between a lack of library management — and a host of other missing features — and a legion of small but annoying bugs. Offline music was completely unreliable, Casting was a hot mess, and songs and albums would vanish and reappear with no warning. There was promise, to be sure, but unless you were a freak like me that needed the integration with YouTube's collection of user-uploaded music, there was no real reason to put up with the service's flaws. This was even true six months ago.

However, finally, a steady stream of improvements has gotten YouTube Music to the point where I think it's ready for regular users to give it a fair shot. If you've been debating a switch away from Spotify or Apple Music, YouTube Music might be a good fit for you these days.

At long last, proper library management

One of the biggest grievances people had with YouTube Music in the early days was that you could only sort your library by Recently Added, which meant that trying to dig out an album in your library meant trying to remember how long ago you added it to your library. For songs, this task was even harder, and it made looking through your library to build a playlist or a shuffle downright painful.

Finally, A to Z sorting

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

These days, though, you can sort your library alphabetically as well as by Recently Added on the Android and iOS apps (Recently Added is still how your library is sorted on the YouTube Music website). We're not quite sure why it took over a year for YouTube to get this working, but it makes a world of difference in browsing for music, especially when you want to stay in Liked Songs instead of starting a new radio station for every single track.

Music can still disappear from YouTube Music a little bit more frequently than other platforms. Whenever labels replace an album for a higher quality recording or re-upload to change a detail, it seems to create a new album listing and delete the old one. Before, if an album got pulled, you had no idea which songs were gone. The song info is now grayed out but left in Liked Songs so that you could easily search for and replace it, something I do about every 9-12 months.

Offline reliability

Let's go offline

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

YouTube Music used to have this nasty little habit of deleting all my downloaded music when I plugged in for Android Auto on my way home from work or the parks, leaving me music-less in late traffic and unspeakably annoyed. It also didn't help that if you wanted to shuffle all your downloaded music, you had to add them all to a specific playlist or download every song individually so they'd be in Downloaded Songs. Uf course, you had to manually download everything except Offline mixtape.

I'm happy to report that since YouTube upgraded offline music with Smart Downloads, all of my problems have been solved. No more nuked downloads and no problems getting in the car and playing my music. YouTube also finally answered my prayers and gave us a Shuffle all button in the downloads section, which honestly encourages me to stick to Downloaded music whenever I'm on my phone and avoid using mobile data on my music.

Smart Download playlist count

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Smart Downloads expanded on the Offline Mixtape feature for people who don't want to go in and manually download a ton of playlists or albums, and it's a great way to get a good sample of your library offline. You choose how many songs it downloads for you, from 1-500 songs. If you choose under 100 songs, it just downloads Offline Mixtape. For the songs between 101-500, it downloads albums and playlists you've recently played.

This makes it drop-dead easy to quickly get a selection before going offline with a new phone. I do have a small warning about longer playlists: Smart Downloads doesn't always download full playlists — it prefers to split things up and present more choices for you — so if you see a longer playlist like Liked Songs in Smart Downloads, tap on it. At the top of the song list, you'll see "Smart downloaded XX songs," and if you want the rest you can tap the download icon next to the album art.

Shuffle finally digs deep

Shuffle deeper!

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Once upon a time, tapping Shuffle in a big playlist turned into something of a Recent hits shuffle, as it would shuffle in about 15% older songs with 85% songs near the top of the playlist. In the last few weeks, YouTube has tweaked the shuffle algorithm and it's shown quite a noticeable improvement when shuffling larger mixes and when playing Your Mixtape. More throwbacks from deeper in Liked Songs and added albums seem to be making more appearances than before.

Your Mixtape nailed my tastes to a downright scary degree from day one of the re-launch, and the recent shuffle tweaks have only made it that much better to drag me into a music high and keep me there with the throwbacks. Like anything else, Your Mixtape has to be trained, but if YouTube has years of watch history to pull from — music videos, lyric videos, and remixes — it can start from a way better place for you than Spotify or Apple Music do. This is why whenever I dip back into those services to re-evaluate, I still find myself pining for Your Mixtape.

Never want to hear music video version again? We got you

YouTube Music has always had a toggle to switch between Video and Song, but six months ago, that toggle just took you between actually playing the video or hearing the music video audio-only. Honestly, I was perfectly content with this because in very rare cases, I liked to hear the music video over the album version. However, for most folks, that toggle was a lie because they weren't hearing the proper song when switched from the video.

Song or video

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Well, the masses have got what they wanted, as now the video/song toggle switches between the music video and album track. You can even click on the Don't play music videos toggle in YouTube Music settings to keep them from popping up in Your Mixtape and other shuffles.

This is great news for casual listeners because the app now makes the most sense to most people. It's a bit of a mixed bag for me because that means I have to specifically kick out of Song mode if I want to hear the music video version of No Tears Left To Cry, then grab my phone and switch Song mode back on for the rest of the playlist.

What's still to come

This app finally casts a spell

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android CentralAra Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android CentralAra Wagoner / Android Central)

YouTube Music still has a ways to go before it's ready to completely take over for Google Play Music. For example, gapless playback is here for some users, but I think it's still in A/B testing, and the music locker hasn't been implemented yet. However, YouTube Music is a viable option that's ready for new users to try it out, and if you gave it a shot a year ago, it's time to come back for seconds.

Between the changes to how shuffles and mixes pull up your favorite tunes and how much better it is to manage your online and offline library, YouTube Music can finally call itself a good music app. Although you do have to wonder: Why the hell couldn't it get it to this point before spending tens of millions of dollars on that relaunch campaign 18 months ago?

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.

  • Made the move last year from Google Play Music. The writing is on the wall after all. Took some getting used to, but it has gotten better. I'm happy with it.
  • I run both apps but GPM is still better. Until they transfer my playlist and uploaded music over, I will continue to use GPM. And if they kill GPM before doing that, I will cancel and sign up with Specify. I also feel GPM has more music for some reason.
  • Agree 100%. My only gripe about these services is they play the remix versions all the time or off greatest hits. I/We want the original vinyl version otherwise what's the point? I always have to deal with remixes. Don't want that
  • They need to do something about the price. $12 a month may be fine, i don't know, but £12 a month feels like I'm being gouged.
  • Hopefully they'll release an Android TV app for my Nvidia Shield before I die.
  • And a few years from now they'll cancel this
  • It's not ready yet to replace GPM. Even though I chose not to play music video, first song I tried was the music video audio sans visuals not thee pure audio recording.
    Still no on the go caching of music. I don't want to specifically pick an offline mixtape or download music, I have lots of data to burn so just paly it on the fly but catch the next track so when I'm out of range of data temporarily I still get music. Instead it just dies when there is no data. GPM still does it well. Alas I think they will kill GPM before they make YTM of equal worth, thus forcing folks over. I'll have to find another service if that happens.
  • I use Apple music and YouTube music and YTM is not even close yet.
  • thanks, Spotify is better
  • I have been using YTM since I got my OG Pixel XL and love it. It has helped me discover new tracks that I enjoy.
  • There's still a lot of problems here. First, where is the migration from GPM that they promised 2 years ago? Second, My Mixtape consists entirely of 4 artists. I know I selected way more than that and y'know, if you go back to the first point and look at my GPM playlists, they'd realize that I have a bigger variety of artists I'd like to hear. Third, YouTube Music works maybe half the time when I use "Wake me up to [some song] at [some time]" on my Nest Home Hub. GPM works 100% of the time. When it comes to wakeup alarms, I need 100% reliability. So, no. Not switching any time soon.
  • This is good news, but for me it just means the death of GPM is closer. Ironically, VLC just had a UI redesign, and the music portion looks like a direct rip of GPM. My primary players are Qobuz, Amazon Music, GPM, and VLC in that order. Amazon has been getting on my nerves lately because when you are searching for a song, and it turns out to be the wrong one, it stays in your collection even when you delete it and clear the cache.
  • I still can not cast to chromecast / home with the free version.
  • The radio station playback is still drastically inferior to Pandora for discovering new music, but the UI is nicer than even Spotify and there's no beating the original user uploaded content. I think the biggest downside besides the rampant bugs (dropped playback mid song, often loses it's place using Android Auto) is that it completely contaminates your YouTube "watch next" suggestions with music, basically forcing you to create a separate channel if you want to keep "youtube" for videos and "youtube music" for music, and having multiple channels under the same account is not a user-friendly process.
  • Have you checked out the discovery station or the new release station? Both of those will help you discover new music...discovery is more so for music similar to what u listen to and new release is everything
  • Sounds like a mess to me. And not in an interesting way at all....
  • Until they move my playlists over, I'm sticking with GPM. I have a few playlists that are hundreds of songs long that I've curated for years. They're what I listen to when I am at work so they need to be long. If they shut down GPM before moving playlists over, I am going to Spotify.
  • @lkbig Agreed, it's GPM for me until a playlist migration tool is released. If Google decide not to provide it I also will be cancelling my subscription and moving elsewhere.
    If I'm forced to manually redo my extensive playlists I will punish Google the only way I can by stopping my subscription and using an ad blocker on all Google products such as search and YouTube etc.
  • I feel the same way where are my playlist
  • Don't replace Play Music give us the choice to keep it as is please.
  • i've never understood the "i'm going to spotify" response. either way you will still have to rebuild the playlist and moving to spotify you will also have to thumbs up and down a bunch of music so the algorithm can figure out what type of music you like. Plus spotify has it's issues too there are even more threads online about spotify issues because there are way more users.
  • I don't either. My guess is that people trust Spotify to remain a music service longer than YouTube Music. Two years from now we could be talking about switching from YouTube Music to a new Google music service....
  • Nah. Until it can play music in the background.. Not my locally saved music but the streamed YT music. Until then, it's GPM and Spotify for the win.
  • Been doing that since day one... Would be a weird feature to lack for a music app
  • Made the switch from GPM last year and no regrets. I have tried Spotify but just didn't like it.
  • Wrong move I think. Play Music is better. Cleaner.
  • I think the person was saying he/she switched to YTM last year from GPM
  • Can you port your Google Music over to YT Music yet?
  • Stay with Play Music. No reason to switch
  • Still prefer Play Music. Why does everybody want Play Music to die? I don't. I love it and I want to continue to use it. I want that choice.
  • They don't want it to die...these sites created this hysteria about GPM being replaced when google never gave an definitive date as to when they plan on doing this plus they are still updating GPM along with YTM so who knows if they will even carry out what they said... we all know google is quick to change up on app ideas
  • I was wondering why I never had any of the issues I see people talking about with YTM and now I see it's probably because I don't use Android Auto...from reading the article it seems that created a bunch of the problems for the writer. Almost every song I looked for has been on there, my music never randomly stops, my new release station I have on auto download consistently updates and I can listen to it offline with no issue. Plus most of the songs I listen to are cached automatically and I can play them offline too 🤷‍♂️ maybe i'm one of the lucky ones
  • I won't even consider to use YouTube Music until Google add an ability to buy music instead of using subscription.
  • If Amazon Music Unlimited wasn't such a hot mess on Android Auto, I'd make the switch. I have a 90 days free subscription to it which, expires in the middle of January. GPM is much a better on experience on Android Auto. As it should be, since it's a Google product.
  • I just wish New Releases were highlighted more in the UI. New music usually comes out Fridays and its suprising that big name releases aren't the first thing you see. Also when you do find New Releases there are only about ten results listed which really isn't enough.
  • I was on Google Play Music a few years ago. It was perfectly usable AND NO ADS ON YOUTUBE.....that was an amazing benefit that kept me with GPM. Right now, I'm testing Spotify for the first time. I currently pay for Amazon Prime Music because it is the cheapest (when purchased with Amazon Prime) by far.
    I just bought the Google Home Max speaker, but I think I can use Amazon's service (with voice commands) once I plug the new Amazon "Echo Input" device into the Home Max aux port. With this setup, I am free to use any music streaming service I like (non-Apple).
    I have ZERO INTEREST in watching music videos, so it is sort of concerning that there might be a switch entirely away from GPM.
  • Not having access to the all of my own music that I have uploaded to Google Play Music via Music Locker is enough for me to pass on YouTube Music.