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YouTube Music review: A mixtape full of promise

AC

Score

4

From the latest official music videos to bootlegged, out-of-print albums to concerts and cover videos, you can find just about any song you want to hear on YouTube, which hosts the biggest video library in the world and quite possibly the biggest music library, too. It's no surprise that YouTube would seek to capitalize on that massive library to try and better market itself to music lovers, but the new YouTube Music — much like its 2015 predecessor — has had a few missteps in its first months.

But YouTube Music is in this for the long haul, and while there are still some rough spots in the app and service to be worked out, YouTube Music can definitely rock you right now.

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 have a Google account — and thus a YouTube account — YouTube Music 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 if it can access your location. That's it. No tedious onboarding, no patronizing walkthrough of how to play a song; just give it your permissions and it will take you straight to the Home feed.

The constantly shifting recommendation carousels on the Home feed are based on your location, history, and time of day. Some of these recommendations can be really useful — especially when you're building up a traditional "library" — but some music video recommendations just aren't as helpful.

If you're looking to build up your library and you want to be scared by how well YouTube Music really knows you, start Your Mixtape.

If you want to know just how dead-on YouTube Music knows you, this is the best way to tell.

Your Mixtape is an endless mix of songs and videos YouTube compiles based on your library and history, and for newer users, the feature usually appears after a couple of hours of listening and liking songs. 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. Two days in with the new YouTube Music, I wasn't reaching for my phone to change the songs anymore, but to thumb songs up and add them to my library.

Almost three months in now, and Your Mixtape has become the default when I open YouTube Music. Not only does Your Mixtape 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.

Your lips are movin

YouTube Music truly 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 pirated music that was uploaded without copyright consent.

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

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

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

In YouTube Music, official albums and song have square album art instead of a landscape video thumbnail. This makes YouTube Music look and behave a little more like a traditional music player, and it also makes label-uploaded music easier to distinguish from the pirates and the posers as it sits in the Song and Album categories rather than the free-for-all that is Videos.

The only safe, reliable place to look for this music is YouTube.

That said, 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 or lost when a label folded, soundtracks from the Disney Parks firework shows. It's the kind of music that's usually only available in some seedy fileshare site or in hard-to-find, hard-to-infiltrate swap groups.

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 and in one library.

Everything ties to YouTube, for better or worse

YouTube Music gives YouTube a pollution problem.

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. Now, in back at launch, YouTube Music completely overtook many users watch histories and playlist library, but YouTube has segregated YouTube Music watch history and albums from the main YouTube app, just as non-music YouTube videos won't show up in YouTube Music playlists and recommendations.

Every playlist you make or save to library from YouTube's recommendations is still added to your Playlists in the main YouTube app. 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. For others, this just means their playlists tab in YouTube got much more difficult to navigate. Artists you subscribe you in YouTube Music show up in the Subscriptions tab on the main YouTube app, too — for now, at least.

YouTube Music's management team is working to make sure YouTube Music and YouTube compliment each other without polluting users' experiences on the other app. It's still a work-in-progress, but it's far better than it was at launch already.

YouTube Music (Key) Beta 2.0

Regardless of the hype around YouTube Music right now, the 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 still streams if you play it outside the Downloads section — and downloaded music is completely deleted and redownloaded regularly. This can spell trouble for users on data-capped home internet and can strand users without music if it starts to re-download its music and then loses Wi-Fi.

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.

Offline mixtape is awesome

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. Offline mixtape is a delight: a playlist that regenerates and re-downloads itself every day based on Your mixtape and your daily listening.

Of course, Downloads are only available to YouTube Music Premium subscribers...

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

Audio-only and casting to Home are Premium features, but don't pay YouTube Music Premium for them

YouTube Music Premium has a short but highly important feature list:

  • Removes ads
  • Enables Background playback, allowing you to listen to music with the screen off
  • Enables Offline playback, allowing you to download music for listening on the go
  • 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, stop right now and go get YouTube Premium instead. Why pay $10/month for premium in one app when you can pay $12/month for six apps' premium experience?

Read more: YouTube Premium is Google's bundle future — and its only great streaming deal

Zero to Hero

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 'yes'. 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.

4 out of 5

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 song music locker — is going to be (eventually) migrated to YouTube Music.

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 Disney parades to get carried away to.

See at YouTube

Updated August 2018: This review has been updated to reflect the summer's progress with YouTube Music, including the rollout to 17 countries and library updates.

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.

52 Comments
  • I don't like the app at all. I'm not interested in anything other than the official music from artists when I listen to my regular music on a daily basis. If I want something else, I will specifically go to youtube to listen to it. Absolutely no need to combine the two.
  • YouTube Music is not going to force-feed you covers and fan content. Unless you put "cover" in the search with your song/album title, it's going to offer up official content over covers and remixes every time. Your Mixtape plays 97% official songs and official music videos for me, and I'm someone who DOES listen to a fair bit of "unofficial" (non-commercially released) music.
  • Absolutely agree - really, really dislike the new app, the blurring of video & audio, and, well virtually everything about using a video-centric interface and system for music.
  • but its not video centric
  • It really isn't video centric anymore. Especially since most of Your Mixtape and other stations are built on official songs rather than videos these days.
  • The fact that there's music that you can't find officially on the other options makes this interesting to me. Spotify is my choice but this might be something to watch out for. I value my student discount though, so I'll probably just be watching from afar...
  • ((whispers)) Your student discount will eventually expire... And YouTube Music will be waiting for you when it does.
  • I just started my program so I have some time before that happens but hopefully some of the issues will work themselves out in the meantime.
  • Yeah, you have time, and no doubt things will improve. Watch your student subscription carefully, I've heard stories of people being kicked off because they didn't notice an email asking to reconfirm their educational email is still active.
  • So I've been a Google Play Music subscriber since the beginning. I think I pay like $8/month and I get YouTube Red included and all the ad free experience that comes with it. What does this mean for me changing to YouTube Music?
  • Your price will be grandfathered in. You'll have access to everything (red, YouTube music, ad free, background play etc.) No changes to worry about, carry on as usual :)
  • You have all three services (GPM, YTM and YouTube Red) and will continue to receive all three services (GPM, YTM Premium, YouTube PRemium). You don't need to change your subscription in any way since you already pay for YouTube Music Premium.
  • Will this happen for family subs? For example, if I'm on a personal plan now, would signing up to the family plan now get a cheaper grandfathered plan than if I upgraded later?
  • They haven't announced a higher family plan price for YouTube Red, but yeah, if you got a family plan now, you should keep it at the current price. They can't raise prices on any current subscribers without giving them plenty of notice.
  • So this might be a pretty niche question, but it matters a lot to me. I still have a legacy Simple Choice data plan w/ TMo, and I am able to stream Google Play Music without consequence to my data cap because of Music Freedom. If Google kills GP Music in favor of YT Music, am I just going to have to swtich to Spotify of the like? I'm definitely not changing data plans.
  • That would be a question for your carrier, and we're a ways out from GPM migrating to YTM anyway.
  • It shouldn't matter to you. YouTube is covered under BingeOn, so none of the audio and video counts against your data cap.
  • Yet another Google product released as NOT READY. Kinks to work out?? NO these are not kinks they are entirety missing features that should have been ready at launch. I just don't get it. None of my playlists carried over, no uploaded songs, no equalizer, just a dozen Liked songs from years ago which don't match my GPM. and what are we calling this? Red? No though still says Red Early Access separate from GPM but YTM is Red with audio only but plays videos too and there's premium which i already have if i have Red?? So I need 3 apps? Will hangouts or allo start playing music? What a friggin CF!!!
  • YouTube Music isn't going to even begin the migration process before the end of the year. YouTube Music is only tied to your YouTube library right now, not GPM. And yeah, it needs work. But it's still more than enough for the average user to start playing with right now.
  • Better than Play Music. Not using at the moment because the apps library is empty though.
  • No, it's worse... Much worse sound quality.
  • If you're waiting for your Google Play Music library to magically appear there, you're going to be waiting until 2018 (at least). I'm very particular about my music, but I've gotten at least the beginnings of my library built on YouTube Music and Your Mixtape is ridiculously good at helping me add another few songs every time I listen to it.
  • Ok, I found an article on YouTube Music by 'The Verge' that mentions audio quality. "Right now, you can’t change the audio quality in YouTube Music. There is no option in the settings menu, so you’re stuck at YouTube Music’s default quality of 128kbps (AAC on mobile, OPUS for web) with a good connection, and 64kbps in poor network conditions. YouTube tells me it will add an audio quality selector and a higher bitrate option (256kbps) “soon.” But for now, if you listen to music at the highest quality on your current streaming service, you’ll experience an audio downgrade until that update is rolled out." IE: Lousy music quality, much worse than Google Play Music. No chance I have any interest in this service. Sound quality is extremely important. I know no service is lossless, but YouTube Music is a joke. Full article : https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/25/17391686/youtube-music-review
  • YouTube Music is a complete joke. And this is what they want to use to replace Google Play Music? The people in charge of YouTube refuse to give any straight answers regarding the future of GPM or YTM. After seeing the same thing happen with Hangouts/Allo, I think I already know what's going to happen here. And I'm changing to a different streaming service.
  • Remind me again, how rocky was Spotify when it debuted years ago (and let's not forget -- you still can't edit playlist order or details on Android OR WEB CLIENT)? And how many bugs do we still have with Google Play Music today? No service is perfect, and these are obviously early days. The strategy for YouTube Music/Google Play Music isn't being publicly shared yet for a number of reasons, but most importantly, Google isn't going to tie itself to a single plan or timeline until they have a better idea of how the new service is doing and a better idea of how any possible merger/migration would be possible and be reasonably executed. It's your money. Pay for a service that makes you happy. I'll keep paying for the one that gives me one stable music service, one new music service that I can hunt down every bug and feature in, and the best experience on the most popular video service on the planet. It's still the best bargain in media subscriptions. I listen to my music over Bluetooth headphones, my car stereo, and Google Home. Forgive me for not weeping at "okay enough" audio and focusing on how search is awesome but still kinda broken and that library management is going to be a bear for the next few months.
  • It does not currenly integrate with Android Auto....
  • Which is a damn shame and something I have already inquired about to Google PR. When they get back to me, I'll share it with our readers, but until then, at least I've got Google Play Music to keep me company in the car.
  • I’m on the family plan and everything is working fine.
  • Thanks for following up on questions Ara, something this impacting will garner a lot of attention and of course questions.
  • Ok, dopey question but when I add an album to my library, is it streaming only or can I play it when I have no service?
  • If you are a Google Play Music/YouTube Red/YouTube Music Premium subscriber, you have access to offline playback, meaning albums can be downloaded and played offline. Paid users can do it, free users cannot.
  • I have been using YouTube music since I singed up for YouTube Red 2 - 3 years ago. It is the only audio streaming service that I have stuck with for a long time. YouTube Music gives me more access to remixes then I have experienced in other services. I personally do not make my own playlists because I get bored with song quickly and just love the the auto playlists that YT Music makes for me.
  • So far I like the play music interface better tried the YouTube music again for 5 minutes and switched back
  • I will be glad when they allow you to upload your personal music.
  • You know Google takes their music services seriously when they give Spotify access to their clock app for alarms first.
  • You know Google takes their music services seriously when they give Spotify access to their clock alarms first.
  • Not usable until my Google Play Music playlists are ported over (assuming that's going to happen).
  • Dearest Android Central, Please inform us when YouTube Music is a finished product. Until then, quality is garbage, and menus are incomplete. YouTube Music, at present, is no threat to Google Play Music, Spotify, or Apple Music on Android. The Apple Android app gets last place because podcasts are not offered.
  • Until the bitrate matches that of Spotify I don't see myself switching anytime soon.
  • With you on that. Not going to downgrade quality without a good reason.
  • I formerly used both GPM (plenty of DJ mixes in my locker) and YTM (stuff you can't find anywhere else in volume like old house, blues, and southern bass). I now almost always use GPM. I do most of my listening in the car, and now that I use Android Auto regularly it's the only available option. YTM needs to work in Android Auto locked in audio-only mode. I'm surprised that this hasn't been a priority for Google considering they want it to be their only service.
  • Nobody is begging for lossless bit rates... The quality of GPM is excellent. NPR did a great test, either click the link I provided or Google NPR and How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality. Take the test! https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can...
  • The idea of lossless digital sounds great until you think about the quality of the environments you're in. While working - earbuds. At the gym - sweat-proof earbuds. In the car - car speakers & road noise. To paraphrase an old saying 'If your music drops bits here and there, but you didn't hear it, did it really drop bits?'
  • GPM is still a lower bitrate than Spotify.
  • "But YouTube Music is in this for the long haul, ...", or at least until Google comes up with a new idea.
    I signed up for GP Music within the past year, and finally got the hang of using it when YT Music was announced. I'm going to ride out GP Music until the very end. Hopefully, the YT Music interface will be (kind of) settled by then.
  • I hope GPM never dies... It is excellent. Bands, albums, podcasts, quality, clean oacksge... Happiness I don't need video stored on my phone or streaming on the go... Nor in a vehicle... Ever. Google is playing with fire by introducing incomplete, awful YouTube Music... Screw up music and its a deal breaker for most young smart phone buyers... Ie. The folks who will pick Apple or Android and likely never switch... Akthough subscription services make switching Apple / Android very easy... Because you have no purchased music... It's on a monthly lease, lol.
  • What is with y'all in these comments? Who switches phones bc of an app independent of the phone? Why would someone switch to or from iOS bc they don't like YouTube music? Why wouldn't they just simply switch to one of the many other music streaming apps available?
  • The issue with streaming platforms is they think we all like mixtapes and curated playlists. I like the control of my own library. If Google f**ks this up and kills GPM by moving us to a YouTube version of Spotify I'm going to iOS. P.s. Android Central - I will disable my adblocker when your website doesn't turn into a mess with ads on.
  • Lol so you're gonna switch phones bc of an app instead of just switching apps? You're gonna really show Google lol
  • Other than the basic reasons to have a phone (calling/messaging), to me, music is the most important feature of my smartphone. Spotify isn't a decent enough platform to me because of personal library limitations. Apple Music on Android is limited (can't chromecast) - so yeah, I would go to iOS because I know that the music experience with iTunes is solid.
  • I can't believe they amazing Groove Music never caught on like it should have, and as a result I am stuck with garbage like this. The design is awful.
  • I travel a lot and YouTube music won't work in countries it's not available yet, unlike Google Play Music. Delete.