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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.