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YouTube Music vs. Google Play Music: Which should you use?

When we compare music services, we're usually trying to help you figure out which one you should give your money to. After all, it's somewhat rare for a company to offer two completely different music services with completely different feature sets and catalogs, but Google has always been somewhat rare when it comes to music.

If you pay for Google Play Music, you get a Premium subscription to YouTube Music with YouTube Red. If you pay for YouTube Red, you get a premium subscription to Google Play Music. Because you get both of these services when you subscribe to one, this comparison is going to be a little bit different.

Google also keeps slipping out details of plans for YouTube Music eventually replacing Google Play Music, and while that is a long, long ways off, it is definitely something to keep in mind as you consider both platforms and which one it worth your time right now.

Old-school versus bleeding edge

This app is white

It's old, but it's familiar and predictable.

Google Play Music has been around since 2011, and its last big overhaul was five years ago, at Google I/O 2013, when it announced All Access, the name of their streaming subscription, and a complete app overhaul. As you can imagine, an app that hasn't seen any real UI changes in five years feels long in the tooth, but at the very least, everyone knows where everything is and we're all very familiar with Google Play Music's bugs and quirks.

YouTube Music has technically been around since 2015, but the app received a major overhaul with the announcement of YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, and "a new music streaming service" YouTube Music. The app's UI was almost completely redone, especially in how albums and songs from labels were presented. While stations reigned supreme in the old YouTube Music, Playlists have taken over the Home tab and many of its recommendations.

There's something holding me back

YouTube Music is "brand new" and currently in "Early Access", which is a very nice of way of saying it's still a beta. It's really buggy and there are a lot of basic things like library management and audio quality settings that are currently sub-par or outright missing in YouTube Music.

Read more: YouTube Music review: a mixtape full of promise

Google Play Music is the beat-up, old pickup that needed body work three years ago and YouTube Music is a kit car that is going to be really cool and unique once Google finishes building. It's got four wheels, a chassis, and a motor, but the gear-shift is sticking out of a hole in the floor and it needs lights and doors before it's ready to drive on more than a driveway.

Pasty, white, and bloated versus Tall, dark, and basic

YouTube Music has much of the UI I've wished Google Play Music would bring us after five years of orange/white Material Design 1.0 and hamburger menus. YouTube Music's app is wonderfully dark — the same dark theme I've begged YouTube and Google Play Music to get for years — and it uses the same bottom tab format that YouTube, Spotify, and many, many apps have switched to in the age of the extra-tall smartphone display.

Dark and light, like day and night

Google Play Music has felt bloated for years, with a hamburger drawer stuffed full of menus and features, but at least it has features. YouTube Music is rather lacking in that department right now. YouTube's algorithm-based Your Mixtape beats the pants off Google Play Music's I'm Feeling Lucky — wow, that name is a throwback — but otherwise, Play Music has everything YouTube Music needs:

  • Robust library management (especially on desktop)
  • Proper queue management and queue saving
  • Larger official, label-based catalog
  • Music locker for filling gaps in the available catalog
  • Gapless playback
  • Genre browsing
  • Station/radio browsing
  • Top charts by album, song, and genre
  • New releases by album, genre
  • Android Auto support
  • Wear OS support

YouTube Music has three tabs on its app: Home, Hotlist, and Library, and Hotlist is for the most part useless, since it shows trending and popular music videos and only music videos. A "New releases" carousel can appear for users in the Home tab, but it shows less than a dozen albums and the albums shown are based on what YouTube thinks you like.

Casting YouTube Music is broken

Also, say what you will about casting personal music or lengthy tracks from Google Play Music — and I can say plenty — but at least when you cast from Google Play Music it doesn't rearrange your play order or disable shuffle and repeat. Chromecast audio is also reserved for YouTube Music Premium users only, which is just weird for a music service, even if it is built around video.

The biggest collection of music videos on the planet versus the golden key

We asked YouTube Music about the size of its music catalog and some of the gaps users have been finding in the official album/songs it offers compared to their predecessor, such as all Beatles albums and most Disney Records albums from the last two years. Their response sums the selection differences up quite nicely:

YouTube Music has a different, and significantly larger catalog, than Google Play Music, including a vast catalog of remixes, live performances, covers and music videos that you can't find anywhere else. That being said, we don't share specific track counts. Regarding the catalog gaps you mention, we have a team that is constantly seeking out catalog additions and omissions.

They're right about having content you won't find anywhere else. YouTube is the most-used video platform in the world, and as such is a treasure trove of remixes, mashups, and covers. YouTube is also one of the easiest places to find illegal music, so if you can't find an album you like in the Albums search results, start digging in the video results and you'll usually find it.

Find what you want, legal or not

If I can't fly to Japan and buy the CD, at least I can listen to it on YouTube.

YouTube Music has a larger total selection of music, and Google Play Music has a larger selection of official albums and singles, but in the rare instance that you can't find a piece of music on either platform, that's when Google Play Music's premiere feature comes in: its music locker.

Google Play Music offers a free, 50,000-song personal music locker, letting you upload songs from your private collection to listen to anywhere you stream Play Music. The songs can be as long as you want — I have two-hour concerts uploaded as a single song — so long as each one is under 300MB in size, though you have to upload them from a computer rather than directly from your Android phone.

Upload what you can't find

Google Play Music's music locker was their original feature, and remains one of their best assets. Now that Amazon Music has pulled their music locker function, Play Music is the only service left that will lets you mix uploaded and subscription music on all devices and platforms. For someone who has a collection of music that can't be found on any legal platform — except maybe YouTube — Google Play Music was the only music streaming choice for me.

This is why the news that Google Play Music's locker feature migrating to YouTube Music fills me with such hope. YouTube is already the biggest collection of music content in the world — legal and not-so-much — and with a personal locker, there will literally be nothing that you can't listen to there. If you can't find it, you can add it yourself.

Good artists copy; great artists steal

Google Play Music's long-term future is unclear, but its short-term future is assured by YouTube Music's current, half-finished state and very limited availability. YouTube Music might replace Google Play Music one day, but only after it has achieved feature parity, stability, and wide availability. YouTube Music is currently an "Early Access" beta that's available in five countries — Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Mexico, and the United States — and has more bugs than a Texas garden.

One is available, and one shouldn't be yet

Google Play Music may be old, and it may be a little bit boring, but you can depend on it for a while longer, and when it comes time for it to finally fade into the sunset, your library will migrate to YouTube Music, which will have to have taken on most if not all of Google Play Music features. So I'm playing with YouTube Music because it's new, shiny, and comes with my Google Play Music subscription, but Google Play Music is the music I come back to every morning when I wake up and every night when I wind down. Google Play Music still has my music locker and it has my back; I can trust it to behave the same way it has for the last six years that I've used it.

Everything you need to know about Google Play Music

Sign up for Google Play Music ($9.99/month individual, $14.99/month family)

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.

42 Comments
  • Right now (June 6, 2018) most folks will probably say they MUST have GPM. There are just too many simple things missing from YTM to be the only music solution - like say, picking up the songs I have saved on my device. But it's Gen 1 and there's hope for the future, in a typical slow roll out Google way.
  • I have only been using YTM (thanks vansmack for the acronyms) for a couple of days now but feel it has a long way to go. I enjoy the look, I found the GPM white and orange way too jaring. Especially at night. But I feel whatever algorithm they are currently using on YTM for creating a radio station from a song is so far off the mark its laughable. But, as it has been already said, its Gen 1 so finger crossed.
  • Quality is what will keep me on GPM. 128 kbps bit rates would be like going back to an iPhone.
  • Couldn't they have just taken GPM and changed the name and interface to YTM?
  • that would be too much of a good idea, but this is google after all , gotta have overlapping apps
  • Thanks for this Ara. Much appreciated. I knew a few things were missing from YTM, but seeing them all laid out here is pretty eye opening. I'm still a very happy GPM user, and am in no rush for the move. For me, when they do eventually migrate everything, then cool.. It'll just be like a app update for me really, like a really big UI change.
  • Exactly... though you should still probably go clean up your YouTube history so you don't have any weird old music videos skewing your algorithm.
  • Best advice on comment section
  • Until YTM brings over my library over from GPM there is no reason to even think about using it.
  • Intergrate but keep GPM as the backbone of the service. And please for the love of God let us comment on albums, artists, songs, stations and user created playlist in GPM.
  • I use both. It depends on what I want to listen to. GPM is great for my playlist but I'll use YTM to listen to random, new music.
  • Dear God, if I see another hamburger bar I'm going to throw up. They are awful. Much prefer the menu along the bottom such as what Plex has moved on to
  • Congrats, YTM has the bottom tabs, just like regular YouTube does.
  • How many people spend their entire day listening to music? I don't have any music subscriptions and if I do have spare time on my way to and from work I listen to tech podcasts like Android Central
  • Gym, baby... Gym
  • I hate people who do this. If you don't listen to music, have a subscription, and long for the good old days of the horse drawn buggy, why bother reading through the article and writing something.
  • IKR.
  • Well said!
  • Just because he doesn't use it all day doesn't mean he doesn't need to know which music services are better.
  • I listen to music while writing my articles, while doing my laundry, while in the shower, while eating lunch, while working before newscasts at the TV station, while calming down after a bad show or a bad shift, while keeping myself awake during a long night of severe weather coverable, et cetera. It's right there in my bio: If you see me without headphones, RUN.
  • For now, Google Play Music for me. Not only is YouTube Music too "beta" right now but my library hasn't even come over. I'm going to keep testing it and eventually use it full time but it is too soon. My wife, however, could easily use YouTube Music now. She is more about listening to an Artist or a "Radio" of the artist and could care less about playlists or libraries. I do like how my Music History shows up in my YouTube History.
  • My app just updated yesterday. So glad they put new releases near the top as thats my first go to. It's a great looking app for sure.
  • I finally got the YTM update and it's not even close to replacing GPM.
  • I use both. There's certain genres (for example: southern blues, Chicago house, 90s-2000s southern bass, etc.) that YouTube Music just has plenty of content for. When availability of content isn't an issue then GPM is my goto. It even works flawlessly with my car's steering wheel controls over Bluetooth.
  • I'm using GPM now. Maybe they will merge the services later on?
  • Sometimes I wonder what the people working for Google are thinking. I mean, if you're going to release something that you want people to adopt, you take your time and work on it, give it some features that would make people like it over existing services. Releasing a half-baked app like YouTube Music will steer users away from it and not many will want to try it again later even if it is improved. With all the flops with their numerous failed apps, it looks like they are not learning anything. I see this YouTube Music app going down the same way.
  • Is the Spotify that I'm using so inferior that it doesn't warrant a three way comparison?
  • From what I can tell, YTM doesn't work with Android auto
  • If you were already playing music when you get in the car, Android Auto will let you keep playing your music from YTM, but you can't change playlists, turn on/off shuffle or repeat, and if you pause outside the playback screen of Android Auto you may not be able to turn the music back on. ....So yes, it doesn't work in Android Auto.
  • I literally thought that White Pixel was an iPhone. I don't use any streaming music service. I tend to really like the music I like, so I just buy it and make my own personal playlists. I don't need a huge music library :-P I would never use YouTube Music, as it seems like a tack-on service for Ad-Free YouTube. I'm also confused as to why these two services exist independent of each other...
  • Yeah, the Pixel gets that more than I'd like, but it's a dependable phone that's got Android P Beta on it so I can see the impacts Android P's new gestures will have on home screens and launcher interaction, as well as the impact the DND changes will have on those of us who want our phones to be silent but still want notifications to be visible.
  • I wonder if the podcast service on GPM will trsnsition over to YTM? I really like that feature and has good content.
  • Podcasts are not currently part of YouTube Music nor do I think they will be added anytime soon. Video podcasts would make it much harder for YouTube to decide what videos on YouTube get to appear on YouTube Music and it would likely pollute a lot of search results.
  • Google's continued obsession with glaring white apps has me testing YouTube Music, but it's functionality has a long ways to go. Still using Spotify because it's crossfade feature. It's the only way to sit back and listen for me, especially when guest are over. No awkward silence between songs.
  • Crossfade doesn't work when casting though, and doesn't crossfade get kind of jarring when gapless songs run through them? I also find crossfade on Spotify can be a little glitchy depending on what phone I listen through.
  • I've difficulty finding same albums on Youtube Music that I find on Google Music, has anyone else? (And i'm referring to subscription base)
  • Has anyone else noticed that if you download a playlist on YouTube music, and you play that playlist from the playlist section of the app it still uses data!! Also if you play from the downloaded section of the app you can't shuffle music. Hopefully im wrong but it sure send that way for me.
  • I've noticed that if you're listening to an album or playlist that's downloaded and then you go off Wi-Fi, it'll stop and tell you to either change your settings or go to Downloads, so even though something is download, it is streamed unless you play it from downloads. I've actually started just going to the Downloads section unless I'm listening to Your Mixtape. As for shuffle, you can't click options and do Shuffle play, so I just pick the first song I want to hear and then turn on shuffle in the queue window.
  • I just tried it. So if you don't have YouTube red, you can't listen to music with the screen off or just in audio mode?? Because that would be a deal breaker compared to other music apps with free subscriptions
  • I prefer GPM because a lot of songs I like have intros and outros on youtube. Example Lindsey Stirling has a lot of her music videos ending with a small clip for her new album. Or Pentatonix having a small intro. Nice for a video, really annoying when in the car. Also music videos sometimes ad in "Sound effects" that don't appear in the song, and when listening to the audio only version just sound off. Would be nice if the "Audio Only" version was just the song without the other bits. If this doesn't get resolved by the time the switch over happens, I will switch to spotify.
  • Other than the lack of audio quality I'm also finding a lot of music missing that I can get on GPM or Spotify. I have the trial but in truth I am not going to try this properly until they improve the quality.
  • Google play music is the best service there is. I listen to Houston underground hardcore gangster rap. DJ Screw, Street Military, Lil Keke, Etc. There are albums I found on Google Play music that I would never think I would find in a million years. that's how I decided which music service I would use. I looked up the most obscure, there's no way in this world they will have this, songs that I could think of, and Google Play music had them. I'm talking things that even the biggest Mission music Aficionado would trip over. I absolutely love it. I have over 55000 songs in my library. I love being able to rent them I guess you would call it and listen to them anytime you want to. I have albums and songs from every kind of John or you can think of. Some Cannibal Corpse, to Al Green, Dean Martin, Street Military, David Allan Coe, Elton John, six feet under, Pantera, Hank Williams Senior, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, pretty much anything you can think of I got. And I love that I can just have it at my fingertips anytime I like. I have 458 artist, 3,463 albums, from 100 genres, and 53,116songs pictures from anytime I like.