YouTube Music's biggest problem is it's the green bubble to Spotify's iMessage

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

I've been critical of YouTube Music since it launched. There are still gaps and shortcomings that are inexcusable considering Google's resources, but it's come a long way in the last year and feature for feature it's not that far behind the competition. But of all the issues with YouTube Music, the biggest hurdle I keep coming up against is a social one — everyone I know uses Spotify, and that's a massive barrier to one of the biggest parts of music: sharing.

YouTube Music vs. Spotify: Which is the better streaming music service?

Sending a YouTube Music link is often both the start and end of that conversation.

Sending someone a YouTube Music link instead of Spotify is the music equivalent of being a green bubble on iMessage. Everyone uses YouTube, but practically nobody uses YouTube Music — it's an entirely foreign experience, to the point where most people don't even know it exists. And much like sending a message in a lesser-used chat app, sending a YouTube Music link is often both the start and end of that conversation.

If I want to talk to someone about music, share favorite tracks, or collaborate on a playlist, at this point I just preemptively go to Spotify's free web player, search for the song or album, and share that — even though it's available on YouTube Music and that's where I'm listening. And in return, I end up listening to a lot of Spotify too; it is, after all, the only music links anyone's sending my way.

YouTube Music and Spotify

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Seeing a deluge of social media posts with everyone's Spotify 2019 year in review this past week is just another example of the power of the network effect. Sure it seems silly, and yeah all of the same music is available on YouTube Music, but once again you're missing out on the social, communal and cultural involvement portion of the music experience. I can read everyone's Spotify year-in-review, but I don't get to share my own or join that conversation in the same way; and if I did, nobody would care ... they aren't going to follow my YouTube Music link anyway.

The interesting thing here is that Apple Music (opens in new tab) hasn't created the same massive draw and user lock-in as iMessage, despite Apple's heavy push for it on its own platform and its availability on Android (opens in new tab). Spotify has managed to be the music streaming service of choice on all platforms. Although its market share may not be at monopoly levels, and its features may not be outlandishly ahead, that doesn't matter — with music nowadays, it's about the social network around the music service that matters as much as the service itself.

Unlike iMessage lock-in, Spotify has robust cross-platform support.

According to research from Midia, Spotify is far and away the most-popular music streaming service with 36% of the market, a whopping 108 million subscribers. Apple in second with 18%, and Amazon in third under 13%, don't combine to be as big as Spotify — despite having massive advantages in the ability to bundle and deeply discount their subscriptions. Google has gained since launching YouTube Music, but is still at just 5% — and I imagine a solid chunk of that is coming from promotional rates from buying Google hardware and services, plus its "free" bundling with YouTube Premium.

Thankfully for all of us on Android, unlike Apple's annoying iMessage lock-in we can all use Spotify on whatever platform we'd like. Spotify is incredibly versatile, not only with having good apps for both Android and iOS but also for desktop operating systems, the web, wearables and smart speakers. And at the same time, there's no inherent advantage to using YouTube Music over Spotify on Android — and Spotify is definitely ahead with third-party service and hardware integrations.

This is the classic chicken-and-the-egg problem; but it's not your problem to solve by using YouTube Music.

Of course this is the classic chicken-and-the-egg network effect problem: nobody uses YouTube Music, so the fear of leaving that Spotify social network value keeps people from trying it to grow the user base in the first place. But much as I wrote about regarding using RCS for your only chat app, this doesn't have to be your hill to die on. If sharing your music with friends and family is important to you, you should go to the music service that enables that. Statistically, that's probably Spotify.

I feel I have the ability to be critical of YouTube Music both because Google has generally failed to make a compelling product, and because I use it every single day. But the only reason I use YouTube Music at this point is because I'm frugal; Music is included in my YouTube Premium subscription, which I happily pay for just to remove ads from YouTube. If I'm going to be paying for YouTube Premium, it seems silly to spend another $120 per year on Spotify — but I'm close to doing just that.

If Google didn't have this wonderful pricing bundle available, I would have zero reason to use YouTube Music. It is a worse overall product than Spotify, from its apps to its weak (or nonexistent) integration with other services and hardware. And increasingly importantly for me, YouTube Music simply acts as a barrier to sharing music with my friends; that isn't something I should have to give up.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

14 Comments
  • i dunno. youtube is video; it's even music videos converted to mp3s, lol
  • Here we go again, another "YouTube Music Sucks" article. Compared with the always-fawning coverage of all things Apple on iMore, the Android Central writers are making this place downright depressing and negative. The podcasts have become increasingly critical of Google, Google's service, and Android hardware. There are so many articles about the things that are wrong. Hearing all this negative coverage month-over-month is adding up to conclusion that investing in anything Google or Android is foolish. Apple seems to please their customers constantly, and Google can't do anything right.
  • Not sure if someone feels the same as I do. But I like YouTube music UI more than Spotify. I tried their 3 month trial. And it didn't offer me anything youtube music didn't offer. Spotify wasn't worth losing youtube red either which is another must have on top of youtube music.
  • of all the things I don't wanna know about my loved ones and others I admire... what other people listen to is probably one of the biggest negatives out there.. and no, I don't use any "streaming music services"
  • If you're listening to Ariana Grande you might want to consider ditching music services all together....
  • If you're writing such comments you might want to consider ditching social websites all together...
  • I don’t like YouTube music. I use google play music. I don’t know why they can’t just keep google play music.
  • What I don't understand is, in GPM, when I'm playing a song, it often shows a video is available, and whatever "benefit" YTM offers over GPM I'm sure can be easily implemented on GPM. I'm trying to use YTM more than GPM, but it's frustrating because it's nowhere near as easy to navigate as GPM is.
  • Maybe I'm confused by the article but WTF is he talking about? When you send a YouTube music link it sends a YouTube link which every phone can play, I send 1 almost every time I hear a new song I like. Can anyone explain to me what I'm missing in this article?
  • I couldn't agree more. Spotify nailed the social aspect of their service, while Google is still desperately trying to figure out how humans get in touch with each other outside of email.
  • I can't justify spending money on any of this subscription services. Subscriptions suck.
  • Well it depends. I agree with you but for content apps. Subscription for movies music or news are legit, i would also add to the mix apps used for work (office 35 for example)
  • « sending a YouTube Music link is often both the start and end of that conversation » Why? Because people can’t look the artist or song and search it themselves on the app they use?? Don’t change your app, change friends in that case
  • I never understood the so called Apple's annoying iMessage lock-in... everyone has another messaging app installed or there is sms also.. the lock in effect is overrated