Moving to YouTube Music: A Mini-Review

Posted on August 9, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Google Play Music, YouTube Music with 26 Comments

Some transitions are straightforward and seamless while others are disruptive and unwelcome. On that note, my experience moving from Google Play Music to YouTube was somewhere in-between those extremes. But having now lived with YouTube Music for almost two months, I like some of its unique features and have grown more accepting of the change.

As you may recall, Google has been plotting the move from Google Play Music to YouTube Music for years, but things really heated up over the past year: YouTube Music (YTM) replaced Google Play Music (GPM) in Android starting with Android 10 last fall, and this past May, Google announced that it was starting to transfer existing GPM libraries and accounts over to YTM.

As a paid G Suite customer with a custom domain, I knew that I wouldn’t be among the first wave of subscriber transitions—that’s how these things always work—and sure enough, I wasn’t. But I was surprised when I finally saw the invitation to transfer my GPM library to YTM pop-up in the GPM app in mid-June.

I immediately accepted the offer because I’d been very curious about how this process would work and I knew that I could continue using GPM and YTM side-by-side for months to come if the latter app wasn’t really ready for my needs right away. According to the wizard that jumpstarts the cloud-based transfer, Google would copy my music recommendations, playlists and stations (the latter of which would be converted to normal playlists), liked and disliked songs, uploads and purchases, and the albums and songs in my library from GPM to YTM.

Furthermore, my subscription was transferred over to YTM, so I now I have an individual YouTube Music Premium membership instead of a GPM membership. (This still grants me ad-free YouTube, as well, which I really rely on having.)

When I triggered the transfer, the app noted that the process could take “a few hours,” and I had pretty much expected that given the size of my library, so I didn’t even try to babysit. Instead, I checked the phone the next morning and saw a notification alerting me that the transfer was complete. (That said, you’re able to transfer multiple times if you want, so you can do this again in the future too if you’re not satisfied with YTM now and keep using GPM.)

With the transfer complete, I set out to use YTM, which, yes, I had dabbled with in the past. But the app takes on a whole new dimension with my music collection copied over, and it provides me with a better basis for comparison.

For anyone familiar with the GPM mobile app, the transition to YTM can be a bit rocky at first. The apps use completely different user interfaces with different navigational models, and GPM does a better job of leaving you in the part of the interface—Music library, in my case—that you most often use. YTM, meanwhile, dumps you in the default Home view each time you open the app, so I have to manually navigate to Library and then whatever content I want (usually Playlists). That’s not a big deal, since YTM’s top-level UI displays three tabs—for Home, Explore, and Library—but it is an extra step or two.

My many playlists, which consist mostly of subscription-based music (from Google’s cloud-based library) but also contains dozens of songs that I had uploaded to the service because they were not available there, appear to have all correctly made the transition, and that was my number-one worry. I’ve used various third-party services to do things like transfer my GPM music library to Spotify for testing purposes (and before that, transfer from Groove Music too), and have had only sporadic success. This transfer seemed to go well.

So that’s good. Also good is how YTM handles what I’ll call the Now Playing experience. The actual Now Playing screens vary a bit between GPM and YTM, of course, but both look and work well enough, and support familiar swipe-based gestures for advancing to the next song and so forth. And aesthetically, I find the YTM display to be more attractive. (It also lets you easily access lyrics and music videos when available, plus related music.)

Maybe this is just a personal thing, but when I’m actively listening to music—for example, when my wife and I sit in the sunroom and enjoy a night of music via the Sonos speakers there—I often find myself scanning the list of songs coming up next and modifying it. This takes two forms: Removing songs that I’m just not in the mood for at the time and rearranging the order of songs. In GPM, both of these actions are very easy: You can swipe on a song in the list to remove it, and you can touch and hold and then drag on a song to rearrange its place in the list.

And yes, both of these actions work similarly in YTM. The problem is that YTM lacks a capability that I rely on with GPM: You can’t control Sonos from the YTM app, as you can with the GPM app. So I have to use the Sonos app to start playlists and then manage the Now Playing list. And in the Sonos app, you can’t remove or rearrange songs in the Now Playing list without first entering a special Edit mode. It turns something fun into something tedious. So I’d like to see Google add Sonos control to YTM.

One very interesting benefit of YTM is that you can access songs—and really, videos of songs—that appear only on the YouTube video service. For music lovers such as myself, this is an incredible advantage: YouTube houses what has to be the single greatest collection of what I’ll call non-standard music anywhere. You get live versions of songs (and entire concerts), leaked song demos, and all kinds of other content you’ll never find in Spotify, Apple Music, or anywhere else. And these songs can be added to your playlists, giving you yet another avenue for music. So in addition to subscription-based music and my own uploaded music, I now have access to music that’s only on YouTube.

Furthering this concept, any playlists you make on YouTube show up in YTM too. My wife and I are big fans of the live/gig music that musicians have been supplying since the beginning of the pandemic, and so I created a Quarantine Music playlist to collect them all for later enjoyment. We can watch this playlist on the TV, of course, using the YouTube app. But I can also listen to this music via YTM, and I can mix and match individual songs into my playlists.

I like that a lot. But now that I know I can make playlists in YouTube for later YTM consumption, I’ve approached the former service a bit differently too. For example, Def Leppard recently released a live album from its Las Vegas residency which is available on GPM/YTM and all the other major music services here in the U.S, and so I have access to that in YTM. But the band also released a similar live album from its O2 residency in the UK, and there are some additional songs we didn’t get here in the U.S. So I can add those songs to a playlist in YouTube and then access them via YTM. Nice!

(Less effective. Non-music YouTube playlists also show up in YTM. It’s unlikely I’ll ever want to listen to, but not watch, my Web Dev playlist, for example.)

Because I’m a paying customer, I’m shielded from some of the problems, or at least the uncertainties, that face free users of GPM. For example, that service allowed anyone, even free users, to upload tens of thousands of songs, for free, to the service so that they could access them from the cloud anytime. With YTM, it’s unclear if this capability will continue.

But even paying customers no longer have access to the Google Play Music extension for Chrome/Edge that provided a nice music library uploader utility. With YTM, you just get a standard File Open dialog, so those with extensive collections to upload face a daunting task. (And it’s not clear if free users will retain this capability.)

YTM offers segregated tabs for personal (uploaded) and subscription-based songs in the library views—Playlists, Albums, Artists, Songs, and so on—which is ridiculous. But one thing I do like is that these library views can be sorted alphabetically (in either direction) or by “Recently added,” which of course puts new music right at the top. GPM doesn’t offer this capability.

Since making the transition about two months ago, I’ve stuck exclusively to YTM and have added new songs to existing playlists and created new playlists. In doing so, I’ve pretty much ensured that I can’t go back to GPM, even temporarily. But that also forced me to make peace with the user experience differences and just get used to how YTM does things. I’m still mixed on the respective UIs overall—there are things about GPM I just prefer, still—but the transition is doable. I feel like it’s sticking.

That said, I know I’m going to run into device limitation issues soon, as I did each year with GPM: Google allows you to connect your account to up to 10 devices (mobile and web/PC), which is fine, but you can only remove (deauthorize) four devices per year. Because I review so many devices each year, I run into this limit all the time and have to basically beg Google support to reset it. So far they’ve done so each year, but these limits remain with YTM, and I dread this support session.

Anyway, it’s not perfect, but so far so good.

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