Goodbye Google Play Music
rant ~7 minutes read

Another good service is going to be shut down by Google. I was a happy user of Google Play Music (GPM) for a long time, and although it had some problems, I’ve still enjoyed it. It has a decent web interface, fine mobile app, but most importantly I’ve listened to a lot of new music every day, and my library constantly evolved, thanks to Google recommendation systems, which is actually good.

But today I’ve received a mail, in which Google asked if I want to transfer my GPM library into YouTube Music service. I knew almost nothing about YouTube Music, so I’ve searched a bit, and that seemed to be quite the same service, just re-branded, and with a bit more tight integration with YouTube platform. So I’ve transferred my library, and went testing their new service. At first everything seemed to be OK, but eventually I’ve stumped into some issues.

Music availability and Topics

Here’s one album that I wanted to listen to:

But since I’ve transferred my music into YouTube Music, I’ve opened it there:

And, it is not the same. It seems that even though I’ve imported music collection from GPM into YouTube Music, apparently this doesn’t mean that I will have the same music. To make it more clear, in case you don’t see what’s the problem, here’s a table with song durations:

Song Name Duration (Google Play Music) Duration (YouTube Music)
Violet Storm 2:09 2:09
The Space Between 4:28 3:26
Swineheart 5:28 0:34
Silent Sirens 5:02 2:17
The Machine 5:59 1:15
Ouroboros 4:38 0:28
King of the Thistle Field 6:00 0:17
More Than Numbers 1:41 1:18
The Only Constant 17:27 17:27
Violent Sky 7:03 3:31
Total 60 minutes 32 minutes

Obviously something is not right, as some songs are way too short, but there’s no clear way how to submit a report, and I’m totally unsure if the issue is going to be fixed, since this band has quite low amount of subscribers - 63 at the moment of writing this. And the reason for this problem is this YouTube topic. These topics are created automatically and will contain any garbage that was uploaded by someone, even if the tracks are cropped or edited. This is not acceptable for a music service. These topics can really hurt music bands.

I’ve then checked some other rather obscure bands (I don’t mean to offend anyone from these bands, your music is amazing), and found some differences in these albums. For example Known/Learned album by Arcane - many tracks have different lengths in these two services, but song versions seem to be the same. Also strange thing:

Band discover-ability

Another problem, is that bands with names that consist only from generic words are still handled poorly. This was an issue in GPM, and still an issue in YouTube Music. For example if you open Need band page from their latest album at GPM you’ll see page for “need®” band:

I’m not sure if “need®” is a real thing. But if we will do the same thing in YouTube Music we will see this page:

For some reason the page is called “I need $$”, has the cover from “Every Day” album by completely another band, and even does not display this album alongside with the two others. Well, at least in GPM it was just lowercase “need®”, which is still incorrect, but closer. However, Need band also has another of their albums at GPM, which are listed on a separate page, and if we will open this band page from one of those albums, we will see entirely different band page:

Page is named “The Need” which is not correct name once again, and there is a band with such name, which is listed along with albums that I’m actually looking for. We can do the same thing in YouTube Music, and the resulting page has mostly the same contents:

So in case of this band it seems that YouTube Music fully inherited the problems of GPM, and I’m not sure if re-branding supposed to fix this or not with their topic system.

Library management

Another issue with YouTube Music, is that it sorts my library in a very strange way. E.g. when I open “Artists” section I see this:

And there’s no way to sort this thing in a more manageable way, like alphabetically. Why would I want this? It’s way easier to navigate and search for some artist if they are grouped together. Currently I have a lot of troubles finding that one specific artist I want to listen to because of this. Literally spent about 7 minutes to find it, because I didn’t remember artist’s name, but at least I’ve remembered that it started with “R”, and there aren’t many artist that share this property, so in alphabetically sorted list I would find it way faster.

And, GPM had a very handy feature, which seem to be missing from YouTube Music. Here’s how artist page looks in GPM:

You can see that I’ve decided to add their latest album into my library, because I’ve liked it, and perhaps want to listen to it in the future. Here’s this artist’s page in YouTube Music:

I’ve imported my collection from GPM, and this artist is presented in my library, but there’s no way to tell which albums are in my library unless I explicitly check every and each of their albums for the “REMOVE FROM LIBRARY” button, and, perhaps, put this somewhere on the napkin so I won’t forget which albums I was actually interested in:

YouTube Music identity

I feel that the change, that motivated Google to shut down GPM and move its users into YouTube Music is simply because Google Play thing is not attractive for average user.

I’m thinking this way, because Google had a lot of services with such naming, e.g. Google Play Games, Google Play Books, Google Play Movies, e.t.c. And Google Play thing seemed to be a big part of the branding, but perhaps not big enough for Music. And there are no new services that have Google Play in their names.

YouTube on the other hand is a very popular service, and it’s popularity increases daily, so calling another service after a most popular may seem like a good marketing move. I wonder if YouTube books will ever become a thing.

However I don’t think that YouTube Music makes sense as a service. YouTube primary content type are videos. Sure there are music videos, and many artists used YouTube to host their entire albums as playlists with album cover art as a video, and some sort of a table of contents.

And YouTube Music seem to take this idea ant turn it into a music service, where video is not the main content, as not all tracks have music videos filmed for those. Previously GPM listed music videos under album page, so you could watch these if you wanted to, but YouTube music takes the opposite approach, and makes albums out of videos, and allows an option to play album version of songs instead of music video version. This kinda hurts the experience, because video version is usually edited - it is often shorter, or simply a radio edit version.

So for YouTube fans, YouTube Music may seem like a cool service, but for Music fans YouTube Music may seem more of a downgrade as service. Because we love music, and do not usually care for the videos.

Alternatives

GPM will be shut down in December 2020. I don’t think if YouTube Music will become any better by this time, since too much music needs fixing, which was not done during the GPM lifetime, and will not likely be done until shutdown. And all this YouTube topic thing is not good replacement for real albums that were available on GPM.

Thankfully there are alternatives like Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL, though their prices are different, and music library may be not as big as GPM one. Although library can be even bigger.

I’ve liked GPM because it allowed me to legally listen to countless amounts of tracks, albums, and bands without buying every single track I’ve liked. And I would not want to buy anything on Google Play Music or any other streaming service because of DRM. If there’s a way to buy something without DRM I will always prefer it. But paid subscription that allows me to listen to music without borders is amazing thing, even if I do not own any of this music.

So I’m thinking to transfer my library into another service, and I guess it is goodbye for Google Play Music and YouTube Music altogether.