You’ve probably been watching music videos on YouTube since its inception. The platform has also served as the go-to place for wannabe musicians to be found, but it’s never catered to that specific vertical. The team rolled out YouTube for gaming last month and today it is launching YouTube Music for iOS and Android. The enhanced, paid, experience is free during a 14-day trial. After that, you can drop the $9.99 for YouTube Red.
For years I was unable to find a particular cover song that I loved. It was from R.E.M.’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1991. (I’m old, shut up.) The only version I was ever able to find other than crappy MP3s was a version of it on YouTube:
Sadly, it has gotten kicked off the service numerous times for violating copyrights, but YouTube is basically the only place I could get to the version of this song until it was officially released years later. There are also great covers of this cover. And no matter how great Google and YouTube are at search, the song is always buried and I have to spend time finding it. The YouTube Music app that I got to play with last week will fix that problem for all of us.
I spent some time with T. Jay Fowler, head of Music Products at YouTube and Sowmya Subramanian, engineering director at YouTube. Fowler came to YouTube after selling his service MOG to Beats, which then sold to Apple. Subramanian has been with Google for nine years. Their individual talents blend nicely as the YouTube Music app, as easy as it may sound to produce, was quite a feat, one that Fowler wanted to make sure was differentiated enough from other players like Apple Music, Spotify and Pandora. Their combined taste and technology, along with their teams, made what you’ll probably be playing around with today if you’re reading this.
It’s not a Google Play Music “replacement,” but definitely think of it as a way to sell more tracks and subscriptions for it. To date, YouTube and Google have paid out over $3 billion to the record industry. So, yeah, it’s a business. And YouTube Music will help funnel viewers and listeners into some form of payment.
Music is your boyfriend
YouTube had been testing an Android-only beta version of Music, called Music Key, with a small set of users. Their goal was to watch how the heavy music user base interacts with it, and YouTube as a whole. They picked up tips on what they care about, thus paving the way for what we see today. Subramanian told me that they learned during the beta that the users disliked ads, which isn’t a big surprise. That led to YouTube Red, which recently launched.
If you’re subscribed to Red, you’ll get ad-free viewing and listening, audio-only mode and offline play in YouTube Music. No dice? YouTube is giving you a free 14-day trial to get the enhanced version of the app. The free version will then kick in, which has ads and doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles that might make you switch away from, say, a Pandora. But will you want to? I say give it some time and try it out first.
Subramanian’s team has been working on tweaking algorithms to pull out content specific to the music vertical, be it an official video, a dance mix or a cover. YouTube Music does a really nice job of letting you watch or listen to an official video while serving up supporting fan content for your next play.
The goal is to keep you watching and listening in an endless loop. The “Never Let Go” approach can be quite annoying if you’re trying to dip in and just find that one song you heard on the radio this morning. Leaning back? It’s great.
Fowler calls this “engagement rather than snacking,” a hallmark of casual YouTube visitors. “An endless music experience. It’s high reward and low effort for users,” Subramanian added.
To get you listening immediately, the YouTube Music app has a few curated areas, which was interesting to listen to. It’s not the typical radio “Top 40” but a human-created list based on learnings of what’s hot on the platform at any given moment. It’s trending tracks, if you will.
When you launch the app, you get a personalized homepage with some pretty basic genre stations, which takes your personal tastes into account. Remember, you’re probably using YouTube while logged in so they know what you’ve watched and searched for.
Audio-only mode is great for radio, because if you put your phone in your pocket, YouTube Music will keep on playing and playing. When you unlock your device, you’ll see the video that’s playing wherever the particular track happens to be at the given time. The app also makes a playlist for you to keep offline which updates daily based on your habits.
To get you making your own playlists, the thumbs up button on songs will toss it into a list of things you’re stashing away as liked. Go back into your likes, dig deeper, and YouTube will keep on learning what you’re into. If you’re super into tuning your experience, there are sliders that will give you more artist variety…or less.
When it comes to the social aspects of music, the team tells me that since artists are already engaging with their fans on the platform, this app will just make it easier. There hasn’t been a really great social experience around music yet. Apple failed with Ping, Apple Music is broadcast-only, Spotify is so-so but still hasn’t gripped with my normal friends as a place to be social and well…YouTube comments are usually a cesspool. Maybe this new spotlight on high-quality content will shoo away the trolls and welcome the true fans who want to talk about how great that Katy Perry concert was.
At the end of the day, you’re probably already watching or listening to music on YouTube. With the YouTube Music app, that experience will be way more enjoyable. While it’s not perfect at plucking out just the right content, it’s way better than digging through the vast catalogue of shitty YouTube videos looking for that gem of a cover song by R.E.M. Or that cover of the cover song.