I had high hopes for YouTube Music. They have not been met.
I’m a big music fan. I was happy when I could finally listen to that music with the screen of my phone off in the YouTube app. I was even happier once we got a dedicated YouTube Music app launched for users like me who could honestly listen to YouTube for hours.
And while YouTube Music is usable, it is not nearly ready for heavy listeners like me, especially users who like to have some control over their music.
Here’s what needs to be done.
Playback and playlists
In YouTube Music, you’re never just playing one song. You select a video and YouTube Music will try to arrange a whole station around it, akin to Pandora or Spotify. There’s no repeat one. In fact there’s no repeat at all, not even a shuffle option. If you want to listen to that one annoyingly catchy song until you get sick of it, be ready to rewind every time the song ends.
You can like a station or find a new one; that’s about it.
You also cannot build any of your own playlists, something you could do (albeit a bit clumsily) in YouTube proper. You have the computer-generated stations and one automated playlist created from your Liked videos. You could technically control the Liked videos playlist by un-liking videos, but that would impact YouTube Music’s all-important algorithms, and of course you still can’t change the play order beyond hitting shuffle. So, you can like a station or find a new one; that’s about it. The only control you have inside a station is to change its variety between three modes: less variety, more variety, and balanced. Don’t like a song coming up? Too bad. You’ll have to just hit skip or thumbs-down it.
The lack of user-created playlists means that you’re at the mercy of the algorithm that’s analyzing your history and trying to come up with what it thinks you want to hear. The problem there is that until you’ve listened to YouTube Music for a good while, those stations aren’t always that good at giving you what you want; they’re giving you the standards, which is why Adele got shuffled into my Disney parks music three times before I got rid of it.
Playlists would be a godsend, but in the meantime, I’d settle for the option of swiping songs that I don’t want to hear out of a station. Additionally, the option of adding a song in explore to the currently playing station rather than having it start an entirely new station would be tremendous.
Just as you cannot create your own playlists, you also can’t control what music is and isn’t downloaded for offline playback. You’ve got the offline mixtape and that’s it. And the offline mixtape, like the stations, often fall back on standard-bearers, meaning even if you’re into a particular type of music, chances are some chart-toppers are going to weasel in somehow.
If you could pin a particular station for offline playback like Play Music or Pandora, that would be nice. You can’t do that at the moment, though. And until YouTube Music gets its own offline controls, if YouTube Music and YouTube proper could at least see each other’s downloaded videos, that would go a long way towards getting an offline mixtape you would actually enjoy.
Browsing on YouTube Music goes one of three ways: you scroll through the Recommended and What’s Hot on the main pages, you scroll through Explore while playing back something similar, or you search for something. That search is accomplished exclusively by the video title, as searching for a genre brings up videos with that genre in the title (such a compilation videos).
Find videos by a user coming up a lot in your station and want to check out what else they have? Well, you’ll have to head over to YouTube proper for that. Have a Channel or artist you subscribe to on YouTube and want to see if they have anything new? Can’t do that in YouTube Music.
In fact, apart from thumbing a video/song up or down and seeing the user’s name, you can’t interact with them at all in YouTube Music. You can’t even see a video’s description. That’s a terrible thing for the service, its users, and channel owners, since you can’t casually subscribe to a user when they pop up in your YouTube Music station, nor can you be directed to their other works or their website.
So why use YouTube Music?
Some videos that can’t play with the screen off in YouTube can play with the screen on in YouTube Music. Some stations are decent once the algorithm figures you out. There are no YouTube comments, no ads, and no device limit. Also, Youtube Music has the relaxing dark mode that I wish would come to YouTube proper and come back to Play Music. But a dark theme alone does not make YouTube Music a compelling music choice.
Are you still using YouTube Music, or have you gone back to your previous player? Is there anything else you think YouTube Music needs to improve on as an app and as a service. Sing out in the comments below.