Google’s music strategy is confusing, and its latest effort to streamline everything isn’t helping. The company announced major changes to its streaming lineup on May 24, including a reimagined YouTube Music service, and as of Monday, June 18, those new services have gone live in the United States and 16 other countries. But there are some real lingering questions left unanswered after the dust settled. We reached out to Google to clarify the details of its new service, as well as how it affects Google Play Music, which is the default music app on many Android phones.
What’s going on?
Google has two music streaming services: Google Play Music, which launched in 2011, and YouTube Music, which debuted in 2015. If you purchased a subscription to Google Play Music, you also got access to YouTube Red (or vice versa), an ad-free version of YouTube with access to premium content.
Now, there’s been a shake-up. Back in May, YouTube announced a completely revamped and reimagined version of YouTube Music. It has access to thousands of playlists, songs, albums, artists, and more, and it has neat features like the ability to search for songs via vague descriptions or lyrics. There’s a free version with ads, or you can pay $10 a month for YouTube Music Premium, which offers “background listening, downloads, and an ad-free experience.”
YouTube Red is now called YouTube Premium, and it will still provide an ad-free experience across all of YouTube, along with background play, the ability to download videos to watch offline, and access to YouTube Originals. YouTube Premium includes the new YouTube Music Premium experience, though, so its price is now $12 per month, as opposed to the previous $10 price tag for YouTube Red.
So to break it down: YouTube Music lets you stream music with ads. YouTube Music Premium lets you stream music without ads, and has a few extra perks. YouTube Premium gives you an ad-free experience on YouTube, with some additional features and access to YouTube Music Premium.
Both YouTube Music and YouTube Premium went live on June 18. Currently, the two services are available in the following 17 countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.
So how much will it cost you? YouTube will give you three free months of YouTube Premium (which includes YouTube Music), but will then charge $11.99 a month. You can now get YouTube Music separately for $9.99, though you’ll probably want to spend the extra $2 for the Premium features.
Where does that leave Google Play Music?
Naturally, with all this streamlining, you’d think Google would just replace Google Play Music with the new YouTube Music experience, right? A lot of news websites speculated as much when the initial announcement hit, claiming that the long-standing service will eventually be replaced by the new YouTube Music. That now appears to be Google’s long-term goal, but things are going to be a little more confusing in the short term.
In the original blog post announcing the changes to YouTube Music, Google claimed that “If you use Google Play Music, nothing will change,” but recently, the company has changed its story. Elias Roman, product manager for both YouTube Music and Google Play Music, clarified in an interview with The Verge that Google currently hopes to transition all Google Play Music users over to YouTube Music some time in 2019 at the earliest.
This differs from when we originally asked Google if Google Play Music will get replaced at a certain point in time. The Google spokesperson we spoke to didn’t give a definitive answer at the time. Instead, they reiterated that nothing will change for Google Play Music subscribers. While that now appears to not be the case, it also isn’t technically incorrect, as many users will be able to continue using Google Play Music for now, and its features will eventually be integrated into YouTube Music.
Specifically, current YouTube Red and Google Play Music subscribers in the U.S., Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Mexico “will continue to get the features they already enjoy at the same price they pay today.” In other countries, Google Play Music subscribers will automatically get access to YouTube Music Premium as soon as it’s available in those countries, which is the first step in the eventual full transition over to the new service. It’s unclear why Google Play Music subscribers in the U.S., Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Mexico won’t immediately get access to YouTube Music Premium, but those in other countries will.
When asked if Google Play Music subscribers will easily be able to transition to YouTube Music Premium with the same library of music, the spokesperson simply said: “nothing will change for Google Play Music subscribers.” We now have a better idea of what that means, thanks to a Tweet by YouTube’s director of music product management, T. Jay Fowler, which promises a “soft landing” for Google Play Music users. Users can expect their “collection, playlists, and preferences” on Google Play Music to carryover between the two services when the inevitable shift comes. Similarly, according to Roman, users will still be able to upload their own music to YouTube Music, which is a feature of Google Music Play that differentiated it from Amazon’s similar music streaming service.
Your collection, playlists and preferences will be preserved at migrated to YouTube music for a soft landing.
— t. jay fowler (@tjayfowler) May 17, 2018
Since Google Play Music is the default music player on many Android phones, we asked if YouTube Music will be preloaded onto Android phones. The Google spokesperson said the company has no “plans or news to share,” but given the plan is to eventually phase out Google Play Music and replace it with YouTube Music entirely, we expect that to ultimately be the case.
Here’s what else we confirmed:
- Family plans are still available for current and new Google Play Music subscribers.
- There will be no podcasts on YouTube Music or YouTube Music Premium. Instead, you can access podcasts through Google Play Music, or Google Search on Android, as well as the Google Assistant.
So yes, Google’s music strategy is still a confusing mess that requires a bit of explanation — not unlike its messaging strategy.
Updated on June 18: Added news that YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are now live.