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YouTube Announces a Streaming Music Service, Taking Swings Against Spotify and iTunes

Look out, Spotify: Google has officially announced a new music subscription service that takes advantage of YouTube’s vast collection of music and existing relationships with labels.

YouTube Music Key is a paid subscription service currently in beta, and you’ll need an invite to start using it. For early adopters, it will cost $7.99 per month with the first six months free, and eventually it will cost $9.99 per month, the same price as Spotify Premium.

YouTube Music Key will take the form of a new menu option in the YouTube app for Android, iOS, and the Web that primarily shows music videos, playlists, and the songs you keep pressing Replay on. Soon, YouTube will add an option to see an artist’s discography on YouTube, as well as an option to play full albums, depending on which songs label representatives decide to upload.

It remains to be seen how YouTube Music Key will handle non-single songs that don’t have a music video. Fans often upload unauthorized versions, usually with lyrics instead of a video, but those are frequently zapped by copyright watchers, at least for big stars.

“In the coming days, you’ll be able to see an artist’s discography on YouTube, and play a full album with both their official music videos and high-quality songs our music partners added to YouTube,” according to the announcement blog post.

For instance, there are Vevo versions for most of Rihanna’s singles from her last album, Unapologetic, but only an unofficial version for the unheralded album track “Lost In Paradise.” There aren’t album tracks from Taylor Swift’s 1989 on YouTube at all. It is most likely that access to those kinds of album tracks will be the clearest benefit from paying for a subscription.

YouTube Music Key won’t be Google’s only music subscription. Google Play Music All Access isn’t going anywhere, at least for the time being. There have been murmurs that that program too will take the Music Key moniker as well, but as for now it will remain a separate app. However, one subscription will give you full access to both apps, and you can also play official YouTube music videos from inside the Google Play Music app.

One of the biggest hurdles to setting up a service like this is agreeing to terms with label partners. YouTube has had deals with the three major labels, Universal, Sony, and Warner, since earlier this year, and yesterday it was reported that Google signed a deal with a group, Merlin, that represents 2,000 indie labels.

Previously, YouTube had threatened to take down official music videos from labels that it hadn’t reached an agreement with, but the Merlin deal means that videos from artists like Adele and the Arctic Monkeys will stay on YouTube.

Unfortunately, a Google representative said Taylor Swift’s album 1989 won’t be available from either YouTube Music Key or Google Play Music, but you will be able to queue up Swift’s new single, “Blank Space.”

Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:
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