YouTube Music Opens Site’s Enormous Music Collection to All
Streaming music is an incredibly crowded field. There’s Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora. There’s Rdio, Rhapsody, and Deezer. Amazon throws in a music streaming service when you sign up for Prime. But you know who’s really killing it with music, a company almost so obvious you wouldn’t even know it? YouTube.
Think about it. While Taylor Swift once readily pulled her music off of platforms like Spotify and Apple Music (at least, until Apple agreed to pay), she never made the same move on YouTube. It’s the same for other artists, who often put up exclusive music content on the video service as a way to reach 1 billion-plus users at once. Compare that to Spotify’s 75 million users or Apple Music’s 15 million.
Plus, YouTube’s audience is unique. They love to engage. They watch, like, and share. They make remixes, covers, lyrics clips, and response videos. And they do this for everything that’s already part of the YouTube collection, including official music videos, fan videos, and concert footage.
Now, YouTube is taking this massive corpus, mixing in some neat new features, and opening it up to everyone as a standalone app with a clear focus on just the music. Today, the company is launching its first official standalone music app called, well, YouTube Music. “It’s all about high-reward, low-effort experiences,” T.Jay Fowler, head of music products at YouTube, tells WIRED.
From day one, YouTube Music app is launching on iOS and Android. As Sowmya Subramanian, an engineering director at YouTube explains, it’s the culmination of everything YouTube learned from launching Music Key, its beta music subscription service, last year. (That service had only ever been available to heavy music listeners identified by YouTube.)
In YouTube Music, everything is personalized. You start with a home screen, which has three elements: “My station” plus two genre stations—say, country and pop—that come up based on your listening patterns. Choose your personalized station, and that sends you off on what Fowler calls “an endless discovery journey.” The station is based on stuff you like, and what YouTube’s algorithm thinks you will like, based on how you’re browsing.
“It represents the entirety of your musical tastes,” Fowler says. You can dig deeper into the settings to tweak something called “variety.” Choose “less variety” to play more songs you’ve liked directly; “balanced” to get a mix of algorithmic and manual preferences; and “more variety” to let the machine go wild.
Once you’ve got a song playing, you’re taken into a view with two tabs: Playing Now, and Explore. Flip over to Explore, and YouTube’s algorithmic smarts stare you right in the face. The app combs through the huge pile of music in the entire YouTube collection and surfaces all related content, whether that’s a fan video of the song you’re currently listening to, a live concert, a lyrics video, remix, or cover by another artist—all labeled. Fowler says the app can do this by leveraging YouTube’s smart Content ID system—an automated system originally for identifying pirated copies on the site. It also has a “Melody ID” algorithm for songs, Fowler says.
For those hoping to keep up with music trends, YouTube Music includes a tab called Trending. The app serves up categories like “The Daily 40,” or “On the Rise,” culled from the larger YouTube community.
YouTube Red subscribers enjoy added bonuses. A clever toggle in the upper right corner lets users tell the app they’re not interested in watching video, and the frame instantly freezes on the screen, signaling an audio-only experience. That’s a godsend, Fowler says YouTube beta users told the team, because it lets you use YouTube in the car or while you’re out for a run, guilt-free—since you’re not burning all that video data. (Other benefits of a Red subscriber on YouTube Music include background play, ad-free watching and listening, and the ability to take your music offline.)
But my favorite feature of all is something called the offline mixtape. You determine how much of your phone’s data you’re willing to spare for songs, pick the audio quality, and let the app make you a playlist. It’s a lot like Spotify’s excellent Discover feature, except it’s refreshed daily, not weekly. The offline mixtape is another exclusive for YouTube Red subscribers.
The Future of Music
Okay, so how big a deal is YouTube Music? It’s already enormous, says Larry Miller, professor of music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “YouTube is already the world’s largest on-demand streaming service by far,” Miller says. “In other words, put every other service in the world in a bathtub, and you won’t begin to fill the bottom with respect to the size of YouTube’s on-demand streaming service.” Conveniently, all the licenses—from record companies, music publishers, and even smaller, independent labels—are already in place on YouTube.
YouTube, for its part, says it wants to help the artist community, pointing out that any artist—at any stage in their music career—can upload a music video to YouTube and get exposure to a billion plus viewers. This app offers artists yet another avenue for making money—whether a cut from ads or subscription fees. And YouTube’s work on Music is hardly over.
“What we’re hearing from our partners and from the industry is that they’re very excited there’s a new experience coming to the market,” Fowler says. “This is our first product, but you’re going to see a lot more soon.”
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