Everything you need to know


Google Play Music is on the way out and has already become inaccessible for many. A lot of people have probably long taken advantage of the migration tool and have started using YouTube Music. But there are still some key differences between the two services, and if you haven’t made the switch, there are a few things to watch out for. In this article, we’re going to dive into the key differences between the two services, large and small, and why they matter.

Pricing

YouTube Music, Play Music, and YouTube have been intertwined for a long time. If you pay $12 for YouTube Premium, you used to get ad-free access to all three services, while you used to get both Play Music and YouTube Music for $10 a month. In the future, you’ll only be able to access YouTube and YouTube Music for the same prices.

When you use Google’s migration tool, your current plan will be moved over to the new platform and you’ll end up paying just as much as you had before. If you used to share your Google Play Music account with children under the age of 13 as part of a family plan, you might have to look for another streaming service, though — the YouTube Music app is only available to children over 13.

YouTube Music manages to impress with its free tier. You can stream any song or video you like as long as you keep your display turned on and the app in the foreground. On a laptop or desktop, you can even enjoy songs with the Music website in the background. The free tier is ad-supported, so if you’re dealing with YouTube, you know what’s coming at you. Google Play Music’s free version, on the other hand, only let you play mixes based on artists and songs on Google Home, limiting you to a random selection of songs.

Both platforms allow you to upload and listen to your own music without ads, in the background. YouTube Music recently also added casting support for these songs on the free tier, finally catching up with its predecessor.

Songs you’ve purchased on the Play Store will be migrated to YouTube Music via the migration tool, but you can also download your complete library via Google Takeout if you don’t want to use YouTube Music.

Library migration

Google’s new migration tool should be available to all Play Music/YouTube subscribers by now. It lets you move your whole library — likes, recommendations, uploads, albums, and more — from Play Music to YouTube Music. Once the feature is available to you, you’ll see a banner in your Play Music and YouTube Music app telling you as much. Your recommendations are imported instantaneously so you can start listening to your music right away. Your uploads and the rest of your library are moved in the background while you can already give YTM a try. You’ll get a notification and an email once the process is finished, which can take up to a few days depending on the amount of files you’ve collected. Of course, you can also choose to start over again if you’ve accumulated too much stuff you don’t listen to anymore.

Left: Transfer prompt. Right: Lost artworks and duplicate albums post-migration.

Unfortunately, I haven’t quite noticed a difference in my YouTube Music recommendations and mixes following the migration. That might be because I’ve been using the new service for quite a while before kicking off the library copy tool, but if you’re in my situation, that’s something you should keep in mind. I’ve also lost a few album artworks in the process and found some duplicate albums in my uploaded music, but the latter had been an issue long before the migration, so I don’t think the tool is the sole culprit here.

I’ve also noticed that a few albums aren’t available for streaming on YouTube Music, like most of German punk band Kraftklub’s library, which you could listen to on Google Play Music just fine. It’s a weird situation, but since YouTube is technically a subsidiary, its licensing deals differ from its parent company. There is some random wrong information, too — for example, YouTube Music says Oomph’s 1999 album Plastik was released last year for some reason. These cases are rare, though, and most of the transition was smooth for me.

I also haven’t found an option to edit metadata in YouTube Music yet. If you’ve got a mistitled track, you’ll probably have to re-upload it with the correct metadata, which is less than convenient.

Check out our detailed guide on how to transfer your library.

User interface and experience

 

Play Music’s library was better organized and more responsive than YouTube Music.

I prefer YouTube Music’s interface over Play Music’s, but that might just be because Play Music looks hopelessly outdated. YT Music’s bottom navigation makes it easy to jump to my library while I have to open the hamburger menu to do the same in GPM. Play Music also seems more responsive when I move through my vast library — YouTube Music often has to reload while I scroll. I mostly search or use recommendations anyway, so it doesn’t bother me too much, but it could be a problem for you.

Other than that, you mostly just have to adjust to the navigation system — the two apps generally share the same ideas. Both give you a homescreen with recommendations, access to recent activity, genres, and moods. YouTube Music also recently got a revamped charts interface featuring the most popular songs, albums, and artists on YouTube.

Now Playing. Some features are hidden behind a tap on the album cover in YTM.

YouTube Music’s Now Playing experience is much improved compared to its predecessor. On the aesthetic side, it lets you see the full album cover, while Play Music cuts off the sides. YT Music’s queue shows you fewer songs, but the list is easier to access via a swipe-up. The service has also finally added support for swiping on album covers to skip, and there’s a toggle for switching to the music video of a song if it has one. Lyrics are available for many tracks, both in the app and on the web interface. The Related tab lets you explore similar songs, playlists, artists, and albums, which is a great discovery tool not available on Play Music.

 

Up next and the Related tab.

There are some quirks, though. Google Play Music has a scrollbar that you can drag so it doesn’t take ages to go through all of your songs, which isn’t available on YouTube Music. You also can’t like songs when you’re offline in the YouTube Music app, which drives me crazy. Additionally, some features are hidden behind long-press menus, which you need to figure out first. Try tapping the album cover or long-pressing a title anywhere in the app, for example. Selecting multiple songs is another missing piece, both in the Android application and its web pendant.

Full song overview in both services. Note the scrollbar in Play Music.

Playlists, recommendations, and mixes

Recommendations and mixes are a pretty personal thing — some people prefer Spotify’s Discover playlists that give you a playlist of songs you might like. YouTube Music is much more aggressive in narrowing your taste down to certain artists and genres once it notices you like them, evident from recurring recommendations you keep getting on the home page. Google Play Music is similar in this regard and keeps recommending the same music (except for the “recommended new releases” radio, but that still consists of artists that I listen to anyway).

Recommendations and mixes.

YouTube Music is improving, though. Google added automated playlists such as Discover and New Release Mix, which helped me find great songs. There’s also a whole new selection of custom Spotify-like mixes tailored to your taste, but they don’t appear to be widely available just yet. And if you want to know what your favorite artists are listening to, YouTube Music gives you access to their playlists.

Artists’ favorite playlists are available on their profiles.

Following the introduction of the migration tool, Google shared that Play Music stations will be transformed into playlists when imported. That’s because YouTube Music does away with the concept of stations altogether — it offers curated and machine-generated playlists instead. The content is the same across some Play Music stations and YouTube Music playlists, though the advantage with YTM’s playlists is that you can always see which songs exactly you’ll find in there. GPM stations are more of a grab bag.

If you regularly tune into artist radios on Play Music, you might notice another difference: On YouTube Music, it’s not possible to turn these mixes into playlists. In fact, you can’t create a playlist from your queue at all, which is a bummer.

The Explore tab with many curated and automated playlists.

YouTube Music allows you to collaborate on playlists with others. Create a playlist, tap the pencil button, and then hit the collaborate button to add others to help you populate it. It should be possible to see who added which song.

Search

Google Play Music’s search function is still superior to YouTube Music’s approach. You can start playing songs right from the search results, while you have to tap suggestions on YTM before to listen to them. I also feel like GPM’s search is often more on point for me — YTM tends to recommend mixes and remixes over original songs. YouTube Music makes up for that by allowing you to search for music via lyrics, though.

Google Play Music also has a handy function that identifies songs you listen to right from the search interface, making it easy to add songs you hear while you’re out and about to your playlists. At least Google has integrated YouTube Music with Google search, so you can use Google’s song recognition as a workaround.

Third-party integration

Shazam has added a YouTube Music integration despite being acquired by Apple, offering a shortcut to YouTube Music through its interface. You can also use YouTube Music in Google Maps, just like you used to with Play Music.

A pendant to Play Music’s Wear OS app with offline playback functionality is still missing from YouTube Music, and the Android TV app is still nothing but a glorified shortcut to the regular YouTube app. Google needs to step up its game when it comes to these.

Uploads

Both services support uploading your own music, but it’s incredible how differently they tackle the issue. We’ve explored the topic extensively in another article, so I’ll say this much here: Play Music made your uploaded files almost indistinguishable from content available on the platform while YouTube Music puts your uploads into their own sealed-off section. I prefer Google Play Music’s approach — it made it much easier to find music without stopping and wondering if you’ve uploaded that song or if it’s available for streaming.

As far as I can tell from testing, uploaded music generally doesn’t appear in any of my mixes or the offline mixtape, and I’ve listened to a lot of generated playlists. I don’t think that was the case for Play Music, either, so it’s not like you lose anything here.

Another library gripe concerning uploads has been pointed out by one of our commenters: When you search for an artist in your uploads and tap them, you’ll be thrown into a list of all their songs you’ve uploaded. There’s no dedicated artist page with a simple overview of their albums.

YouTube Music also doesn’t have a dedicated uploading tool on the desktop that monitors specific folders for new files, and the Google Play Music Manager for Windows has been dead for a while. There’s a third-party upload tool for YouTube Music that replicates most of the capabilities, but since it relies on undocumented, unofficial APIs, it could be shut down any moment.

Downloads

YouTube Music nails downloads, in my opinion. While you have to actively choose what you want to download on Google Play Music (such as your liked songs or some albums), YouTube Music can take that burden off your shoulders. You can activate smart downloads, specify how many tracks you automatically want to find on your phone, and YouTube Music will give you a selection. Your downloads are updated every night, so you can listen to something new every once in a while. You can also manually select what you want to have on your phone if you prefer that.

Of course, Google giveth and Google taketh. Google Play Music automatically cached songs you played when you’re online, which also gave you a variety of music to listen to. That doesn’t seem to be the case for YouTube Music, or if it does, cached songs simply don’t appear in my downloads. Play Music was also more forgiving with spotty connections, as it buffered a few upcoming songs in your queue. YouTube Music will just straight up stop playing music as soon as you lose connection.

YouTube Music also retains Play Music’s pesky ten-device limit that only allows for four deactivations each year, though it’s a little less draconian than Play Music: You only lose downloads on non-activated devices. That’s still annoying enough, and  we’ve got a whole editorial on that issue.

Smart speaker integration, casting, and Android Auto

Both Play Music and YouTube Music allow for casting to Chromecast-supported targets. That’s also an option for uploaded music, even if you don’t subscribe to YouTube Music. Unfortunately, casting still isn’t available on the YTM web app, and there’s some weird behavior on Android: When you cast, you lose shuffle and repeat. At least the service recently made queue management much better while casting. You can add songs to your queue via the Assistant, and you can tap into a queue started by voice by hitting the cast button in the app.

Recently, the Google Assistant finally gained support for starting personal YouTube Music playlists. In the past, you could only play your custom playlists via the app.

Where’d shuffle and repeat go after I started casting?

I don’t own a Sonos speaker, but I’ve heard that other people complain that there’s no proper integration with YouTube Music. You need to use the Sonos app to cast content from the streaming service. Google Play Music natively integrated with the third-party system and let you cast to the speakers right from the app.

Similarly, the Android Auto experience isn’t on par — YouTube Music doesn’t have a “recent” section that would help you find recently played or uploaded albums, so you either have to try and use Google Assistant to play what you want to listen to, or you might have to pull over and search for what you want.

There’s also a long-standing bug affecting a few people, hindering them from seeing song information in their cars’ dashboards when they listen to YouTube Music via Bluetooth.

Web app

I used a third-party wrapper application to make Play Music feel as native as possible on my Mac, and while that app supports YouTube Music, I made the switch to YouTube Music Desktop. It has an annoying JavaScript error message it throws up when you start it, but in contrast to my previous solution, it’s under active development and supports custom system-wide keyboard shortcuts. There are also some neat interface tweaks. It’s available on Windows, Linux, and macOS.

You can alternatively just use the web app in your browser or create a dedicated windowed experience by clicking Chrome’s three-dot menu, More tools, and Create shortcut (tick open in new window). You might not get full media button and notification support that way, though.

Left: Play Music. Right: YouTube Music.

That said, YouTube Music’s web app isn’t on par with the service’s mobile app, let alone with Play Music’s website. It can’t cast music to your speakers, artists aren’t displayed next to songs in compilations, and there’s no play count to be seen anywhere.

YouTube integration

While you can access some music videos via Google Play Music, YouTube and YouTube Music are way too intertwined for my taste. Your YouTube Music likes show up among YouTube video likes, your playlists are shared between the two platforms, and, most annoyingly, when you subscribe to artists on YouTube Music, you also subscribe to their YouTube channels. These things get even messier when you subscribe to channels focused on music: I don’t want OK Go to show up in my music streaming service, but I enjoy watching the group’s videos on YouTube.

At least it looks like the YouTube and YouTube Music history has been fully separated recently, as I don’t see recently played songs in my YouTube history anymore. Some people say they’ve never seen this integration, but others have complained about it for a long time, so it’s not 100% clear what’s going on here.

YouTube playlists that include music videos will also populate your YouTube Music library. A test list I’ve created on YouTube consisting of one music video and an Android Police video shows up in YT Music, too. When you try to play the latter through the music service, an unhelpful toast appears: “Song is unavailable.”

Left: YouTube Music playlist in YouTube. Middle: Liked songs and videos in one list. Right: YouTube Channel I subscribe to shown in YouTube Music.

YouTube Music also introduces one of the more annoying YouTube features to music streaming: You’re limited to a maximum of 5,000 titles per playlist. Liked songs are organized within a playlist, so you might not be able to see the earliest songs in it since they might be pushed off the end of the list. YouTube video likes also count against that limit, so you might reach it even faster than you’d think.

Google Play Music’s library management isn’t necessarily perfect, but at least it’s not integrated with a video streaming service.

While I was busy exploring YouTube Music from my perspective as a Play Music subscriber, my colleague Hagop Kavafian switched from Spotify to YouTube Music. He went for YouTube Premium and writes that while he has some gripes with the streaming service, it probably still suits many people’s needs, and that you can save quite some money and time spent on YouTube ads. In the end, it comes down to a question of personal preference for him.

Unfortunately, the equation isn’t as simple here because YouTube Music is fully replacing Play Music for everyone. You have to accept the new service’s quirks if you currently use and love Play Music, or you have to switch to another platform altogether. I personally still can’t stand the shared playlists and likes across YouTube and YouTube Music, but that’s something we have to live with going forward.

Since everyone values different strengths and weaknesses, I may be missing some other dealbreakers. Feel free to share how you feel about the YouTube Music/Play Music situation in the comments if you’re caught between these two worlds, too.

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