YouTube Music Is Already a Mess — and a Bad Deal for Artists, Labels, and Publishers

The music industry desperately needs YouTube Music Premium to succeed.  But that’s not gonna happen unless YouTube fixes a bunch of serious problems.

Daniel Ek isn’t freaking out right now.  Because Spotify has already figured out 1,000 different problems related to premium that YouTube hasn’t.  And the same is true for Apple Music.

But YouTube Music is the biggest music platform in the world!  All they have to do is put the right paywall in front of it and bam — billions start pouring in!

Wrong.  Here’s why this isn’t a slam dunk, and why this isn’t a great deal for the music business.

1. ‘YouTube Music’ is completely confusing.

In fact, I thought ‘YouTube Music’ already existed.  I checked: it was actually ‘a thing’ starting a few years ago.  So that’s in people’s minds already.

Now, YouTube is asking people to forget the earlier ‘YouTube Music,’ and wrap their heads around the new ‘YouTube Music’.  And pay for it.

But this gets about four times worse…

2. YouTube Music + YouTube Music Premium + YouTube Premium + YouTube Red is even more confusing.

YouTube Red was supposed to be a premium music platform.  Now it’s dead.  Or, re-branded.  Or something like that.  But YouTube Premium, which sounds simple enough, isn’t the replacement for YouTube Red.  It’s the premium umbrella that also includes the old YouTube Red and YouTube Music Premium, plus a bunch of ad-free, portable options for all of YouTube’s videos.  Also, South Korea is only getting YouTube Premium, not YouTube Music Premium, at least for now.

Got it?

3. Google Play Music is confusing.

Or maybe it’s Google Music now.  It used to be Google Play Music Unlimited, I think.

Whatever.  The rumor is that Google Music and YouTube Music are going to merge.  But these are two incredibly different music services.  Maybe a ‘one-pass’ to access everything is a better idea.  But trying to create a unified merger between these completely different streaming services is like trying to merge a scooter with a bike.  Both achieve similar aims and coexist — but it’s best to leave them as separate vehicles.

4. Google & YouTube are notorious for half-baked releases.

There are endless examples of heavily-hyped but ultimately abandoned initiatives.  Like, for example, YouTube’s endless ‘Music’ and ‘Premium’ launches.  It’s a long trail of dead bodies — will this be the latest corpse?

5. YouTube Music’s free tier is too good.

Why pay?  Because you don’t want the ads?

Remember, YouTube’s audience is all about free.   Sure, there are lots of people who are willing to pay.  But a large percentage of those people have already gone to Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.

The rest are committed to a freebie experience.

Maybe those people will start paying for perks like portable downloads.  But it’s probably going to be harder than everybody thinks.

6. YouTube’s music videos disappear all the time.

Live videos get yanked down.  Lyrics videos go poof.  Cover songs get removed.  Even ‘official’ videos disappear — depending on the country.

That never happens on Spotify.

Is YouTube seriously willing to fix this problem, and only prioritize videos that are virtually guaranteed to be there, year after year?  Because once people are paying, they have a right to demand that.

7. Ad-blocker.

I’d love to see how many people are using ad-blocker on YouTube.  The figure might be shocking.  In fact, I constantly see ads on YouTube for ad-blocker products!

You don’t have to ask what’s wrong with that picture.  And it speaks volumes on where YouTube’s real interests lie.

8. Location-based listening isn’t real.

YouTube thinks I want to listen to something different when I’m at the airport.  Maybe a playlist of ‘take-off tunes’?  Maybe ‘rockstar’ if I get a free first-class upgrade?

It’s laughable.

The reality is that sometimes I like a different mix in a different location.  But more accurately, I usually want different music at different periods of the day (morning, daytime, night).  Or, for different situations (social vs. solo, jogging vs. studying, etc.)

9. YouTube Music only changes artist payouts if people subscribe.

Hands down, YouTube has the most insulting artist payout levels across any streaming service.  By a huge margin (of a penny).  And if you don’t like that, YouTube has a suggestion on where you can stuff your complaint.

You need them more than they need you.  And they have more resources to make it difficult to manage your rights.  Why isn’t that changing, right now?

Cynically, YouTube now has an answer.  They’re starting a paid tier.  They’re one of the good guys.

But only if it works — which actually takes a surprisingly large amount of work.

In the meantime, YouTube remains a drag on other premium streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited.  And that drag is about to get worse, because YouTube Music’s free service is getting better.  So unless YouTube seriously undermines its existing free tier instead of improving it, this isn’t going to substantially help the music industry.

And the only one that wins is Google.



7 Responses

  1. Lob Befsetz

    It’s pretty cool!

    Lyor says he’s on the side of the artists, if one streaming service wins it will be able to crimp compensation to rightsholders, he says that’s why he took the job at Google. And we can debate Lyor’s motivation all day long, but the end product…

    Is gonna attract users.

    It’s personalized. That’s what differs it from its competitors. No one is gonna see the same homepage. Furthermore, you get a different homepage depending upon your location!

    Let’s say you listen to instrumental music at work, IT KNOWS THAT! And will suggest music to play accordingly. Ditto if you’re at home, or exiting a museum, it tracks the location and squares it against your history and creates a homepage on the fly.

    And they’ve got a lot of history. That’s right, they’re incorporating all your viewing on YouTube to build your favorites. And if for some reason you’ve been living under a rock and have never been on the default video service, you can choose different acts to inform YouTube so your homepage can be populated before it learns.

    And there’s a row of new releases based on your preferences. This happens to me all the time, I find a new release a YEAR after it came out. That’s the hardest thing to do in today’s marketplace, spread the word, especially to people who want to know. But if the YouTube app learns you’re a fan of an act or genre, it will put their new releases right on the homepage. Do you know Neil Young has a new release of his “Tonight’s The Night” show from the Roxy? I didn’t, until I read an article. I was listening to Supertramp and wanted to know if they were still touring so I went to the band’s homepage and found out Gabe Dixon was playing keyboards for the band. I LOVE Gabe Dixon, but I did not know he released a live album from Boston that I’ve got to write about, I’ve listened to it for days straight. Any service that puts this stuff up close and personal is attractive. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Spotify does something similar, but I find its New Release Radar has too many remastered tracks, I already know them, I don’t care, I want NEW STUFF!

    Speaking of which, for now YouTube Music does not feature Spotify’s killer app, i.e. Discover Weekly. They say they’re gonna put that in… And unlike Amazon, and now Spotify, voice control is not built into the app, then again, if you’re on Android, you can say “Hey Google!” and achieve the same result. And if you’ve got Google Home… You can call out and get playlists on the fly. Like I had Lyor ask his phone to play “Depressing Songs From 1987” and it immediately played U2’s “With or Without You,” this is Amazon Music’s killer feature, it creates personalized playlists on the fly, via algorithm. YouTube’s are not personalized.

    But YouTube’s killer app is…YOUTUBE!

    Happens to me all the time, I get deep into an act on Spotify and I want to hear live shows, see fan videos, I click over to YouTube, but now that’s BUILT IN! All the authorized and fan videos, and they pay at the subscriber rate, not the ad-supported rate.

    As for trials… They’re just not sure yet. Right now they’re gonna have a thirty day trial, could go to ninety days, they’ve got carrier partners…it’s flexible.

    Not that you can get much data out of them, that’s what’s great about Spotify, it gives you plays, it gives you so much data, whereas Apple and Google hold their info close to the vest.

    So, playlists are created based on your listening habits, with as many as 500 songs, and they learn along the way, if you skip the track will not show up next time.

    Once again, these are not generic playlists. Yours might have the same name as a buddy’s, but it will be slightly different, all based on your listening habits. But you can go deeper into the app and find the hand-curated playlists.

    Also, there’s a feature where they list what’s hot. So, if Childish Gambino puts out a video the night before, you’ll be alerted right on your homepage, think of it as a news service for music.

    But you won’t know until you try it.

    The app is gonna have a soft launch on Tuesday, and then spread slowly thereafter. There will be promotion/advertising, and the first question you have, which is the same one I have, is…IS GOOGLE TOO LATE?

    Timing is everything in tech, there’s a huge first-mover advantage.

    And behemoths can be undercut and toppled. Hell, think of all of Google’s failed products, Glass, whatever their social network was called…

    But, first mover advantage only works if you continue to improve and stay better than the competition. From what I can see, YouTube Music is a step ahead of the competition, it’s very fan-friendly, even downloads/synch are emphasized in a way that nitwits can figure it out.

    And there’s those YouTube videos…

    So it’ll be ten bucks a month, and if you want the YouTube Red stuff, you’ll pay a few bucks more for Premium, Red goes away, you can’t buy Red without Music.

    And what we find here is all of Google’s machine learning and experience has been baked into this app. It’s the personalization that wows, the location services, you want to try it out.

    Is there enough room for all services to survive?

    I’m not sure, it’s a race for subscribers, and so far, most people don’t have subscriptions.

    And if you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have said YouTube has no chance.

    But today??

    It’s quite possible!

  2. The Queen & Genius

    Tidal has the best payouts by far.

    Yours in streaming,

    Beyoncé and Kanye

  3. Julia

    Spotify does actually have a location block. Im from Belarus, but my boyfriend from Czech is paying so i can use spotify in my country. And there is a bunch of songs spotify wont let me still listen. it says the song cant be played in ur location

  4. Anonymous

    The purpose is not creating something new.

    The purpose is getting in the news for something else than censorship and general creepy behaviour.

  5. Aaron C

    “Google & YouTube are notorious for half-baked releases.”

    They’re also notorious for killing products that people like. This is just the latest, and it’s what finally convinced this fanboi to move to an Apple service. GPM was my favorite Google service. Also, I have a ten year old. You think I’m going to let him have easy access to all the music videos for songs he likes? Sorry. Not going to happen. You messed up, Google. Bigtime.

    Tried Spotify and Amazon music, but Apple seems to be the closest to what I had with GPM. Missing though is the ability to select my playlist and “start radio,” from the playlist, a feature that Spotify and GPM have, and one that GPM had a great algorithm for.

    So infuriating. Between Google selling all my info to other people and all the boneheaded moves culminating with this one, I have finally begun the painful process of extricating myself from the Google ecosphere.

    Takes a lot to get a Google guy to move to Apple, but you did it, Google! Congrats!

    • Scrappy

      Unfortunately, Google has the best cloud service by far with Drive. Icloud is a stinking joke in comparison. Eventually, all the corporations need to be dragged into a torture chamber and stripped of the services the public needs, and pick the best of each, and throw the owners out on their teeth. Of course, that will never happen in bribery-based capitalism in the USA.