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.
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.
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?
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.