I remember the moment I first heard about Spotify. While I was shopping a news report came on the radio about a service that would let me listen to unlimited music from every artist, legally, for free. In a world of CDs, iTunes, and computer destroying torrents, it sounded too good to be true. I downloaded the program the second I got home and haven’t looked back since.
During this time I grew to love what Spotify offers. The music catalog is beyond what I could have ever imagined, the personalized playlists know what I want to listen to better than I do, and I look forward to the yearly roundup more than Christmas.
Recently, Google started rolling out its YouTube Music service. Initially, there was some confusion about where YouTube Music would fit into Google’s music streaming plans. However, it’s become clear the new service will eventually replace Google Play Music, linking directly with YouTube.
This simplification piqued my interest. After Joe Hindy’s hands-on with the service a few weeks ago, I thought it could be a good chance to take a break from Spotify and give YouTube Music a go for a week. This isn’t a full-on YouTube Music vs Spotify comparison, but rather my personal experiences switching to Google’s new streaming service.
YouTube Music looks almost exactly the same as Spotify
As Spotify has been my main music player for about seven years, I expected using YouTube Music would be a step into the unknown. Upon signing in, it was actually incredibly familiar.
The background is black and the text is white, just like Spotify. Artist pictures are circles. Album, song, and playlist pictures are all squares — just like Spotify. Without the YouTube branding at the top of the app, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the two apart. In fact, the layout is so similar I accidentally used Spotify instead of YouTube Music a few times.
Of course, for a Spotify user these similarities make everything feel really intuitive. However, Google borrowing so much from a rival seems a bit uninspired.
Despite the similarities in how the apps look, one big difference was instantly clear. When I use Spotify, everything is tailored to my tastes, using data from the seven years I’ve used the service. When I first used YouTube Music, all I got was a page of new releases and top hits.
This wasn’t too big a deal. As I used the app more, the suggestions got better. After a week of listening I was pretty happy with the music being pushed to me by Google.
YouTube Music's integration with YouTube works really well
YouTube Music’s main differential is its integration with YouTube. People who sign up to YouTube Music have access to all the live performances, b-sides, and demos available on YouTube, through the app. More importantly, you can listen to these songs in the background or with your screen off as you would any other song. This means YouTube Music has a ton of songs no other streaming service can offer.
This feature was useful to me straight away. One of my favorite recordings, The Modern Age EP by The Strokes, is only available on YouTube. As far as I know, you can’t even buy an MP3 version. With YouTube Music, however, I was able to listen to it through the app on my phone.
The YouTube integration is done really well. I was worried including videos in the search results would confuse things, but its pretty clear which search results are from YouTube and which aren’t.
This seems like a pretty massive box to tick for YouTube Music, but other than listening to that one EP, I barely used the YouTube integration at all.
When listening to music on the go, I would pretty much always rather listen to the main version of a song than a b-side or live recording. I don’t spend much time watching music videos. When I occasionally want to listen to a song on YouTube, it’s just as easy to do so using the regular YouTube app anyway.
I’m sure there are people who will get plenty of use from the YouTube integration — I’m just not one of them.
YouTube Music has plenty of playlists, but I prefer those offered by Spotify
The music catalog is another place where the service offered by YouTube Music is basically the same as Spotify. Other than the occasional hole — Doolittle by the Pixies, for example — the app had pretty much every song I wanted to listen to.
Considering that listening to music is the number one use of either platform, it’s kind of strange that the catalog of songs available feels like such a side note. Every streaming service has pretty much all the songs you could ever want. The extras can make or break a platform.
One of Spotify’s perks is its playlists. This is definitely something I expected to miss during my time with YouTube Music. YouTube Music was still decent in this area and had a few playlists I ended up listening to.
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Like Spotify, the service has plenty of themed playlists like Driving, Summer, Workout, and more. I particularly enjoyed being recommended a Cloudy Day playlist when the sky was grey. I’m not entirely sure what I did to make it recommend a Drink Alone Time playlist.
I really missed Spotify’s personalized playlists, like Discover Weekly, Radar, and Time Capsule. I spend a lot of time listening to these on an average week and I discover a lot of new music through them. The only similar one I found on YouTube Music was called Your Mixtape. I enjoyed listening to it, but it didn’t quite fill the gap.
Final thoughts: Am I going to go back to Spotify or stick with YouTube Music?
At the end of the week, I was pretty impressed with YouTube Music. The integration with YouTube works well, even if I didn’t really use it much. I also enjoyed the playlists, though Spotify’s are better.
I don’t think YouTube integration is a big enough reason to get me to move. I’m pretty comfortable with what Spotify offers, love the playlists, and I have some brand loyalty to the service, since I’ve been using it for years.
At the same time, I don’t necessarily think Spotify is a better service for everyone. If I was already signed up to YouTube Music, Spotify’s podcasts and playlists probably wouldn’t convince me to switch either.
There are plenty of slight differences and each service definitely has positive and negative points. At the end of the day, 95 percent of my time on either app is spent simply listening to music. Really, both YouTube Music and Spotify do a great job of that.