Today Google announced a major shake-up of its music- and video-streaming services. That should be cause for celebration, since the company's offerings are a convoluted mess right now. There's Google Play Music, a Spotify rival with a robust "locker" system for streaming your personal library. In a handful of countries you can also download YouTube Music, a free app that includes music videos and live-concert footage. It's ad supported, but you can unlock a premium version if you subscribe to YouTube Red, which also comes with a free Play Music subscription.
For the average person, it's needlessly complicated. If someone asks, "Are any of them worth it?" I usually respond with a long-winded explanation like, "Well, if you live outside the US, Google Play Music is still worth considering as a standalone streaming service. But if you have the option of YouTube Red, it's basically a no-brainer, because it costs $9.99 per month and nets you ad-free YouTube, some YouTube originals and ad-free YouTube Music access too." That's fine, but my gosh is it a mouthful.
Google knows how chaotic its offerings are right now. But its idea of a fix doesn't seem much better. In a blog post, the company announced YouTube Music, a "new music streaming service made for music with the magic of YouTube." That sounds, well, just like the current YouTube Music app.
Apparently this one is different. It will have official songs, playlists and artist radio in addition to YouTube's extensive catalog. There will also be a new, dedicated desktop player to complement the redesigned mobile app. According to Google, "For the first time, all the ways music moves you can be found in one place."
So why should you care? Well, it sounds like Google is finally merging YouTube Music and Google Play Music into a single product. That makes a lot of sense -- I would prefer a single destination for all of my Google-provided music needs. And Google says there will be two tiers: a free, ad-supported version and a premium subscription that costs $10 per month. That's another good choice. Spotify has a near-identical model, which will make it easy for people to try and directly compare the two services.
But here's the snag: In its blog post, Google says that if you use Play Music, "nothing will change." Oh. "You'll still be able to access all of your purchased music, uploads and playlists in Google Play Music just like always," it reads. So at least at launch, Google will be running YouTube Music and Play Music in parallel. If you're an existing Play Music subscriber, you'll get the new, premium version of YouTube Music too. Big picture, then, little is changing -- YouTube Music is just getting a upgrade.