Recently, Google launched a new music service called YouTube Music Key. But wait, doesn't Google already have a music service of its own, Google Play All Access? Well, yes. And Music Key makes it better.
Some people have been a bit confused over what Music Key is or why it exists. If you sign up for Music Key, you get a Google Play All Access subscription included. And if you're already an All Access subscriber, you get Music Key for no additional cost. What this means (and what Google has failed to adequately explain) is that, essentially, these are the same service. (Adding to the confusion, Music Key is only being offered to All Access subscribers right now — the general rollout for the service is expected next year.)
The good news is, it doesn't matter if Google explains this in a weird way. Subscribers get new features that they didn't have before. Awesome! That being the case, if you weren't sure about signing up for All Access before, it's worth a second chance. Let's take a look at what's new.
What Music Key Brings To The Table
At its core, Music Key is about leveraging YouTube's potential as a music platform. Despite its goal of being a place for users to share their own personal videos, YouTube quickly became the de facto music player for many people simply because it has nearly everything. Even if it's not from legitimate sources, you can almost always find a song on YouTube, and the links are easily shareable. Most importantly, you don't need to set up an account to watch. Without Google having to do a thing, we made YouTube into one of the best music services around.
Music Key tries to make that process even better by fixing some of the biggest annoyances with listening to music on YouTube. For example:
- You can listen to music in the background on mobile: If you're on the desktop, you can put on a music playlist, switch tabs, and listen all day without ever looking at the video. YouTube on mobile couldn't do that before. As soon as you leave the app or turn your screen off, the music stops. Music Key allows you to enable this feature.
- You can download videos for offline playback: No one wants to stream video all day over their mobile network just to listen to music. Music Key allows you to download videos for offline use so you can create a music playlist, save it to your phone, and keep listening when you leave Wi-Fi without chewing through your data (or buffering every three seconds).
- You can skip the ads: Because there's nothing worse than throwing off your groove with some random ad. Notably, in our testing, Music Key seemed to eliminate ads for some videos that aren't music videos. It doesn't seem that Google promises to remove all ads from YouTube (and we certainly still saw a few), but it's worth mentioning.
Notably, it's unclear on which videos these work on. As mentioned above, we still saw ads, but there were definitely some videos that didn't load an ad even when it was in incognito mode. And some non-music videos were available for background listening or offline playback. Your mileage may vary, so keep in mind these features may apply to content outside of music, but they are also not guaranteed to.
On top of these headlining features, YouTube has also added a new Music tab. Here you can find suggestions for music or playlists you may enjoy. The page is structured in a similar way to YouTube's existing recommendation pages. Whether this is enough to satisfy your discovery needs is up to personal preference. For myself, I find the recommendations to be largely useless (the section for videos from my Play Music history contained only one song I'd actually listened to, for example), but your mileage may vary.
The Play Music Factor
For Play Music users, Music Key also adds a neat feature where you can access the music video for a song while it's playing. This is handy, though it's also a little clunky at the moment. The video will open in an embedded player which is OK on the desktop, but severely limited on mobile. You don't have access to the option to download a video for offline use unless you switch to YouTube proper. Hopefully this will get ironed out in the future.
That's the only actual new feature you get with Music Key in Play Music. However, as stated above, Music Key comes with an All Access subscription, so if you're wondering whether it's worth it, it helps to go over some of the key features of Play Music:
- You can access a library of millions of songs: As with Spotify, All Access/Music Key lets you stream lots of songs as long as your subscription is active. You can also "pin" music to your devices so it's available offline.
- You can upload your own music to the cloud and sync it across devices: One of the best features of Play Music (which doesn't actually require the subscription) is that you can upload your own songs and access them anywhere. There's no distinction between music you uploaded and subscription songs in the app, so you can have everything you ever listen to in one place with relative ease.
- Curated playlists and smart radio stations make discovery super easy: I'll be honest, I don't "explore" music much. Play Music changed that for me. The curated playlists are stellar at finding new music, and Google also has Pandora-like radio stations based on songs you've listened to.
None of this is new, but if you're on the fence about whether or not to pay for Music Key, these are things to consider. If you're already an All Access subscriber, well, you don't have to make a choice. You just get the Music Key features as a bonus. Go you.
Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, Google wants to be your one-stop shop for all things music. And its bases are pretty well covered. Have a collection of MP3s you want to upload? Check. Prefer a subscription so you don't have to manage files? Check. Do you share songs by sending people YouTube links? You're golden.
By itself, Music Key probably won't woo anyone. If you're happy with Spotify or Rdio, paying an extra $11.99/month just to remove ads from YouTube isn't that appealing a proposition. But that's just it. Music Key doesn't come by itself. It's better to look at the package as a whole: Google Play Music All Access YouTube Music Key (or whatever, ugh) is one of the most robust music platforms around. The best feature may simply be treating YouTube like the music service we've all been pretending it is anyway.