Music Streaming Battle Royale
tl;dr Apple Music suffers from only one problem: iTunes. YouTube Music feels half-baked at best.
Once in a while I like to review my subscription choices to see if I am still getting the most value out of each service. Most recently I started paying for YouTube Premium as a way to legitimately skip ands and access exclusive creator content. One perk of this subscription is the inclusion of YouTube music. I have been a happy Spotify subscriber for many years now, but glitchy application behaviour and some missing catalogue items made me second guess whether I am getting the most out of that subscription. I decided to revisit Apple Music and YouTube Music to evaluate their service quality.
Apple Music feels like a quite solid option, with one huge caveat: iTunes. I am a Windows user for my primary desktop and laptop at home and iTunes is an evil that I avoid whenever possible. The Apple experience has continued to decay into near unusability on Windows. I know they have the online player so you can avoid using iTunes, but I wish they would bundle this clean experience into a distinct Windows application. Much of the legacy library and device management that iTunes provided isn’t necessary for my day-to-day music experience. Despite the iTunes nightmare, the experience on my mobile devices such as my iPad and iPhone are excellent.
While there was no direct way to port my Spotify playlists to Apple Music, there was a free online service, Tune My Music, which allowed me to move my Spotify playlists and favourites smoothly to Apple Music. Given these services are all mature at this point I was a little disappointed that this migration process wasn’t native to Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube Music. Despite the desired locked-in effect, it’d be much easier to poach me as a customer if I could easily take my music library with me.
Fresh off of this mixed Apple experience, I was hoping that Google would have produced something high quality with YouTube Music. They spent months advertising the service to me as an upgrade to Google Music (which I had used prior to Spotify), and a great value-ad to the general YouTube experience. Immediately I noticed how rushed this product felt. Like Apple, they have no native Windows application (or Mac application for that matter), and their mobile application feels like a lazy reskin of the the YouTube application. This set the tone for the entire experience I was about to endure.
While most content providers such as Tidal, Apple, and Spotify seem to have gone through the trouble to license large libraries of music with many record labels, it seems like YouTube has done the bare minimum required to be called a music service. It’s almost like they were sitting around the board room one day and someone said “hey, people upload music to YouTube, YouTube can make playlists, why not charge for this?” And then proceeded to receive a standing ovation. The quality of the experience is extremely variable. Some songs are from people who just happened to have uploaded the content, some is label-uploaded content via VEVO and others. Then I attempted to import my playlists.
While the experience using Tune My Music was good with Apple, YouTube Music was a nightmare. First since there is no sane user-level way to import, the tool integrates with the YouTube API directly, and promptly hits the 10,000 action limit as it attempts to match and write playlists via the API. My collection still is only about 3/4 imported, having to curate every re-run to get another chunk of my library imported. Then the fun starts – I would say a solid 10% of my library is unavailable on YouTube. Either people haven’t uploaded the music, or Google never bothered to sign detailed agreements with the various labels.
So, after my experience with Apple Music and YouTube Music, I can comfortably say that Spotify is still the reigning champ in my books. Cross-platform applications on Windows and Mac, decent mobile apps, integration with Sonos and most voice assistants. I’ll live with the odd quirks and bugs, at least I can experience them on every platform consistently and cleanly.