Streaming music is an incredibly crowded lot. There is Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora. There is Rdio, Rhapsody and Deezer. Amazon launches a music streaming service when you sign up for Prime. But you know who is really killing him with music, a business almost so obvious you wouldn’t even know? Youtube.
Think about it. While Taylor Swift has already easily pulled her music from platforms like Spotify and Apple Music (at least, until Apple agrees to pay), she’s never done the same on YouTube. The same goes for other artists, who often put up exclusive music content on the video service in order to reach over a billion users at a time. Compare that to the 75 million Spotify users or the 15 million Apple Music users.
In addition, YouTube’s audience is unique. They love to hire. They watch, love and share. They do remixes, covers, lyrics clips and response videos. And they do this for anything already in the YouTube collection, including official music videos, fan videos, and concert footage.
Now YouTube is taking this huge body of work, mixing it in with cool new features, and opening it up to everyone as a standalone app with a clear focus on music. Today, the company is launching its first official standalone music app called YouTube Music. “These are high reward, low effort experiences,” T. Jay Fowler, head of music products at YouTube, told WIRED.
From day one, the YouTube Music app launched on iOS and Android in the United States. As Sowmya Subramanian, CTO at YouTube, explains, it’s the culmination of everything YouTube learned when it launched Music Key, its beta music subscription service, last year. (This service had only ever been available to heavy listeners of music identified by YouTube.)
In YouTube Music, everything is personalized. You start with a Home screen, which has three items: “My Station” plus two genre stations (for example, country and pop) that appear based on your listening habits. Pick your custom station, and it sends you on what Fowler calls “an endless journey of discovery.” The station is based on what you like and what YouTube’s algorithm thinks about you will be like, depending on how you navigate.
“It represents the entirety of your musical tastes,” says Fowler. You can drill down into the settings to change something called “variety”. Choose “less variety” to directly play more songs you liked; “Balanced” to obtain a mixture of algorithmic and manual preferences; and “more variety” to let the machine go wild.
Once a song is playing, you’ll be taken to a view with two tabs: Now Playing and Explore. Return to Explore, and the algorithmic intelligence of YouTube looks you straight in the eye. The app browses the huge music stack of the entire YouTube collection and displays all related content, whether it’s a fan video of the song you’re currently listening to, a live concert, or ‘a lyric video, remix or cover from another artist – all tagged. Fowler says the app can do this by taking advantage of YouTube’s Intelligent Content Identification System, an automated system originally to identify pirated copies on the site. It also has a “Melody ID” algorithm for songs, Fowler says.
For those hoping to keep up with music trends, YouTube Music includes a tab called Trends. The app offers categories such as “The Daily 40” or “On the Rise” from the largest YouTube community.