Yesterday, YouTube announced that it’s going to get into the highly competitive music streaming business. According to the L.A. Times, the Google-owned video service is getting ready to roll out YouTube Music Key, which will “give users access to tens of millions of songs, for about $10 a month”— by providing an ad-free way to enjoy all the music that’s currently licensed and available on the service.
Okay, great. Should you care?
Maybe not this second—but definitely keep an eye out. Music streaming is becoming an increasingly crowded place, and when chart-topping artists like Taylor Swift are pulling their music because of terrible royalty rates, we’re undoubtedly about to enter a period of flux. YouTube, however, might have an edge—YouTube is a massively effective tool in fans’ music discovery, and if Google can leverage YouTube’s status as a vast network of little-known and on-the-verge talent into a massive streaming catalog, it could be huge.
That said, it helps to understand how Music Key is fundamentally different from other music services. The answer is pretty simple: it’s YouTube, but with the music content ad-free, available offline, and playable in the background.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMQxeb5ERps]
According to the YouTube blog, it’s part of a concerted effort to make the site more of a music hub—the site already has loads of ad-supported licensed music
However, as the L.A. Times noted, not everyone is thrilled—Irving Azoff is the man behind a company called Global Music Rights, which manages royalties for artists like Pharrell and the estate of John Lennon. He’s taken issue with the amount YouTube pays artists, and it’s possible that the artists his company represents won’t jump onboard.
There’s also this: Little incentive exists for any artist to license their music exclusively to any one service.
Ultimately, it’s going to depend on what kind of music listener you are. Do you prefer to have an app make a playlist for you based off of a specific genre or vibe? Most services will work for you—pick the easiest one to use that’s also available on every device you have. Are you a social music listener, interested in discovering new tunes via your network of friends and people you follow? Make sure your chosen service has a good social aspect to it, like Rdio. A more discerning listener, with carefully cultivated playlists? You’re gonna have to do some homework and see who has the artists you dig, and who does not. And if you already have an extensive digital music collection, it’s important to find an internet service that plays nice with your library.
So who is YouTube Music Key ideal for? It’s not really clear—maybe heavy YouTube users? At this point, it’s hard to imagine the service attracting anyone who doesn’t already use YouTube as their primary source for music on the web.
As more services vie for users, they’re going to have to start differentiating themselves in pretty big ways—right now, that takes the form of extras like curated playlists and exclusive tracks. If you’re happy with where you’re at, there’s no real reason to switch to another service—they all mostly do the same thing in different ways. But if you’re looking to subscribe, you’ve got no shortage of options.