It’s been almost two years since YouTube Music launched as a full-fledged, paid competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. But even though Google positioned it as a replacement for its own Google Play Music service and something that could take on other major options in the music streaming space, it certainly wasn’t feature-complete at launch. But development accelerated significantly over the last year or so, and YouTube Music has fixed just about all the problems I identified in 2018.
But one thing that hasn’t been clear is how the faithful Google Play Music users out there could bring their collections and history over to YouTube Music. Finally, there’s an answer in the form of a comprehensive transition tool that is rolling out widely starting today. And the good news is that it brings over just about every bit of music and data you may have collected in Google Play Music over the years.
To start the process off, you’ll obviously need to have YouTube Music on your Android or iOS device. If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, Google Play Music will alert you to the new transition tool and prompt you to install YouTube Music. Inside the app you’ll find a banner alerting you to the option to port your entire Google Play Music library over, and just a few taps from there will get it started.
I’m impressed with the depth of detail Google put into this process. You can port over every song and album in your library, as well as any playlists you’ve created. Any songs you bought through Google Play or anything you uploaded from your own music library will be ported over, as well. It’ll also bring over “many” of the curated stations Play Music offered, as most of those have been recreated on YouTube Music as playlists.
All the details on what songs you’ve given a thumbs-up or thumbs-down will be ported over, too. That data will be used to curate recommendations for you on the YouTube Music home screen. In fact, all of your Google Play Music history that built the recommendations for you on that one service will also make it to YouTube Music. If you’ve been using both services, YouTube Music will use recency to decide what’s most important — so whatever you’ve been playing lately or giving thumbs up to most recently will be the main recommendation drivers. For me, that’ll be YouTube Music, as my Google Play Music account has been largely dormant for months now. But, if you’ve never used YouTube Music at all, your Google Play Music history will provide a basis for surfacing albums and playlists you may not have heard yet.
Google says this whole transfer process will take place in steps, but the whole thing should take less than an hour. Of course, edge cases with massive music libraries or tons of uploads can take much longer, up to a few days. But even libraries with tens of thousands of songs shouldn’t take very long to port over. I was able to transfer my modest collection of about 8,500 songs, 131 saved stations and about 30 playlists in 15 minutes. In a demo with Google last week, a demo transfer of a account with more than 10,000 songs and many more playlists happened in just about the same amount of time.
As the transfer happens, you’ll find a banner on the YouTube Music homepage highlighting things it pulled over from the old service, and you can use the app while the transition is in progress. Google will send both an email and a push notification once everything is complete. Google Play Music will continue working for the time being, so if a user goes back to the old service for a while and wants to initiate a new transfer of their account, they can do it as many times as they want.
At the same time as Google launched this transition tool, it also confirmed that Play Music will shut down for good this year. We don’t know exactly when, but the writing is clearly on the wall at this point. At this point, though, most Play Music holdouts should feel pretty comfortable switching over, in my opinion — basically all the deal-breaking problems I originally encountered have been fixed. Navigating a music library is far better now, with basic things like sorting albums from A to Z (instead of by recent additions) is thankfully present now. Similarly, if you add a song or album to your library, the artists will show up under your artists list; you don’t have to “subscribe” separately to an artist channel.
The rather useless “hotlist” section is going away, making way for a more comprehensive exploration tab that makes it easier to find playlists and new music; it also lets you see music by genre and mood as well. The “now playing” screen was also redesigned recently and makes common controls like shuffle and repeat easier to access while also adding a lyrics feed. And in what is truly a differentiating feature, YouTube Music lets you upload up to 100,000 songs from your own collection so that they’re available anywhere. At this point, Apple Music is the only other service that lets you combine songs you’ve purchased elsewhere, personal uploads and a cloud catalog all at once.
While all these changes were crucial for YouTube Music’s future, it does seem that the rapid pace of improvement has resonated with music-listeners. As of February, Google revealed that 20 million people had signed up for YouTube Music or YouTube Premium (the latter provides offline YouTube proper downloads and an ad-free video experience alongside YouTube Music). That’s not nearly as many as Apple Music or Spotify, but after two years there’s clearly some momentum behind YouTube’s subscription products. At the very least, the small but loyal group of people still using Google Play Music will likely enjoy using YouTube Music, as it’s now just about feature-complete and still under active development — unlike Play Music.