YouTube Music is Google’s latest stab at a Spotify rival

YouTube Music is Google’s latest stab at a Spotify rival

YouTube Red is becoming YouTube Premium for $2 more a month, and Google Play Music is disappearing eventually.

YouTube is remixing its subscription services, relaunching its Spotify-like rival YouTube Music as a $10-a-month membership mostly devoid of video and recasting the YouTube Red ad-free, paywalled video tier as YouTube Premium.

Google Play Music, the other subscription streaming music service from the same parent company as YouTube, will also be going away eventually. In a briefing this week, the company promised it will be closing gaps between the two services over the next month, so Google Play Music members don’t lose the features they’ve grown accustomed to, including a cloud-based MP3 storage locker.

YouTube Music will continue to cost $10 a month. The new YouTube Premium, which bundles Music with the original shows and ad-free viewing of YouTube Red currently, will cost $12 a month. That’s a $2 price bump from Red’s current price.

YouTube is the internet’s biggest video site, with more than 1.8 billion accounts tuning in every month. Much of that “viewing” is actually music listening, as music videos consistently rank among the most popular clips on YouTube, making it one of the biggest single sources of music listening worldwide. In theory, that gives YouTube a unique position to recruit people to level-up to paying music subscribers.

“YouTube in general is where most music is consumed. If there was ever a company that could build a successful subscription business, it would be YouTube,” Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s head of music, said this week in an interview.

But YouTube has a spotty track record with music subscriptions in the past.

In 2014, it debuted YouTube Music Key, a subscription service that never expanded beyond a small, invite-only crowd of testers. In 2015, it revamped the concept to launch the original YouTube Music, coming a month after the company introduced Red, its $10-a-month subscription service that strips away ads, unlocks original programs and gives members other mobile perks.

YouTube has never disclosed how many people subscribe to YouTube Music (or YouTube Red, for that matter), but its subscription music service has largely existed in the shadow of Spotify, the biggest streaming music service with 75 millionpaying members, and Apple Music, with its closest competitor with 40 million paid subscribers.

Next Tuesday, YouTube will try again, by launching its reinvented YouTube Music app in the US, South Korea, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, followed by another 14 countries in the following weeks.

In a counterintuitive move, the music app from the world’s biggest video service will be largely devoid of video. On the app’s homescreen, you scroll past shelves and shelves of recommending music and playlists — individualized selections of new releases, a My Mixtape personalized playlist, collections similar to an artist you’ve been listening to a lot lately, a selection called Throwback Jams — before you get to recommended music videos and professional clips of live performances.

T. Jay Fowler, YouTube Music’s head of product, described the service as “deeply personalized,” pulling from all account history on YouTube. “It’s a little bit of an art and not a science, because you might be using YouTube to research something, and we really want to be playing things you want,” he said.

YouTube is taking one page out of Apple Music’s playbook and rejecting another; Cohen said that the new YouTube Music will “spend an enormous amount on marketing” the new service, a tactic that Apple Music has reveled in.

But YouTube Music won’t be striking exclusives for album releases, Cohen said.

“We don’t want to participate in it,” Cohen said. “We want the consumer to…get what they thought they were getting.”

(Exclusives are also verboten by Lucian Grainge, the CEO of No. 1 major label Universal Music Group, ever since Frank Ocean blessed Apple Music with his 2016 album Blond through his independent label just days after completing his contractual obligations with Universal. Cohen and Grainge, both long-time music industry execs, were recently pictured together with Kanye West when the rapper was on a tweetstorm.)

YouTube Music won’t completely forsake exclusive content, though. It will work with artists and music acts on exclusive “shoulder” material, like YouTube’s live streams from Coachella, the company said.