I’ve been on YouTube Music since its Google Play Music days (2016) and it’s been pretty good, but I can’t imagine choosing Spotify over YouTube Music which apparently people do 3:11:
* Google doesn’t break down this number, so it’s not clear how many YouTube Music subscribers there are (vs. Premium vs. free trial).
So I was thinking about the comparison, and if I were to score them I think it’d go like this:
Libraries. Tie 🤷. Probably the first thing you think about: can I find the artists and songs I’m looking for? But with all major players’ libraries north of 60M, this is effectively a wash and therefore differences in single-digit millions of songs is a non-factor2.
Audio quality. Spotify 🥇. At the time of this writing YT Music gets up to 256kbps whereas Spotify reaches 320kbps. I guess I’d need to do a side-by-side to see if I could hear the incremental 64kbps but my guess is I’d have a hard time noticing the difference.
Music locker. YT Music 🥇. I was happy to get my trove of ~3k Napster and Limewire mp3s off the external hard drive—these things that can die any moment without warning—and into the cloud. YT Music offers this; Spotify does not. This is a nice perk, though I could probably safely eliminate 95+% of my collection as they’re already contained within the library.
Discovery/Recommendations. Spotify 🥇. Discovery and recommendations aren’t a huge priority for me as I’m listening to a lot of Raffi these days, but actually, this comes into play with the variety and quality of auto-generated playlist/”radio” selections, and I do find a lot of repetition on YT Music3 (whereas I understand that Spotify does this well). Anyway, this is all admittedly anecdotal and conjectural; I don’t have great data on this.
UI/controls/aesthetics. Spotify 🥇. Mostly relying on the industry point of view, but it seems Spotify wins here, too. YT Music isn’t terrible, and has certainly improved over time, but is on the clunkier side.
Ecosystem (i.e. accepted more places). Spotify 🥇. More and more in our connected/IoT world ecosystem matters, and so I think Spotify has a slight edge in terms of the number of third party services and devices you can connect to (e.g. Sonos, various car audio systems, Waze, Alexa).
Podcasting. Spotify 🥇. I appreciate Spotify’s big play with podcasting from a business model/monetization perspective, but as a user I don’t need podcasts and music integrated, and am too cheap to pursue premium podcast content; I just do the premium podcast player.
Social/Sharing. Spotify 🥇. This clearly goes to Spotify, but it’s also not terribly important to me. (Though maybe I don’t know what I’m missing.)
…Okay, the count so far is 6-1-1 in favor of Spotify, but then the one dimension that disproportionately sends it all the way back in favor of YT Music:
Ad-free YouTube. YT Music 🥇. Ad-free, offline (i.e. downloads), and background play. I know: you kind of wince at having to pay YouTube to not be subjected to ad bombardment. YouTube is that school bully who exacts a toll from kids’ packed lunches should they wish to avoid a beatdown. But hey, that’s capitalism and willingness to pay. And when I think about the quantity of product reviews, educational videos, home improvement tutorials, and wild animal videos I consume, there’s a significant time savings (ergo value).
I’m not totally sure I need to have a music streaming service—I could conceivably be satisfied rotating among my top 50 albums of all time (future post to enumerate)—but while I do it’d be hard to give up ad-free YouTube. At the end of the day this just indicates that I may enjoy music, but am no audiophile.
Assuming your tastes are fairly conventional (mine are), and assuming that the artists that have recently cut ties with Spotify (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, et al.) aren’t all that important to you. (Joni would actually be a loss for me.) ↩
It is a little surprising that this isn’t a differentiator for Google, since they acquired Songza, a phenomenal streaming and recommendation platform, back in 2014, and bolted onto Google Play Music. ↩