YouTube Music is phasing out Google Play Music

Google’s range of music streaming services has led to a prolonged debate about its future strategy. The launch of Google’s YouTube Music Premium in May 2018 seemed to signal the end of Google Play Music. But the service still remains available, and Google has said the phasing out process will be a gradual one.

Music lovers currently have a choice of three Google streaming services. Its original option, Google Play Music ($9.99/mo.), launched in 2011, then added a free ad-supported version in 2015.  YouTube Music debuted in 2015. But things began to get interesting with the launch of a new-look version of YouTube Music and the $9.99/mo. YouTube Music Premium in May 2018.

Google’s paid music streaming services now have a combined total of more than 15 million subscribers. That’s well behind the market leaders in the music streaming market, such as Amazon Music (32 million), Apple Music (60 million) and Spotify (100 million).

Google’s music streaming landscape

The free version of Google Play Music enables ad-supported access to its content library of 40 million songs, and subscribers can upload up to 50,000 of their own tracks to stream on the service’s mobile apps and web players. Subscribing to the paid version removes ads and permits offline listening on mobile devices as well as unlimited skipping.

YouTube Music is a free ad-supported streaming service that lets listeners listen to songs and watch music videos. The premium version of the service unlocks ad-free music and video streaming as well as the ability to download content to enjoy offline. A subscription to YouTube Premium includes access to Google Play Music and vice versa.

Google has confirmed that YouTube Music it will eventually support Google Play Music’s key features, such as the ability to upload music files from outside its catalog. YouTube Music replaced Google Play Music as the default, pre-installed music player for Android 9 devices and newer in September 2019. And Google removed the ability to gift its Play Music subscription as part of the same update.

Google’s music streaming services compared

We took a look at the key features of Google’s music streaming services, comparing the free and paid versions of both Google Play Music and YouTube Music. We evaluated the services based on price and free trial length. We also considered elements such as ad-free listening, the ability to download tracks and whether or not the service permits listening on locked devices. 

Google Play Music FreeGoogle Play Music PaidYouTube MusicYouTube Music Premium
PriceFree$9.99/mo.Free$9.99/mo.
Student planN/A$4.99/mo.N/A$4.99/mo.
Family planN/A$14.99/mo.N/A$14.99/mo.
Free trial lengthN/A30 daysN/A3 months
Ad-freeNoYesNoYes
Number of songs40 million40 million30 million30 million
Offline listeningNoYesNoYes
Maximum streaming quality320 kbps320 kbps128 kbps256 kbps
Maximum streaming quality320 kbps320 kbps128 kbps256 kbps
Locked device listeningNoYesNoYes

What will happen to Google Play Music?

Google has yet to release a specific end date for Google Play Music, but it’s probably only a matter of time before the newer service replaces the original. YouTube Music Premium subscribers already have access to Google Play Music and vice versa, so it appears the transition is already underway. 

On top of this, another service to add to the mix is YouTube Premium, which provides ad-free viewing of all videos across the regular YouTube platform. A subscription to this option also gives users access to YouTube Music Premium.

Google’s strategy with all of these choices remains somewhat unclear. The landscape is made even more confusing by the existence of the Google Podcasts app — which is odd, since subscribers can listen to podcasts directly through Google Play Music. The most obvious reason that Google Play Music continues to exist is that the company is enhancing the YouTube Music’s functionalities to match or exceed the original platform’s features.

The takeaway

YouTube Music seems set to become the future of music streaming with Google— the company has confirmed that it’s in the process of phasing out Google Play Music. When exactly it will do so remains unclear. But in the meanwhile, subscribers have access to the free and paid-for versions of each platform. Google Play Music offers better sound quality and a larger content library, while YouTube Music focuses more on video content. Both permit users to listen to music on locked devices and feature offline listening. For now, each has a place in an increasingly competitive market as Google takes its time to enhance and prioritize YouTube Music.

Rob Latham

Rob Latham is a writer focused on technology, music, entertainment and sports. He is particularly passionate about the role that technology plays in improving peoples’ lives and helping businesses to work more effectively. He’s written marketing content for global B2B technology brands and start-ups, founded his own music blog and is a regular contributor to soccer publications. His professional background is in content marketing, public relations and journalism, and he has a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism.