Today sees the launch of YouTube Music in the UAE and broader region. The world’s most popular video platform has targeted the likes of Spotify and Apple Music with a subscription service that aims to take over the lucrative market through a sizeable music catalogue, smart search tools, human- and AI-curated playlists, and offline smart downloads.
YouTube Music: The catalogue
Aside from the app experience and general usability, this is what will draw subscribers to YouTube Music. Worldwide, this library varies between 40 and 70 million tracks, according to which territory you’re in. When launching the app, you are shown a screen with artists from a broad range of genres. Tapping an artist’s thumbnail opens up a new shelf of similar bands and singers, a process that continues until you’re done and hit the Finished button.
The stuff you listen to most, Your Favourites, is on the top shelf. The next shelf, for me, is organised according to what I tend to listen to at a particular time of day. If you enable location permissions and you’re at work, the app might show you deep focus playlists.
This sets up your home page. Here, you can check out each artist’s specific section, which brings up their most popular songs, albums, singles, playlists they’re featured on, videos and other bands of similar genres.
You can download tracks manually or allow the app to do it for you with smart downloads, which automatically does it for you over Wi-Fi at night (if you let it). Handily, the Android app offers an option to have downloaded tracks go straight to your SD card.
YouTube Music: Smart search
YouTube is also selling Google’s search technology as a value-added feature that it can handle better than the rest. “YouTube Music relies on our knowledge about search and algorithms, as well as what we’ve learned about people searching for music,” says Tarek Abdalla, Director of Marketing for Google’s Middle East and North Africa business.
You can type lyrics, even spelled incorrectly, into the search bar to find songs, which is useful when you know the words to something but not its title.
YouTube Music: Videos and background play
If you open a track that has an official music video hosted on YouTube, you can switch between audio and video in the Music app at the touch of a button. The process isn’t entirely seamless, depending on your internet connection, but the song will continue at the same point, which is cool.
Listen to enough of an artist and you’ll soon see their performances highlighted as thumbnails on the Live Performances shelf.
YouTube Music: Playlists, lots of them
One thing there is no shortage of on the YouTube Music app is playlists. If you’ve allowed location permissions, the app will highlight productivity-boosting audio sessions such as Deep Focus, as well as high-intensity rock or hip hop playlists for working out.
” We call our model here experts and algorithms ,” says T.Jay Fowler, Director of Product Management, Music Products at YouTube, when asked about the degree of human intervention in the service’s playlist curation. ” Because we have a large, open platform with a large user base, we can actually see what populations are listening to together through data. In other words, if I’m listening to a Gorillaz song, we can look at, generically and anonymously, what other people are listening to with that song.”
Fowler cites one example of where algorithms need human help: super groups. “When Sia, Labrinth and Diplo released a record last year, the algorithms had no idea what to do, as they had no history with that band, called LSD, so we used humans to adjust.” YouTube also uses people to train the algorithms in areas such as mood or feeling. “You might see this playlist on my screen – Happy in the Alt Rock 90s – and creating a playlist using an algorithm might work when you say “Give me a playlist of alt rock from the 90s” could be good but having the experts help train the algorithm by helping to signal what happy means or feeling good in this case.”
YouTube Music: How much is it?
YouTube Music subscriptions start at Dh19.99 AED and YouTube Premium, which includes Music and brings the ad-free, background play and downloading experience into the main YouTube app, is Dh23.99. Both services will roll out to all users in the coming weeks, starting September 10.
Samsung Galaxy users in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon and Oman can enjoy up to four months of free, uninterrupted, ad-free access to YouTube Premium if they’ve purchased a Note 10, S10, Tab S6 or Tab S5e device.
We’ll have a more comprehensive review of the app up in the near future.