Thank you for your service, Google Play Music

[My Google Play Listen Now Library]
Google Play Music, ca. 2014

Google killed off its Play Music service back in October 2020. I was a faithful user of the service till the end. When it first launched in 2011, downloads were still going strong, and Spotify had just reached the United States.

The idea of a music locker still had some legs back then because licensing deals didn’t cover everything, and even the biggest download services had gaps. A music locker could fill those gaps by allowing users to upload their collections to the cloud.

The locker was the feature that clinched it for me, and in 2016, I went all in. Japanese artists hadn’t yet expanded their licensing outside of Japan, so Spotify and their ilk weren’t terribly useful for me. Google Play gave me the best of both worlds — the ability to stream new music if I so desired but also having access to items not in their catalog.

YouTube, however, organically turned into the premiere music discovery service on the Internet, eclipsing Play Music’s strengths. So the product managers at Google have now shifted focus on Youtube, spinning out a music service on that platform and sending Play Music out to pasture.

The music locker is gone, its contents migrated over YouTube. The Music Manager desktop application has been replaced with an upload form. I liked the convenience of ripping my files and letting the Manager do its thing. So it’s no surprise I’ve uploaded nothing to YouTube Music since the migration.

I’m pretty much keeping my subscription alive so I don’t have to put up with ads on YouTube itself.

In fact, I’ve reinstalled Spotify and resubscribed to the Premium Plan. The Japanese artists formerly lacking on the service have jumped in, some more so than others. You can even find NUMBER GIRL now. The user interface is less clumsy than I remember, but it’s still not much of a joy to use.

Friends swear by the Spotify recommendation engines, but I’m skeptical. I’m not terribly surprised that when I play NUMBER GIRL, Spotify would recommend ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. I just wish it could connect NUMBER GIRL to a band in the United States and not segregate by genres and regions.

When Spotify can take Sam Hunt and Solange and recommend a band from Japan based on that intersection, maybe I’ll be impressed.

As much as I’m saddened by the demise of Google Play Music, I can’t say I’m greatly inconvenienced by the move. The gaps on Spotify have narrowed, with Japanese bands and modern classical music easily found. And I still have Exact Audio Copy and Winamp for all the music I pick up at the thrift shop, most of it available on the streaming services.

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All in with Google Play Music

[Google Play Music]

If I stuck around just a few months more, I would have been an eMusic subscriber for a decade. Instead, I canceled my membership at the end of December 2015.

I also had a low-level Spotify subscription for about the price of a fancy drink at Starbucks every month, but I realized I only even launch the Spotify desktop application to update the Favorite Edition Playlists. So I canceled that subscription as well.

My streaming service of choice is now Google Play Music.

The music locker pretty much sewed it up for me. When Google Music launched, it offered space for 20,000 songs for free. Amazon had a similar offering with an up-sell to more space, but the size of my music library pretty much steered me in Google’s direction.

It took a number of years to fill that limit, which I did some time in 2013. By then, Google Music became Google Play Music and transformed itself into a streaming service. I signed up for a trial offer and liked the convenience of my uploaded library supplemented with the streaming offerings. I became a paying member and eventually shut out everything else.

eMusic had become an online version of Columbia House, where I had to download something every month to make the subscription worthwhile. I’ve accumulated a lot of digital flotsam and jetsam as a result. In a way, eMusic downloads became my replacement for pre-recorded cassettes, a convenient, sub-prime format to listen to an album. If I liked it enough, I’d buy a copy in a format with higher fidelity.

This idea of a “paid preview” allowed me to support artists on a graduated level — the more I liked the music, the more I would invest. When I signed up for eMusic in 2006, Spotify had only just launched in Europe, but I knew when it reached the US, my days as an eMusic member would be numbered. I’m actually surprised I hadn’t canceled years ago.

As it turned out, I hated the Spotify desktop application. Years of using Winamp and tolerating iTunes conditioned me to resist some of Spotify’s user experience choices. I can’t name them now because I was so thoroughly turned off that I went back to using eMusic and eventually adopted Google Music. But I kept the $5 subscription for fear of missing out on artist exclusives. It took some time before I realized I actually didn’t care for exclusivity in streaming services either. I’m not about to sign up for Tidal just to listen to Prince.

Google Play Music has so far ticked off all the boxes I require in an online music service. The locker stores the albums I own that the streaming service doesn’t provide, which is a lot given my tastes. The streaming service allows me to preview albums I may eventually buy, while throwing a few minuscule cents of royalties in the direction of the artist. I have the convenience of listening to NUMBER GIRL at work or at home, then switch over to a Cathy Dennis album I stream until I’ve made up my mind to buy it.

The only other comparable service would be Amazon Prime and its cloud storage, but the Music Manager desktop applications provided by Google Play Music have pretty much locked me into its platform. I do appreciate AutoRip on those rare occassions the two-day shipping isn’t fast enough.

I won’t consider Apple Music because that means I have to use iTunes. The only time I use iTunes is to manage my iPod. I hate iTunes on Windows more than I hate the Spotify desktop application.

So it’s Google Play Music for me.

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