If you haven’t heard the news, Google will be retiring the tried and true Google Play Music this year. In its stead will be YouTube Music, Google’s latest music streaming service. Fortunately, making the switch is straightforward. In fact, we have an explainer that covers all the bases.
The interface presented by YouTube Music won’t be unfamiliar to users of Google Play Music, or users of services like Apple Music and Spotify for that matter. But regardless of whether you’ve made the switch yet, we wanted to explore YouTube Music and highlight some tricks and features that make the service worthwhile.
Search for music via lyrics
A major leg up that YouTube Music has over Google Play Music is the ability to search for music via lyrics. For example, if you search the lyrical line, “never gonna turn around”, the top result is the quintessential Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. Apple Music shares this feature, but Spotify has yet to adopt it.
Searching for a song using just the lyrics.
To try this out, simply tap the magnifying glass at the top right (near your profile image) and type in some lyrics. The top result will likely be the correct song.
Only stream while on Wifi
It’s all too easy to trickle away your data while streaming music. And whether you’re forgetful or just need a way to set some personal data limits, disabling streaming off Wifi is a good option. This isn’t an unpopular feature, either - Spotify, Google Play Music and Apple Music all offer this too.
Toggling the Stream via Wi-Fi only option
To toggle this option, tap your profile picture on the top right. After that, select Settings and flip the switch to turn on Stream via Wi-Fi only. It’ll be the option at the very top beneath Library & downloads.
Modify your download quality
As unintuitive as it first may sound, YouTube Music provides the option to lower the quality of music you download. This is a feature you can also find in Google Play Music and Spotify.
One reason to lower music download quality is to use less storage space. Individual songs are pretty miniscule, but if you have a ton of tunes saved to your device, it really adds up. You could also use this feature if you are downloading music off of Wifi, but you’re looking to reduce your data usage. The only hitch is that music that’s already on your device will remain at its original quality; you need to redownload music with the modified setting to update the quality.
Options regarding audio download quality.
To access this setting, tap your profile picture on the top right and then select Settings. In the resulting menu, you’ll see Audio quality on mobile network and Audio quality on Wi-Fi. When you tap either one, you can select between Low, Medium, and High audio quality. You can also select Always High, which will download music in high quality even when your connection is poor.
Automatically download your favorite music
Downloading every album, song, and playlist you’re into can get tedious. If you’re looking to outsource some of that tapping, Smart downloads is a pretty useful option. The setting, when enabled, appears to download music you’ve liked or listened to a lot. It will only do so when you have “sufficient” battery and you’re on Wi-Fi, and you can adjust how much space you want to allocate to this automatic process. When you first toggle the option, it'll download a handful of albums and playlists.
Toggling Smart downloads (left) and the resulting downloads (right).
To set it up, tap Library on the bottom left, then select Downloads. When you first navigate here, it’ll advertise the feature and give you the option to turn it on right away. But if you dismissed it at first, or want to tweak the allocated size, tap the cog on the top right. At the bottom of the resulting Library & downloads menu, toggle Smart downloads and you’re good to go.
Download music videos
One feature we really dig about YouTube Music is the ability to download music videos. That’s right, you can save a music video in 360p or 720p to watch offline later. Neither Google Play Music nor Spotify provide this option, only Apple Music. But here’s the thing - this setting is set to Audio only by default. With Audio only selected, even if you attempt to download a music video, it’ll only save the audio.
Navigating from the downloads menu to the Video quality options.
To modify this setting, tap Library on the bottom right, then select Downloads. Then, near the top right, tap the cog icon. In the resulting menu, tap Video quality.
As a note: you can, in fact, download more videos than just music videos. However, it seems that only videos that feature music show up in the search. When we searched for videos that had no music in them, we couldn’t find them. But when we searched for videos that featured music, but were not published with the intention of being a music video, we could find and download them.
Save albums before they’re released
There’s plenty of anticipated music this year, and with YouTube Music, you can actually pre-save some albums before they’re released. Spotify and Apple Music provide this option, so it’s nice to see YouTube Music follow suit. However, it appears to be up to the artist as to whether pre-saving is available for their tracks. For example, we searched for All Distortions Are Intentional, an album to be released by Neck Deep in July, and were able to pre-save it. On the flipside, we searched for Skeleton Coast by The Lawrence Arms, another album to be released in July, but we couldn’t find the album to pre-save it.
When you open a pre-saved album, each song that has yet to be released will be grayed out. When you tap it, a thoroughly undescriptive “Song is unavailable” message will appear.
Searching for an unreleased album (left), the album available for pre-saving (center), and an unavailable unreleased album (right).
To search for an album to see if you can pre-save it, tap the magnifying glass on the top right and type it in. If it’s available to pre-save, songs from the album will show up (or it’ll appear under the Albums subsection below).
If the songs are showing up, but not the whole album, tap the three dots on the right side of the track. Then select Go to album to view the entire album and download it.
Change your source of recommendations
There are several ways to affect what music YouTube Music will recommend to you. One way is to select artists that you like, and YouTube Music will base its suggestions based off of these selections. The other way is toggle whether the app will recommend music based on your location and your activity. By default, the former function is off and the latter is on.
The Improve your recommendations option (left), a list of recommended artists (center), and the additional recommendation settings (right).
To modify what artists YouTube Music uses for your recommendations, tap your profile picture on the top right, and then select Settings. Then, scroll to the bottom and select Improve your recommendations. What you’ll see next is a virtually infinite list of artists. When you select one, more from the same genre will appear in the row below your selection.
Strangely, the other recommendation options we discussed are not under Recommendations. Instead, tap your profile on the top right, navigate to the Settings menu, and select Privacy & location. Here, you can toggle location-based and activity-based recommendations.