Google Play Music launched on November 16, 2011. The service wasn’t completely fleshed out and didn’t appear to be really useful, but since it’s a Google service, people who use anything Google were given an account.
Its first iteration was to upload your own music so that you could stream it through a browser and Android app. Then, Google introduced Google Play Music All Access, a premium subscription for the entire Google Play music library. This is going to be replaced with YouTube Music Key in the future however.
If you already have a Google account, Google Play Music is an excellent service that costs nothing up front.
If you have a Google account and want to use Google Play Music, head over to Google Play Music.
The standard service is free and lets you upload up to 20,000 tracks. There is a size limit, but that only really matters if you’re uploading very high quality music. Files themselves are limited to 300 MB, and if Google has to convert a file, that limit applies to the converted track. Even though 20,000 tracks sounds like a lot, if you’ve collected and bought a lot of music over the years, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll come close to or go over that amount.
The supported file formats are MP3, AAC (m4a), WMA, FLAC, OGG, DRM, AAC (m4p), and ALAC (.m4a).
If you’re going to import your iTunes library, your files should be supported. DRM files may not upload because of the embedded security, and Google Play Music doesn’t support WAV, AIFF, or RA, but you shouldn’t be running into these files very often.
One problem you might run into is that music imported from iTunes may be missing cover art. You should also make sure file metadata is filled out, or your Google Play Music library is going to be very unorganized.
If you use Chrome to listen to Google Play Music, you can upload from the browser. It’s not 100% stable though, so there are times when songs won’t upload. When you upload your library the first time, use Music Manager because it’s more stable when handling thousands of files.
Google Play Music All Access is the paid subscription service in Google Play Music. For $9.99 a month, you can stream or download any album within Google Play’s music library. As long as you have the subscription, Google’s library is open. If you cancel your subscription, then any music you’ve downloaded for offline playing will be removed.
Good to note is that the 20,000 track count only applies to uploaded music and not music bought from the Google Play Store or downloaded from All Access. Google’s library has a lot of popular music, but like many music stores, it may be missing some artists.
Google Play Music has both Android and iOS versions, but because it’s a first party service, Android gets better support than iOS. While the features are the same, the Android app was updated to match Android 5.0 Lollipop.
The iOS app isn’t updated as frequently as the Android app, and using it on the iPod Touch 5th Gen showed a noticeable lag and stuttering when starting the app and playing music.
Since both apps work identically, the visual interface doesn’t make much difference. You can still create playlists, download music for offline playback, and create an Instant Mix, which is a quickly generated playlist of music. Unfortunately, the algorithm that Google Play Music uses doesn’t always match relevant music together.
In terms of parity, the browser and mobile apps provide the same function. I use Google Play Music on iOS instead of the default Music app because I have access to my library and can download for offline playback.
Settings in Google Play Music are relatively simple. General contains your user information, My devices is a list of connected devices, and an Equalizer is available for Android devices. Settings can differ if you have a device that supports cellular data.
The Downloading section is where you can select if you want Google Play Music to cache music when streaming. You can also set the app to download for offline playback only on Wi-Fi, which is smart if you have a small data plan. Manage downloads is where you’ll be able to view downloaded music and delete albums for free space.
Only available for Android Wear, Download to Android Wear lets you download music to your Android Wear device so that you can stream it to other devices without needing your phone.
The last option is a simple choice between streaming only via Wi-Fi, and choosing the streaming quality.
Start playing music
After you’ve uploaded your music library, the home screen in Google Play Music will show you the latest uploads or recent music you’ve played. The Search music bar is an easy way to find artists or albums, but it can be a little slow if there are a lot of similar artists.
If you want to play something, just move your mouse over the album cover and you’ll see a play button in the lower left. The three dot menu in the upper right gives you different options like adding it to a queue, adding to a playlist, editing album info, downloading the album, deleting the album, and shopping for music.
Each album will contain all these options, but the editing menu isn’t as useful as editing the individual tracks all at once in an album. You get expanded metadata like artist and album artist which can be useful when sorting collaboration albums.
Go to the gear icon next to the Add music button and click on Settings. The General section will show the number of songs you have and give you the option to delete your library.
You can also block explicit songs in instant mixes, which is good if you’re with people who have sensitive ears. Music Account tells you which type of account you have.
Music From This Computer is Chrome’s auto-upload menu. You can add folders, and when Chrome is open, it will scan for new songs to upload. Download location is where songs you’ve download will be stored.
Manage My Devices is an important section because it shows you which computers have access to your account. You can listen to Google Play Music through a browser on any computer, but in terms of devices, you are limited to ten.
Even though there is a limit, this shouldn’t cause an issue unless you’re sharing the account with other people. If you need to deauthorize a device, simply click on the Deauthorize button. Google only allows four deauthorizations per year, but that shouldn’t be an issue.
The Labs section of Google Play Music is a place where you can test experimental features. When Google Play Music went through its first big overhaul, Labs added HTML5 Audio and Desktop Notifications. HTML5 Audio plays your music through HTML5 instead of Flash.
Desktop Notifications are a simple way of seeing what is being played without having the browser tab open. Since it’s an experimental feature, it may not always display what song is currently being played.
When your music is playing, Google Play Music will use HTML5 when it’s available. If it can’t play with HTML5, then it will play through Flash, but you won’t get any notification.
There are other experimental settings too, so you can choose to use them at your preference.
Playlists can be created by adding albums or individual songs. You can add songs or albums to new and existing playlists or create an Instant Mix from a single song.Use the three dot option menu to add albums or individual songs to playlists. You will see the option when you hover over an album or next to individual songs when you’re browsing an album.
It works best with popular music that has a lot of other music to compare it with. Play Music may have problems creating Instant Mixes with unknown artists.
In the Google Play Music homepage, you always have the I’m feeling lucky mix which will create a random playlist.
If you want to get better results, use the thumbs up and thumbs down button so Play Music can understand your preferences better.
Instant Mixes are great when you want background music and aren’t that concerned about listening to specific artists, but if you want to tailor some Instant Mixes, you’re going to have to manually curate them a lot.
If you want to download your library, you have the option to, but be cautious of the fact that your downloaded files will be the same ones you uploaded, so space will definitely be an issue if you’re close to the 20,000 track limit.
Google Play Music store
If you’re looking to buy digital music, you can purchase it in the store and it will be added to your music library. These purchases aren’t added to your library count.
YouTube Music Key and Google Play Music
YouTube announced YouTube Music Key which serves as a subscription-based music channel. The service also comes with a subscription to Google Play Music (dropping the All Access name), but offering the same benefits. It’s unknown how this will change when YouTube Music Key leaves beta.
When you sign up, you’re asked to select your favorite genres and artists. This starts curating artists that you may like. In the artist section, the more you choose, the better your results will be, but it could take a long time to choose or find them all.
Uploaded music will also get scanned. From your tracks, All Access will suggest related music.
My Stations are previously created playlists. Recommended stations use a song and create a playlist around it. Genre stations are playlists based off all the genres that Google Play Music has. These playlists are randomly generated and don’t use your music to create the list of songs.
The mobile apps have a different interface that mirrors the browser, making it a little more difficult to listen to your own music because the app pushes different radio stations in front of your music. You need to either use the Recent activity tab or search for the artist you want to play within your own library.
The push towards Google’s curation is one big flaw of All Access. If you listen to your own music library, All Access makes it more difficult to find it behind all the suggested music.
One of the best features, on the other hand, is offline playback for All Access songs, so while you don’t own the song, an All Access account gives you the option of downloading the song so that you can play it without a data connection. These songs will be removed when you cancel All Access.
All Access isn’t as seamless as Spotify because it places All Access over your existing library; Spotify focuses on curation and discovery. All Access may be smart because it scans your existing music, but it doesn’t always suggest the best music that may be relevant to your tastes.
Two targeted services
Google Play Music is one of the best services to stream your own music library, but All Access is still a little rough around the edges because it doesn’t integrate your music with the service very well. If you are interested in trying something different, Google Play Music’s two targeted services can be useful for different types of users.
The standard service is great for your personal library because you can stream your music through the browser or apps. All Access is great because it’s a single cost to get access to all the music available on the Google Play Store, and since some services have licensing issues for streaming, Google’s use of its store can provide more music than other services. Either way, you’ll get a great streaming service with Google Play Music. Now with the release of YouTube Music Key, All Access will be discontinued and rolled into the same subscription. Google Play Music and YouTube integration makes sense, but how Google combines the two will be interesting to see.
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