Google Play Music may not be as popular as Spotify or have a crew of loud, aggressive DJs like Apple Music. But Google has chugged away and built a solid, respectable music platform that’s come a long way since its launch with only three of the four major record labels aboard.
I’ve been a subscriber since the 2013 launch, lured in by the usual free subscription offer. Despite some hiccups and a clumsy naming convention (the subscription was once called Google Play Music All Access) I’ve stuck with it, and found the service to be my favorite among all the streaming competitors.
If you’ve tinkered with the free version and want to try out a subscription, then read on to make sure you’ll already be an expert by the time you type in your credit card number and start rocking out to any of the 30 million songs available.
Import your iTunes (and other) music
Google’s first foray into music was a music locker. This appealed to me because I could now play any of my tracks without the often persnickety iTunes.
Google Play Music still works as a media player, with the ability to store up to 50,000 songs. Like most Google services, you can play your music on any device through the Android or iOS apps, or the Play Music site.
Just like Google Drive you can drag-and-drop files to add them. Click the three-line (or hamburger) menu on the left and select Add Music. This is how you'll get all your bootlegs, live recordings, and other not-on-the-catalog stuff (like Tool).
If you still dabble with music from iTunes there’s a better alternative. You can designate a folder that Google will use to automatically add any new tracks you purchase.
To set this up, go to Settings > Add your music and choose which folder(s) you want Google to import from.
You’ll then be prompted to install a Chrome app that also launches a separate window with track information for when you play music. After you agree to this, confirm the folder choices and your music will begin its journey to your Google account.
And your playlists, too
Yes, those meticulously-created playlists from iTunes can come along also. But to do this, you must download Music Manager.
This software lets you specify specific songs and playlists from your Mac or PC.
After you download the software, open up the Google Music Manager (check out this Help Center article if things get wonky), then from the Upload tab select Choose by playlist.
Check the box next to the playlist(s) you’d like to upload music from and you’re on your way.
Keep an eye on your device limit
To ensure that you don’t share your account with the entire planet, Google Play Music limits you to ten devices. Unless you’re a tech writer, or for some reason have a ton of smartphones and tablets, you’re not likely to run up against that limit.
The catch is you’re only able to deactivate four devices per year. You’ll want to do this should one of your phones, tablets, or computers go missing or if you sell it off for an upgrade. But if you’re close to the limit don’t just haphazardly deactivate a bunch of devices at once. You’ll be sad if you buy a new phone and all of a sudden can’t activate your account because all ten spots are used and you’re out of deactivations.
Save playlists and songs for offline listening
Downloading tracks for offline play is essential for travel, especially if you’re going on a long flight or road trip where there’s spotty coverage.
Touch the three-dot menu next to a song or one of Google’s curated lists to download it for later listening. It’s worth doing this if you see a suggested station or artist you want to check out later. This way you won’t be disappointed if you go to do this and can’t hear the tracks because you’re in a no-go Internet zone.
Keep the music kid-friendly
The radio station feature is a great way to set and forget about managing the music during a party or other gathering where you want background sounds. However, if you’re hosting a children’s playdate or other kid-friendly event you don’t want to leap over the coffee table to turn off the music because an Eminem song started.
So head to Settings and then check Block explicit songs in radio. This isn’t completely foolproof—if can sometimes still wind up with questionable songs, just more with more white noise from the censored version. But it’s worth flipping this setting on anyways to avert a total embarrassment.
Google Play Music’s next move
Just as Apple Music has its share of hiccups, there are a few places I’d like to see Google Play Music get better. For one, it desperately needs a family plan. Both Apple and Spotify offer a discounted tier for a group, the most attractive being Apple Music’s six shared users for $14.99 per month. Right now a Google Play Music subscription is $9.99 per user—no exceptions.
Also, YouTube Music Key hasn’t changed much since its launch; you get music video suggestions, ad-free watching, and the ability to save them offline. There has to be a way to better leverage the advantage Google has in hosting most of the industry’s music videos. If nothing else, it’s also the only way to get songs from Taylor Swift’s 1989, which remains an Apple Music exclusive.
The most glaring weakness compared to Apple Music and Spotify is the comparatively smaller bank of expert knowledge and carefully crafted music curation. The new playlists from Google’s purchase of Songza are a nice touch, and they often are a great fit for whatever I happen to be doing. But the writeups on artist pages are from Wikipedia entries, which are an awkward, matter-of-fact read. Listeners want a sage to guide them to new music. So Google should hire a few more music experts (but please, no Beats One-style personalities who scream “Worldwide!” every four minutes).
Keeping the service fresh and continuously updated is critical since Apple Music will battle Play Music on its home turf when Apple’s Android app launches this fall. This is good news for us Android users who will have more music choices than ever before, but it means Google needs to do more to win over music lovers.