A few years ago, I wrote about my own personal, internal struggle over online music services. Well now, I have a winner.
I’ve told several friends about Google Music. For the past couple of years it’s been my go-to mobile music manager. Long story short, this is how it has worked: Google uploads your entire library of music to their own servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”) and then you can listen to it on any device with a browser (including iOS devices). This is absolutely free.
And it’s been amazing. I can stream my own music over my phone, I can go to work and play my entire library in any web browser on my work computer, and it syncs up with my iTunes for continued integration with all my offline music listening. And again, all this is free.
And now it’s even better (even though the name is ridiculous). A month ago, Google announced an expansion of this service, and it’s called (take a deep breath): Google Play Music All Access. Basically, what it is is the above Google Music thing that I described (now called “Google Music Standard”), plus a Spotify-like element built-in.
This part, however, is not free. It’s usually $9.99 a month, but if you sign up before June 30th, you can get it for $7.99 a month for the rest of your life.
All Access allows for unlimited streaming of their online music, and the ability to add anything you like to your online “Library” of music, so it exists seamlessly next to you the music you have already bought, known, and loved. The fact that Spotify sucks at this is a huge weakness. Here’s a screenshot from my library:
This front page includes recently played items, as well as suggested new releases, suggested radio stations based on your music, and items recently added to your main Library of music. If you look on the top left, you’ll see some other tabs.
“My Library” has all the things you have said are yours and that you want to keep. “Radio” has song and artist-based radio stations like Pandora. In fact, it’s exactly like Pandora. In “Explore” you get to see new releases, top songs on Google Music, and curated playlists by Google staff and “guest curators”. Below that are all of your playlists (synced from iTunes, usually).
The Radio portion is one of my favorite parts. It is really good (way better than Spotify, and just as good as Pandora) at finding new, obscure, but perfect music. Also it throws in your own music into the rotation. It’s awesome. I’ve already found several favorite new artists, and have happily added them to My Library.
On mobile, the experience is just as good and is a direct translation of the online experience (unlike Spotify). Also, you can download any of the songs for offline use, if you don’t want to over-use your data-plan.
There are only three downsides I can think of for Google Music All Access. (1) There’s no actual program to manage your library; all of this takes place in a browser, so you’re kind of at the mercy of how fast and modern your browser is. (2) You can’t Facebook stalk. It doesn’t seamlessly integrate into Facebook like Spotify does, so there’s really no way to actively share your listening habits with others. (3) Similarly, because there’s not such a tight social integration, you can “follow” other people, view their playlists or subscribe to them (at least not as seamlessly as Spotify).
But, if you’re a pretty solitary music listener who really wants a beautiful and seamless combination of iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, this is your thing. Also, if you want something just as good as all of those services, but is the cheapest one around, then this is it. So go check it out. You can try it for free for 30 days, but I couldn’t recommend more highly that you all sign up before June 30th and get the discount.
P.S. an official iOS app is due to be released any day now, but everything still works in the browser on your phone until then. There are also third-party apps that work with Google Music as well. Just search for it in the App Store.