Breaking from the mold is a stalwart of excellent musicianship. To be inventive rather than obligatory; to produce something new, at once distancing yourself and defining the sound of the future. You were like excellent music, once.
You were this strange, orange haven for the music masses and aficionados alike. You gave us paid, ad-free access to millions of songs with killer personalization options. You gave us thumbs up or down, material design and a determined lack of social features to remind us that music can be just about music – about me and my ears.
You also gave us a veritable treasure trove of space – 20,000, and then 50,000 empty chests of silicon gold so that we could upload our precious music collections to the cloud. You let us access it from any device or computer, and feel good about it, and gave us no hassle.
And then, just like that, you took it away.
Freedom and Don’t Be Evil Collide
No, you didn’t take away the treasure troves, or add social awkwardness or even change your color scheme.
But you did, with one sweeping update, introduce “free” radio streaming for every user. In theory that sounds like a plus. Now I, the lucky non-paying user, can access every single song on Google Play Music.
Not only can I, but I have to.
There used to be a brilliant option in Google Play Music – the “Instant Mix.” This was jargon for an automatic and endless playlist based on a song, artist or album. And, in my opinion, the algorithm was great. I hit Instant Mix on Deltron 3030 and could listen to alternative West coast hip-hop for hours.
The real beauty of that system, though, was that Google separated the paid users from the non-paying users. An Instant Mix on the paid side would include songs you’ve never heard, sourced from Google’s own million-song library. For the non-paying users, it would only include songs from your own library.
Now the Instant Mix is hidden under a scheme of menus, and I feel like you’ll soon axe it. I can still access it, but the ease-of-use factor has gone down significantly, and it no longer proudly stands on your home page. The Instant Mix used to be saved automatically, and I could pull up any of your mixes with a click. Now I have to save it as a playlist, which makes it a finite list of songs.
Now, I’m not a complete Grinch. Google bought Songza a while back and we all knew a more specific playlist oriented feature would show up soon. It’s here and it even works well for what it does: showing me new music.
I have two gripes with your update: first, trust me with my own music, and second, don’t become an imitator.
The former is simple. Please, Google, return Instant Mix to the home page, and please allow me to select where I want to source my music from – your massive library, or my personal one.
It’s offensive that you presume I am not listening to precisely the things I want to listen to.
If I had wanted to explore, maybe I would have paid for your service already. Or maybe I do that through YouTube, or by attending concerts, or just plain word of mouth.
Give me a button to turn off access to your huge music library – I don’t always want to listen to something new, and I want to navigate my own library effectively, swiftly and with your sweet algorithms. I have used Google Play Music for two years as my only manner of playing music — and it’s all my own music. I was dedicated to your service because it was hassle-free. Now, though, it’s a complicated process to listen only to my own music.
The latter issue is quite problematic. I love you, Google, for the variety of strange ideas you bring to the world. But starting an ad-based fake free music service is about as boring and typical as we get right now. With Spotify reeling from Taylor Swift, Apple Music launching, Pandora crunching hard and a dozen other services vying for streaming control, why have you changed your model so seriously?
Why are you forcing me to pay and be subject to the way the music world seems to be turning? Where is the innovation? I realize I’m in the minority — your system likely works for everyone who wants to click one button and not really focus on the music coming at them. But people like me are still around, and I loved your service!
You were the last bastion of music hope in the streaming world, and now you’re just one of the others.
P.S. You’ve got to change that name. It’s getting silly.
All screenshots by Daniel Zweier