Chocolate, Gummi Bears, and Why Google Music Sucks Right Now

Google Music Home Screen

Special Note: This post is an artfully arranged set of cuts from a larger article I wrote on Medium. If you want the full experience, head over there to check it out.

The Summer, Google Music updated from being a music player to being a streaming service that also has a music player. And it Sucks.

While many of the same basic functions are there, the execution and philosophy behind them is long gone. The result is a music app clouded by the tastes of others.

I can understand this if it was a stand alone streaming up, like Spotify or Pandora, but it’s the packaged Android music player. Like, for your music. That you own.

That’s right. This Summer Google hijacked it’s own music player and turned into a Spotify wannabe. The net result here is that many are not happy.

So what? Tech companies do whatever, right? I mean, just look at Facebook, they screw over users all the time. We’re used to it.

The difference here is subtle but powerful. Users of services like Facebook are not paying customers. They use Facebook and, in return, Facebook can serve them advertising. Those paying for advertising on Facebook are the actual customers, and Facebook treats them very well. The unpaying users, well, they are at Facebook’s mercy.

In contrast, every Google Music user is a paying customer — you have to buy the music to put it on the player. It’s your music — you bought it from somewhere. And, for that matter, you paid for the phone itself that houses the player that plays the songs you bought. With Google Music, the individual user is the customer.

And that’s why so many are so unhappy — but, more importantly, it’s why this is a far more significant event than the software update of a music player.

June 23rd, 2015 is the day Google told all of its paying customers that they don’t matter. It was the day they declared victory in the fight for individual digital rights. A fight most people didn’t even know they were in.

 

The YouTube Red Switcheroo

Youtube Red

I’ve been going back and forth with Google for months now since this update to their Music Player, participating in forums and keeping track of updates. Working my way up the customer service ladder. During my climb, I signed up for the YouTube Red free trial, something I was very interested in. And, it worked great! Ads disappeared from YouTube and my enjoyment factor went way up.

Then, half way through the Red trial, Google decided to bundle in their Music Unlimited service with YouTube Red, creating a kind of “Google Premium” service. Unfortunately, Music Unlimited makes a bad music player even worse, eliminating the key function for listening to your own music on the player, Instant Mix.

I immediately went back to Google to rectify this, only to be told they couldn’t do that. The free trial would have to run it’s course. I continued to pursue this through multiple vectors, only to get the same answer (got to give it to Google, they are consistent).

However, today I received an email from Google Customer Support asking why I am so intent on turning of my trial and returning to pre-Premium Google services. Here is what they wrote:

 

Communication From Google Customer Service

Hello Rob,

Thank you for contacting Google!

I understand you’ve canceled your free trial, and would like to revert the Play Music app back to the Free version. At this time there isn’t a way to do that, however I don’t understand why you’d need to, even if you only really want to listen to Radio stations or uploaded music. If you disregard having access to Google’s enormous library of songs, then you still have YouTube Red and unlimited skips with the Radio service. You could use this period of unlimited skips to better personalize the radio station feature for the future. The more data you’re able to feed into the system the better music is going to be because it’ll make choices that you’re more likely to enjoy.

Is there a particular reason you need this changed? I might be able to assist you better if I understand why this is such a necessity for you.

Let me know and we’ll look into it further if need be,

Thanks!

Name
The Google Support Team

 

Does Google Really Understand People?

Music Help Forum
“Option to disable Google Play Music radio features.” is currently the most viewed Support Forum topic in Google Play. Closely followed by “Play Music: Missing Subgenres and Explore tab?”

While I appreciate Google sending me a note to ask for clarification, the text of their email really drives home the problem — why do they think I want to listen to the Radio Stations? I don’t “only want to listen to Radio”, I do NOT want to listen to their Radio Stations at all.

Furthermore, I didn’t want to have my existing service trumped for their radio service. I like my own music, it’s why I bought it in the first place. And, I’m not the only one that feels this way.
 

Music reviews
Current snapshot of Google Music App Reviews showing a 200% increase in 1-Star reviews since the Radio Update.

 
In June 2015 there were approximately 72,000 1-Star reviews of Google Music. There are now 218,860.

For those doing the math at home, since its inception in 2011, four years ago, the Music Player app accumulated 72,000 intensely negative reviews — that’s 1,500 negative reviews a month. Considering there are billions of users, that’s not too bad. In the last four months alone, Google Music has generated an additional 146,800 intensely negative reviews — a staggering 36,715 a month!

In other words, since the “radio update” in June, the Google Music App has earned a 200% increase in intense dislike overall and dropped an entire point in it’s ratings.

I think it’s pretty obvious that many actual users of Google Music are not happy with what’s going on. What is equally obvious is that Google isn’t going to change course.

 

My Full Response Back to Google

Hey, Name, thanks for writing back.

The larger issue here is that Google Play Music Unlimited is not a service I’m interested in. At all. I am a huge fan of Google Music before the radio stations were bundled into them, however, and if I could have that back I would be very happy indeed. The current version is, to be honest, horrid. The main reason for that is the access and usage of my own music — bought and paid for — has been significantly worsened by the Radio updates.

I am interested in YouTube Red — ad free YouTube is a benefit to me and one I’m happy to pay for. But, the addition of Music Unlimited makes it no longer worth it. Forcing Music Unlimited on me is too high I price. Happy to pay for Red, but not if it includes Music Unlimited.

If you want to sum it all up into a bottom line: the Google update to Music removed the control I have over my purchased music, as well as the actual enjoyment of the music itself, and that is unacceptable to me.

Keep in mind, I’m referring to music that I PAID for. Truly, I bought it. Either from iTunes, Google Play, or a rip from an owned CD. It’s MY music. The player is also something I paid for — those phones aren’t cheap, and one of the specific reasons I chose Android over iPhone was the music app. Yes, seriously.

Another reason I chose Android over iPhone is that it afforded me a significant amount of personal control over my device. I control the look, feel, and function through custom launcher apps, icon sets, and my own layouts. To be able to decide how I use my digital property is a big deal to me – and many others.

The Google Music Radio Update — and Music Unlimited — was a smack across the face from Google, boldly stating the company’s view that I have no rights to anything, purchased or otherwise.

Basically, by this update, Google said “you may own the music, but you rent the player”. And they proceeded to change it in a way that made Apple’s design intrusion look like child’s play. Hats off for the chutzpah, but don’t expect me to be happy about it.

The reality is, Google Radio should have been a separate app. How it was bundled into the music player, taking over or eliminating many of the key functions, was as intrusive and humiliating a thing I have experienced in digital tech. It was a deliberate sucker punch to anyone who has bought music from you over the years. And a wake up call for anyone foolish enough to think that the individual has any rights whatsoever in the digital economy.

When I opened Google Music after the big update months ago, I felt like a chump. Plain and simple. With each update, I thought for sure the engineers at Google would see they had gone a bit too far and return options to users.

But, they never did. And it’s only gotten worse with each new update.

This experience with Google Music, and now YouTube Red, has made me think very hard about buying anything online and I seriously don’t know if I’ll trust Google quite the same going forward. After all, if Google can so offhandedly cripple my ability to listen to the music I’ve purchased, what next? Movies I’ve bought? Books? Are my purchases nothing more than a stronger rated recommendation for a future algorithm?

The implementation of Music Unlimited does not empower me. It does not give anything to me. It TAKES from me. It treats me, and my money, as less than an individual. Less than a customer. I’m just now a source of funds and my uses, desires, and tastes are marginalized. Superseded to the desires of a larger sponsor — Google, record labels, shareholders, and whoever else.

It, literally, cheapens me as a person.

If these Radio updates were another tab in the player for me to access and enjoy, then one could say it provided something new to me. But, that’s not what happened. The update took over the app, reduced my options, and put my own purchases to the back of the pile, buried underneath the corporate streaming agenda.

I understand the viewpoint that having more access to music is perceived as a benefit — except it isn’t. Perhaps to some it is — but, most likely, they are already using Spotify (since the excellent RDIO just shuttered it’s doors), or perhaps Pandora or even XM/Serious (what my family uses, as its integrated with our car) to get their music exploration. The Music Radio “upgrade” is, to me, a classic case of “if some is great, then more must be greater!”

I, as an individual consumer, have absolutely no interest in having third party generated “radio stations” on my personal music app. It’s a player for MY music, not a giant feed for someone else to tell me what’s popular. I have many, many ways of discovering new music. I don’t need Google’s help with that. And, if I did, I would like it as a separate tab in the player, “Explore” perhaps, that would access such a function. To have it plastered all over the app, in a way that interferes with using my own music, is just inexcusable. I mean, seriously. It feels like a violation.

To be so brazenly intruded upon by Google is bad enough — and it is REALLY BAD — but to have Instant Mix, the music player’s key differentiating feature, deprecated is going a step too far. That one REALLY hurts. Instant Mix is the killer app of Google Music. It uses the Google algorithm in a way that actually helps the user instead of burdening them. It made listening to your own music refreshing, adding to discovering old classics in your collection and taking the pain out of generating playlists. It really made listening to the music in your collection a pleasure.

And, so, of course the Radio update killed it.

If you are NOT a member of Music Unlimited, you still have access to Instant Mix, though it’s only half what it was before (25 song limit, no ability to save them). However, if you “upgrade” to Music Unlimited, you lose that feature entirely, as it is replaced by “Radio”. Making a Radio Station out of a song in your personal inventory results in Google using it’s algorithm to build a playlist out of all accessible songs in the entire catalog. Again, that sounds like a bargain — except it isn’t. Unlimited skips doesn’t change the fact that I am trying to listen to my own music and, instead, Google is serving me music I don’t want.

Trust me, it only takes on Justin Bieber song to kill a trial of the radio feature.

I don’t feel like Google is at all interested in serving me music that I prefer. I do get the feeling that it is serving me music someone else prefers I listen to or buy (though it seems no one cares as much about buying these days). My music collection is on Google’s servers, it’s accessible to them. But the Radio Stations sent to me are confusing, full of songs I’m not interested in, and, quite frankly, don’t work.

As a test just now, I clicked on a “Station” on my Music App and there was nothing in it. It just says “click a song to start” but there are no songs listed. I just don’t get it — makes no sense. You can’t even click the “play” button. The result is it’s just stupid clutter on my screen that provides no benefit to me in any way

Instant Mix provided benefit to me. Radio stations do not. As long as I am a part of YouTube Red/Music Unlimited, I don’t have access to Instant Mix. So, the answer is obvious — I want out of Red/Unlimited. It’s that simple.

I was interested in YouTube Red because I would like YouTube without advertising. That has a real appeal to me, and I was looking forward to that program — indeed, happy to pay the fee for it. If I could have done so without the “free trial” I would have.

However, again, there was another case of “more is better” and Music Unlimited was bundled in. Doing so took away Instant Mix and significantly impacted my ability to listen to my own music. Once that happened, I immediately inquired about getting out of the trial — or at least separating Red from Unlimited.

The key problem here is that Google took away something of value from me, gave back something that has little value to me, and is now confused why I don’t want it.

Think about this issue with a different perspective. I like premium dark chocolate — the really good stuff. Fair Trade, single location, hand crafted. I pay a premium for that, and I enjoy it greatly.

Now, imagine if someone broke into my house, took my chocolate (that I paid for!), and hid it somewhere in the house. Then, where I usually keep my chocolate, they left a huge bag of gummi bears with a note that said “anytime you want more gummi bears, just ask — they are free forever”. So, while my gourmet chocolate wasn’t stolen, I now have to look all over my house to find it. And, while I now have unlimited gummi bears, I don’t want them. If I did, I would have bought gummi bears. Saying “well, it’s all candy — and now you have more then ever before” doesn’t change my feelings about it. That was MY chocolate and someone came in and took it. Not only impacting my ability to enjoy my chocolate, but violating me as a person in the process.

I didn’t ask to have my candy switched out. I don’t want the candy chosen for me. I want the candy I chose myself. That I chose enough to buy. I want it undisturbed and in the place I like to store it and I reserve the ability to consume it as I wish.

The way Google has chosen to “update” their music app is the same as the theoretical thief who swapped my chocolate for gummi bears.

I didn’t ask for Music Unlimited or these stupid radio stations. I didn’t ask for unlimited access to music I care nothing about. I just wanted to curate and enjoy my own music. Again, that I PAID for. But, Google’s update and all of the policies and updates since then, are intent on not allowing that.

Does that make sense?

I would like to have the reminder that my digital life was casually violated by a corporate entity removed from my device.

I would like to have control of my own music returned to me.

I would like to be treated as a valued, paying customer instead of a chump.

Please remove the effects of your free trial from my life. No harm, no foul, just take it away. It’s not wanted.

Thanks,

Special Note: For the complete back-and-forth between Google Customer Service and myself, as well as some more stats and history, please head over to the main article on Medium.

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

2 Responses to Chocolate, Gummi Bears, and Why Google Music Sucks Right Now

  1. What can I used in lieu of Google Music? I want to just be able to listen to my music that’s on my devise, that will play regardless if I’m connected to the internet or not.

    • Profile Cover Art

      Ida,

      I don’t know. Oddly, MS Groove App is pretty functional and has a web storage system similar to Google Music, but there is a fair amount of migration involved.

      The new “up and coming” music apps (Phonograph, etc) look and function nicely, but require you to have all of your music on the device in order to play it. A tough option given phone storage sizes these days.

      I’m still using Google Music, as I just don’t have the time to overhaul my entire music process. But, I don’t use YouTube Red anymore, more do I sign up for ANY free trials with Google. I still don’t use the “radio” options, though I tried them during my previous free trial. I just didn’t like the music they sent me and didn’t feel like spending my time putting in effort to make it better.

      Like you, I just want my own music. And, like you, it’s hard to find that these days.

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