YouTube Music Key

YouTube Music Key: My hopes for music discovery and personalisation

YouTube Music Key, YouTube’s music subscription service, is about to go live – and I’m obviously very excited about this. As YouTube is one of the top online music source, it’s great to see it finally enhanced with music-specific features (expectedly: discovery, playlists, influencers, full albums, etc.).

This is the vision we had when we started seevl about two years ago, and that you can still experience today on (including recommendation, discovery, auto play-listing and more, see for instance what we provide for Blur).

Blur's page on
Blur’s page on

In a competitive landscape, personalisation and discovery matter

In particular, I’m looking forward to the personalisation and discovery aspect of the upcoming YouTube platform. Online streaming is a competitive landscape, and I’m a strong believer that those two aspects will differentiate the OK-services and the top-ones, and eventually who will own the market.

Whether it’s trough a laid-back experience (radio/playlist) or via active browsing (crate-digging style), personalisation and discovery are two factors that can enlight listeners, and eventually increase user retention and acquisition for a music streaming service.

But, maybe as important, it can also drive more streams for big acts, and surface unknown artists that are lost in the long-tail. In times of complaints and arguments regarding streaming revenues, this is definitely an key aspect, and it’s no surprises that services take this into consideration, either through dedicated websites (e.g. Spotify Artists or Pandora AMP), or by hiring industry veterans to work with artists (e.g. Dave Allen at Beats).

Why Google / YouTube can nail it

Besides the catalogue itself (VEVO, the Merlin dealas for Pandora), Google’s / YouTube’s data is a key factor that could let them nail the new platform.

While some services amassed a considerable amount of user data, letting them implement great features in their personalisation algorithms, on-boarding users with a great experience is a challenge for new streaming platform. Indeed, the first time a user logs-in, it won’t know much about them – a.k.a the cold-start problem. Facebook connect (and the graph API) can solve this, pending that users (1) allow the platform to use their “like” data, and (2) have enough music-related information, e.g. by manually liking bands or connecting their existing streaming services to Facebook. If that’s not the case, users will either have to use the platform for a while before it correctly reacts (a catch-22, as they might leave early because of the bad experience), or answer a few questions about favorite acts and genres, as done on the pleasant Beats Music on-boarding interface.

Beats' on-boarding process
Beats Music on-boarding process

On the other hand, YouTube already amassed a large amount of user data – generally linked to already existing accounts. Hence, when you will first log-in to YouTube Music Key, it’s very likely that it will know you very well – and can suggest relevant music from day one! Not only by knowing your favorite band, but also, using their large user-dataset, identifying what kind of listener you are: Do you like taking risks and listen to indie bands? Are you the one that generally discover great stuff before they’re signed? Or are you just comfortably listen to top-40 tracks?

Moreover, thanks to the power of Freebase‘s Knowledge Graph, and its integration with YouTube, the platform could also build your music-DNA (similar to what we’ve started at and know, based solely on the artists that you’ve listened to, that you’re into everything punk-rock, but prefer Epitaph to Sub Pop; or that you love Motown, but only recordings from their Detroit years. Note that this can also be valuable for artists / labels (and eventually for revenue streams, sponsored recommendations and more).

The new YouTube music page

So while I’m waiting for a beta-access, I gave a try to the new YouTube music landing page. I believe this is just a just a MVP, but I was a bit disappointed by the personalisation experience.

While the mixes definitely made sense – thumbs up for “My Mix” -, some recommendations felt a bit awkward, but I will only blame myself for using my account to play lullabies to the kids (ahem, what about a “mute signal” option for a given genre?).

My personalised YouTube music page...
My personalised YouTube music page…

Most of my disappointment came from the next sections. While the “Trending Music Videos” section probably makes sense from a business perspective, it’s completely un-personalised and I’d rather see trends for genres that I like. Similarly, I would expect from the “Top Videos by Genres” to include mostly genres I’m familiar with (which can be easily derived from my past listening habits, as discussed before).

I’d have hoped as well that the “Hitting the Gym Mixes” and “Music For Every Mood” sections would be more contextual. Depending on the time of the day, my geolocation, etc. what about replacing the first one by “Music for Coding”, or “Chillin’ at home”. After all, if you’d allow YouTube to sync with your calendar, or to access sensors from your Android (phone or Wear), we can imagine such user-experiences, where music meets the IoT. And with the recent acquisition of Songza, we can expect very nice curated playlists for every circonstances inferred from those external signals!

... versus my dashboard
… versus my dashboard

All taken into consideration, and in spite of the lack of personalisation of the new music page, I’m still sure they’ll do an awesome job at personalisation. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for the platform and in particular YouTube Music Key, and in a way, see our vision for YouTube as a music platform finally released at scale!

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