Google Play Music: 18 million songs and no respect

I signed up for Google Play Music All Access (Google marketing managers are incompetent at naming) the week it was announced, back in the good old days when Google’s motto was “Do no evil” and every month they brought exciting advances in the power of the web. For the $7.99 introductory offer you could listen to 18 million songs! Access to nearly every song changes a music fan’s life; hear something you like, identify it with Shazam, then dig as deep as you care. When Google introduced its cute Chromecast Audio puck and I could play all those songs in pretty high quality on audio equipment, the experience got even better.

When Google repeatedly extended YouTube with Red/Plus/Music/blahblah alternatives, I mostly ignored its half-assed attempts to turn music listening into random video playlist watching, but I got the premium version for free with the fantastic benefit of no YouTube commercials ever! All in all, GPMAA is the greatest $107.88 a year I spend.

But 18 million done badly is not everything

Except…. it isn’t access to everything. I knew Prince aka The Artist Formerly Known as Prince had a love/hate relationship with digital music and streaming, so I expected his catalog might be less available, along with other streaming holdouts like Bob Seger. But the random undocumented omissions in Google Play Music All Access are intermittently infuriating.

example: Unforgettable, but album amnesia

The first time I realized how bad it is was when I was looking for Nat King Cole and found most of his albums unavailable, then tried searching for his time-travelling duet with daughter Natalie. Her album Unforgettable… with Love is available, but not the eponymous track where she duets with Dad! Fine, whatever dispute Google has over Nat King Cole’s catalog extends to this duet. But the song simply doesn’t appear in Google Play Music’s track listing for the album! Don’t f***ing lie to me about which tracks are on an album!

Here’s another example, the immortal Blues Brothers Original Soundtrack Recording. According to GPM, these 7 tracks are the entire record. There’s a hint of the problem with missing track 6 (the gospel choir singing “The Old Landmark”), but all the songs from the ending concert are gone! No Cab Calloway singing “Minnie the Moocher,” no “Sweet Home Chicago,” no “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s an 11-track album. What the hell?!

This is not a track listing of the album!

example: Andy Summers creativity castration

After listening all the way through the Police’s oeuvre (four exceptionally good albums, one short of the 5-album cutoff for eligibility for “immortal run” status), I wanted to continue with their solo careers, starting with guitarist Andy Summers (a better Edge than the Edge). I remember reading a favorable review of his album titled The Golden Wire or something, but at the time I never heard it on the radio and wasn’t about to buy it unheard (kids of today, we had it so hard before the Internet). So go to Google Play Music, search for Andy Summers, view All albums, … no indication of such an album. Read his Wikipedia article, there it is in 1989. It’s not obscure, it’s a central part of his artistic output. Don’t f***ing lie to me with a list of All albums of an artist that isn’t all albums!

It is awful that Google Play Music silently omits the songs and albums that it doesn’t have rights to sell or stream. “Our company mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” So do it, you lazy f***ers!

(from How Google Search Works | Our Mission)

Similarly, Andy Summers’ collaboration I Advanced Masked with Robert Fripp on A&M is unavailable and unmentioned. If I know the album title and search for it, GPM shows links to YouTube videos that are probably illegal uploads by well-meaning fans, but I want to know that they collaborated and released an album. GPM’s presentation of music information is insultingly incomplete.

But no respect

When I search for a song by an artist, I expect the first result to be the song from the album on which it was released. That’s where it all began, that’s what I care about, that’s where Google provides some useful information (often it’s the opening section of the album’s Wikipedia article). Instead GPM will randomly show me the song on garbage “Best of the NNN0s” compilations, movie soundtracks, sad live bootlegs, all the artist’s greatest hits albums, karaoke versions, and cover bands. Everything but the original album! I wind up having to search Wikipedia or Discogs to find the album title, then search for that, then click the album, then find the song.

not one of these is a studio album by The Spinners! (and the original album is not in the “95 more”!)

Metadata wrong all over

Mayer Hawthorne 'Man About Town' album in GPM with conflicting year of release
Wikipedia editors know it’s a 2016 album, Google Play Music is confused.

Google frequently has the date of releases wrong. Supposedly it gets this info from the record companies, so it’s not their fault, but music web sites get this info right. Google is happy to reuse Wikipedia content about artists and albums, but it can’t be bothered to have deeper integration with sites that know more about albums.

“OK Google, what’s a botched remastering?”

Google Play Music doesn’t even pretend to care about different remasterings of albums. When you find an album, Google’s preference is to show the latest remaster it can lay its hands on, despite the disaster of the loudness war: albums remastered and remixed to sound punchier on the radio.

When there are multiple versions of an album, GPM’s presentation is poor. Often it will present two or more identical thumbnails of an album including the deluxe version or the 25th anniversary re-release, but you can’t tell which is which without visiting each album in turn. Sometimes two albums are indistinguishable.

Google Play Music is dying anyway

I’ve been meaning to moan about Google Play Music All Access misfeatures for years. I’m finally doing so as Google announces it’s killing the product. Already you can’t buy digital songs on it any more. Google will force everyone to YouTube Music, and the lamentations are disheartening. Unlike some subscribers, I think I have local copies of all the digital music files I uploaded to GPM, mostly in the 2000s when I would buy “singles” on GPM and Amazon, and artists’ web sites would offer MP3 downloads of obscure tracks. But why put up with Google’s shenanigans if there are better alternatives? Now would be a perfect opportunity to jump ship to a better music streaming service that respects musical artistry and I hope pays more than a pittance for each song I listen to. Qobuz is an obscure music streaming service that offers higher-resolution tracks (more important for better mixing than actual increased fidelity that you can hear), and it integrates with Roon‘s music playing software (another darn blog article I should write). However, it will hurt to give up ad-free YouTube video watching. Even more monthly subscription fees are in my future…

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