UPDATE: As of the morning of 10/27/2020, there is now a sorting pull-down that lets you pick from Recently Added, A to Z, and Z to A. I doubt that this piece had anything at all to do with it as I'm sure a lot of users have likely been complaining, but it's nice to see some action just a few days after I post. Now, maybe we can get a DESKTOP app that correctly integrates into the system. Oh, and make a Linux binary while you're at it.
I do love that I can spend $15 a month to listen to anything. I used to spend that much on one LP or a couple of tapes back in “the day.” I also recognize that this arrangement is highly biased towards the platform operators which is, in this case, Google. Artists make far more of their money performing live which, if you haven’t noticed, isn’t going to be a thing again for a while. Yeah. Pandemic. But, I have to get my fix of new music, radio is dead, satellite never took off like it was supposed to, and there’re few other resources to help you find new music that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and isn’t a platform.
Everything, however, was… tolerable until Google Play Music became YouTube Music.
Google Play Music, which I’ll call GPM for the sake of economy, is/was your basic web-based music organizer and player. It works, if you don’t count the ludicrous annoyance of using a web browser to listen to music on your desktop system, and the lack of system integration that comes with that. Sure, it works great on Android devices, and would on the desktop if you performed all your computing using ChromeBooks. I doubt, however, that represents nothing more than a blip in the overall userbase numbers.
At some point, however, Google decided to move away from GPM and rebrand around their YouTube property, calling the new service the cleverly named YouTube Music. The decision behind that is made a little less opaque with the recent move from the unnecessarily long named “Google Play Movies & TV” becoming the more reasonably named Google TV to coincide with the release of the new “Google ChromeCast with Google TV”, which now has a stupidly long name.
“Google’s product naming skills are up there with Microsoft’s. That’s something to crow about.”…said nobody ever.
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Google has a minimalist relationship with user interface design. Clearly established at Google’s inception (the old homepage hasn’t changed much in well over a decade), it’s quite likely that Google has viewed pastel minimalism as their signature and applies that visual style to all their tools and services. My opinion of their choice has started to lean towards the “For Worse” end of the opinion spectrum in the last decade. It works, but it’s also comically fugly and configuration is often complicated and chaotic. Just look at the settings page in Gmail. It’s a mess and versions of this chaos appear throughout all of Google’s services.
But that’s not a problem Google has to solve as much as a shitty choice in UI/UX design.
My biggest problem, which has two principle parts, is with the way YouTube Music handles my music library in the web version, which I use about 90% of the time. One, there is no way to sort the lists. Nada. Zilch. If you hadn’t noticed already, go look at your library, specifically at the Albums and Artists lists. The only option available is to show YTM or Uploaded music. Nothing else. Albums are sorted in the order you last listened. Artists are arranged in an identical manner, and it’s all deeply frustrating. For crying out loud! THE MOBILE APP lets you sort lists alphabetically, the most basic function any music organizer has. When was the last time you went and sorted your record crates by when you last listened to them?
As I said before, I have a strong suspicion that much of this comes from Google’s ideological position on UI/UX design. When Gmail launched, you didn’t sort mail into folders. You instead created labels, you used these labels to categorize stuff, and search to find any emails you couldn’t immediately see. They also might have felt GPM was just too “desktop-like” to qualify as a Google service. Similarly, YTM encourages you to search for music and organize tracks into playlists.
I hate it.
I prefer visually pleasing organization. I love flipping through records or perusing cassette case spines to pick the right mix tape or studio album for whatever road trip I was on. When I moved to digital in the early 2000’s, WinAmp was there with the tools to organize stuff with folders and ID3 tags for meta data. When Apple created Cover Flow for the iPod and iTunes (I was still an Apple phanboi back then) it was like having record boxes again, just in the pocket. That was to become the look for most music apps, reasonably well organized music so you can find what you’re looking for in the way that suited you. That was clearly the foundational concept behind GPM, and for years it just worked.
Now, however, Google is again trying to force users to bend to their will, using YTM the way Googleintended. It’s [INSERT HYPERBOLIC INVECTIVE HERE]! They’ve had literal years to add some simple library organization functionality, but even with release delays, they chose not to. That speaks volumes to me.
What I want isn’t rocket science. iTunes got it. Groove got it (may it rest on peace). Google Play Music got it. Unfortunately, very few players get it today. Why, is another piece, but I’ll just say that it has to do with the increase in popularity of singles and the abstraction of the “album” into singles. These days, every track, included on an album or not, is a single. Think about what that means. Albums used to be a snapshot of a band’s musical direction at the moment they produced that, a time they can never get back, chock-a-block with the circumstances of the time, and how everyone felt when they were composing and recording. Sure, it was a function of the delivery medium, but we’ve lost that. So, before I run down that rat hole, here’s what I want:
- Alphabetical sorting for all lists (artists, albums, songs, playlists, podcasts, etc…)
- An album view with large cover art (no, it doesn’t have to look like Cover Flow.)
- The ability to just play an album without having to create a playlist of any kind.
- A REAL desktop app that is a REAL desktop media player and organizer.
I guess what I want is a desktop media player that can connect to online services and present it all as one library, and that illuminates the ultimate issue. What platform wants to also support a user’s personal collection that they didn’t buy from the platform? The truth is that in this late-stage capitalist society mere mortals are struggling to survive; corporate entities don’t think that’s acceptable.
Well, tell you what, Corporate Earth, I don’t care. I’m sick of conforming to a corporate view of what my life should be like and would prefer to start living my life the way I choose.
Even if it’s something as simple as listening to music.
Here’s a musical treat for getting to the bottom 🙂
If you prefer a harder edge, try this: