While no one was looking, Google built the best music app out there. The problem for Google has always been getting people to take notice. The company doesn’t have the marketing acumen and deep ties to the music industry like Apple nor the popular success of Spotify.
It’s a shame, because Play Music does a lot of things better than other services. If you’re a subscriber you get YouTube Red, which means you don’t have to sit through annoying advertisements when you want to see the latest, trending videos.
There are trial offers all the time, so if you’re looking for an easy way to manage your music and check out another streaming service, then these are the top features and tricks you want to try out to see if Google Play Music is right for you.
Keep all your music in one place
One of my favorite features is that you can use Google Play Music as your personal locker, even if you don’t subscribe to the streaming service.
But first you have to get all your music there. If you’re using the dreaded iTunes, Windows Media Player, or another program, your best bet is to download the music manager.
This program will upload all of your music from a directory you indicate on your PC. While that’s the best bet for a larger collection, Play Music also has a built-in drag-and-drop tool for easy uploads.
From the slide-out menu on the left, select Upload music. Then you can select a folder, or just drop in individual tracks that you want to upload. They’ll then be available in the web version of Play Music and anywhere you’ve installed the mobile app.
Same thing goes if you buy music from the Google Play Store. With one click, whatever you buy is right there in your library. By default it’s streamed when you go to play it, but you can always touch the overflow button (three vertical dots) and save it offline.
Google also puts its algorithms to work in order to break out your music by genres so you can casually browse through them. If you subscribe to Play Music, you can create a music station from a song or album. I find it to be an excellent way to get more than just regular replays out of your favorite tracks.
Make a few tweaks
Play Music offers more customization than meets the eye. It’s rare, but there may be a moment when the track you’ve uploaded from your library doesn’t match up with what Google says it is. Fortunately, you can fix that by clicking Edit info from the overflow menu.
Another tiny hack I use is to consistently give a “thumbs up” on a song I like. It’s the fastest way to build a custom playlist that will be filled with songs you enjoy. This is an easy way to have an at-the-ready batch of music to stream for a party or just to get you through a long drive.
I’ve also found the more I’ve used this, the better the recommendations are. So next time a new song you hear is a good one, hit that thumb button.
Get ready to go offline
Once you step outside the Internet fantasy world that tech execs live in, you realize that ubiquitous LTE hasn’t exactly arrived yet. Fortunately you can download anything in your library, whether it's added from the streaming service or something you’ve purchased.
This is especially critical if you’re about to go on a trip and there’s a particular station, playlist, or artist that you want available. Nothing kills off that road trip faster than when the tunes die out. And what are you going to listen to on a plane? Remember this isn’t the same as Add to library; that just gives you quicker access to finding that selection again.
Also, don’t neglect that tiny computer on your wrist if you’re wearing an Android Wear watch.
You can enable this under the Settings > Android Wear > Download to Android Wear. Turn on the feature and select Manage Wear downloads to see what’s been cached on your watch.
Suit it to your tastes
Because it’s Google, the product is designed to work based on what it learns about you. Your listening history plays a big part in suggestions, but there are also some ways you can actively customize what Google Play Music shows you. You’ll need to be a tad bit forceful and say Not interested in those suggestions.
There’s also a nuclear option if you’re unhappy with suggestions that come from the streaming service (like competitors, it’s $10 a month for an individual or $15 for up to six on a family plan). If you go to Settings > Delete recommendation history you can get a fresh start. Or you can wipe out everything you’ve uploaded with Delete my library.
Keep in mind the deletion choices are only available from the desktop version. It’s also irreversible, so think twice before you opt for the clean slate.
Find the perfect station
There’s an unassuming feature in the slide-out menu that lets you Browse Stations. When you touch here, you’ll find a long list of different genres of stations, letting you pick amongst a different decade or musical style. You can get lost in sorting through the choices, and there’s a good chance you’ll find something that you like.
One of the best additions to come recently is Podcasts. It’s rather basic now, but you’ll see more suggestions for shows to listen to from Google’s curated lists. You’re able to subscribe and choose from different download options. It’s best to just search for the show you’re after at this time to see if it’s part of the collection.
If you’re a regular podcast listener, you’ll be happier with one of the many third-party apps out there as they’re far more comprehensive.
Going forward, there are still plenty of areas in which Google Play Music can get better. For one, there is definitely room for improvement in putting the newest and most popular music front and center. The curated playlists are nice, but just as Google tweaked this by putting podcasts in there, I’d love to see a persistent card dedicated to what’s trending. Spotify does so well in this area, and really helps you feel like you’re part of a community that’s connected to the newest and most popular music.
Finally, Google recently showed off an impressive display of its machine-intelligence capabilities in linking up artists on a giant touch wall at Google I/O. While all this work is no doubt going on behind the scenes, it’d be nice for some of this to be more in front, like by pinging you with different artists and letting you explore their connections. It would help make what’s a strong service an even more compelling option, especially with such compelling entries from other competitors.