Google Play’s Music Radio Station Review


Before I get back to some math, I’ve been testing out Google Play’s new music service. In particular, I’m going to review the “Radio Station” feature. If you listen to as much music as I do, then the main service of paying a small monthly fee to play anything as much as you want is great. The service will probably save you hundreds of dollars a year. It is also quite a reasonable selection. The albums I’m looking for appear the day they actually release, and it seems that only big name people I’m uninterested in listening to are the ones that block their music from appearing.

On the other hand I have so many complaints about the radio feature that I’ll probably forget to mention some of them. I can’t figure out how to tell Google how ridiculous some of these features are. I think if they heard these complaints and thought about it for five seconds, they would see the problem and start trying to fix it. So up front, I recommend getting this if you only plan on using the service like you would use Netflix (go online, play through an album, be done). But if plan on exploring new music through the radio feature like you would Pandora, then stay far away from this for awhile.

Disclaimer: These complaints are based on a small amount of experimentation. Maybe there are ways to get around this stuff, but it is not at all obvious which in and of itself is a complaint.

Complaints:

1. There is no way to add variety to a station. You set up a station like you would on Pandora by picking a song, album, or artist and then it will play similar music (mostly, we’ll get to that later). But once a station is set up, there is absolutely no way (to my knowledge) to add variety. To me, this was the best part of Pandora because I could put two bizarre genres in the same station and find bands that were combining them.

2. On the subject of variety, you don’t get a ton with the radio station. I want to use it periodically to find new stuff, but if you start a station based on a band you’ll get a cycle of essentially the same five obviously related bands. I’m not going to find something new without some more tangentially related stuff. Some people might really like this, because your nice predictable station won’t play random unrelated stuff, but it is useless for finding new things.

3. In the other direction, it is difficult to remove variety. There is a feature called “remove from queue” which is way too literal. It allows you to remove a song that is going to play down the line (you can see a list of the upcoming songs). It literally removes the song from playing in that spot, but not from the playlist. It may play later on! What? Also, it seems to taunt me by always putting a removed thing near the top when I restart a radio. Why would anyone want to skip the song now, but play it later?! I just don’t want it in this station at all. There doesn’t seem to be a way to do this without downvoting it and getting it to not play at all in any station.

4. There is a “My Library” feature which is nice, because it is like temporarily owning the album. Unfortunately, if you start a radio station using something in your library (even if you get to it from the search feature outside of your library!), then you accidentally tell it to only use things from your library. Effectively it is just taking your library and playing it on random. It totally ignores playing related things and just picks from everything. This is terrible. Why not just have a button that allows you to play your library on random (like every other music player on the planet)?

If we want to get advanced, then add a way to choose the percentage you want from your library vs stuff outside your library (I love this idea and think this type of feature could make this service better than something like Pandora where you don’t have your own library). At the very least, it should try to pull things from your library that are related to the station you started. Is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue really related to technical death metal?

5. There doesn’t seem to be any documentation about how these things work. For example, I built a big library at first and kept starting stations from stuff in there. It kept just playing my library on random (it took awhile to figure out this is what it was doing and the reason why it wasn’t playing related things). I had to figure out on my own that I had to either remove the thing from my library or start from something not in my library to get it to actually do the radio feature it claimed to be doing. It would be nice to not have to figure this type of thing out on your own (my guess is that there are people using this that still haven’t figure this out).

So there are some of my complaints. I’m not sure what Google was thinking when they made this with these design flaws, but hopefully someone will point someone with power to this blog so that they can be fixed.

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