It’s not a surprise that it’s going down but artists are likely the ones that will take the hit in their pocketbook when Google Play Music shuts down in December.
The service will be swallowed up by their parent company’s parallel streaming service, YouTube Music, in a staggered fashion which will culminate with complete shutdown by December 2020, Google announced this week.
Google long warned they planned to focus primarily on YouTube Music and would phase out Google Play Music after the former had most of the latter’s functionality and could import existing Google Play Music users relatively seamlessly.
Google’s streaming service is well-known among those with Android devices (which is, admittedly, the majority of mobile device owners in the world). For most consumers, this change will probably be unnoticeable because few people are actually paying Google for music. All of Google’s streaming options are dwarfed by the industry leaders. While Spotify claimed 113 subscribers in 2019, Google reported just 15 million subscribers across both streaming channels combined.
But the closure of Google Play Music will probably cost artists a few bucks in the end. For reasons nobody could really explain, artists scanning their royalty statements often noticed that Google Play Music paid more per stream than YouTube (which is notorious for paying less than almost anyone).
The difference was sometimes very significant. In the most recent edition of David Lowery’s essential Streaming Price Bible, Google Play for some reason paid out more than three times as much per stream as their sister company YouTube. The data, which is mostly sourced from “confidentially supplied data for global sales,” has been relatively consistent on this point for several years. In the 2018 edition of his list of what streaming services pay, Lowery noticed the anomaly of two arms of the same company compensating artists at wildly varying rates. “We also wonder about Google Play,” he wrote. “The payouts on Google Play are fair, but when bundled into the YouTube ecosystem is largely inconsequential in terms of both streams served and revenue.”
Now that YouTube ecosystem has reclaimed this wayward species, it seems unlikely artists will see those higher rates on the combined YouTube Music platform. In fact, that monetary blip in the matrix is probably why Google Play Music was the one that got eaten by its sibling, like a hungry shark baby in the womb, and not the other way around.