October marks the first anniversary of the death of Google Play Music, leaving only the sad shadow of an alternative music service, YouTube Music, in the Google ecosystem. YouTube Music shows just how far it is from the music streaming war with the announcement of a new feature: background music playback. Previously, playing a streaming song on the ad-supported YouTube Music app only worked if you opened the app. Navigating to something else on your phone would stop the music. Now, five years after the service launched and one year after Google Play Music closed, you can use YouTube Music as, finally, a music app without paying for YouTube Premium.
One last detail: this extremely basic feature will not be rolled out in Canada until next month. As of now, not everyone can use YouTube Music as a classic music streaming app without paying for the service. Google says free background reading will be available to “listeners around the world” at some point, but it hasn’t said when.
SoundCloud and Spotify offer free background streaming, just like Google Play Music did before it closed, but YouTube Music hasn’t been able to replicate this feature in the past five years. Subscribers to YouTube Music Premium at $ 9.99 were able to play music in the background, and the feature is available for music you downloaded yourself. But if you listened to the ad-supported streaming catalog, the music would just stop in the background.
YouTube’s free tier also limits background playback, and YouTube Music’s tangled connection to YouTube is our best guess as to why YouTube Music has been so slow to embrace this feature. YouTube’s music deal likely didn’t allow background playback without paying extra, and since music deals are negotiated by country, it makes sense that a YouTube Music renegotiation takes place country by country, the Canada being the first.
YouTube says the feature will arrive in Canada on November 3.