Google Play Music - A User's Wishlist

My entire music library is online, uploaded to Google Play Music. This allows me to stream all of my music and my library from pretty much anywhere I can get access to a network (on my phone) or a Browser via the web app interface. This is a wonderful wonderful thing. But there are a few shortcomings and I wanted to suggest some changes and fixes to them here because I feel like they are interesting suggestions for improved functionality... and also with the slight wish that Google'll hear me and just do it.

That'd be nice, right? 

Note: This post will mean nothing to you if you've never used Google Play Music

The main problem I have is with the extensive and pretty awkward layout of the library that GPM provides. There is such a large scope for slight changes to the layout that would make browsing my library, a not-maxed out 13,909 songs (the limit is 20k I believe), a lot easier. If the idea is that GPM replaces my other streaming services (which for a lot my listening it has) these are little tweaks that I (and I am certain others) would find make things a lot easier.


The search, oddly for a Google service, is complete shit. It is a simple text box that gives you no filtering beyond the typing in your search term. It tries to split it out between Artists, Songs and Albums on the fly as you type but the effect is so laggy that it makes it nigh on impossible to use. It'd be nice to have a "quicker" search, but I don't really think I can give them a lesson on search here when it comes to speed, but I have noticed one issue, and that is a lack of "Did you Mean...?". 

When searching I regularly make mistakes when typing out an artist's name or album title. Simply spelling errors like "locsil" instead of "loscil" and GPM doesn't suggest anything to help me out. I good change would be the ability to suggest what I might have meant based on the library that I have uploaded. 

The Library

Something that I wish all players have is a simple change - an A to Z (or #) selector. What do I mean? Well, take my library view - it has the tabs on the left for Artist, Album, Songs and Genre. What would really help jumping to an artist would be this:

A quick A to Z selector allowing you to jump directly to that letter. I've wanted something like this for years in my media players.

While we're in the Library view (a terrible place to even look for artists or albums, which we will come to shortly), we should discuss those four tabs that already exist. Why not add a few extra ways to search for music? In my mind, adding the three options "Year", "Label", and "2014" would make the library a little easier to filter through (and, as you'll see later on, maybe even the option for "tags").

Year would either be a ascending or descending list of all releases by the year they were released. The Label feature would do the same - group artists by the labels of release (and would be smart enough to know that artists release music on multiple labels in their career, grouping all releases by an artist in that Label tab, but highlight the ones that are released on that label; so you'd have a Warp Records section with Boards of Canada, Clark, Flying Lotus and Apehx Twin grouped together, but note that the Boards of Canada release Hi Scores was actually a Skam Records release). The final "2014" tab would be a "this year" tab - it'd change each year to have the most recent releases you have in your library at a single click. You could even have 2014, 2013 and 2012 there to highlight the past three years.

The basic idea behind this (and you'll see it below under Discographies) is that the current tabs are powerful but I'll be damned if they're as useful as they could be. Adding more tabs and more customisation would be wonderful for the usability of GPM.

The Artist Box

I very rarely know what an artist looks like. Take Deftones for example, an artist that I do know what they look like - this is the image that GPM uses to let me know this is "Deftones". 

Even with an artist that I know I can barely tell that's Chino in the middle. Using promo shots of the band is a neat ideal in principle, but it's useless because most of these photos are designed to be artful and they rarely look like the band (and pray tell me how many bands do you know what they look like collectively?). That box above has the big problem that almost none of it looks like it's Deftones to a glancing eye when scrolling down the list. I think it sounds like a good idea to fill your player with non-artwork art because it adds a change of flavour... but for the majority of my music I listen to I have no idea what they look like.

You know what would I recognise as Deftones? Their artwork. The entire list of my library is nigh on impossible to scroll through because it's like looking through a photo album of people that you don't recognise. Instead of the artist's photo it should be an amalgam of their artwork, most played or most recent first, as that is what I identify for that artist. For example, if you compare the above to the below, I can far easily note that this is Deftones from the below than the top. 

It's a very small change, but one that would make scrolling through the library much easier.


This is the biggest place that I feel a change is needed. Because GPM takes all of my music and places it online it places singles, EPs, Remix Albums, Live Albums, random tracks and studio albums into the discography in chronological order. So far, so good. The problem is three fold however;

1 - I don't always want to play everything by an artist
2 - I don't always want to play only a single release by an artist
3 - For many artists this one list is overwhelming

Take Boards of Canada, my favourite artist of all time. My collection of their work is a mix of official releases that I've bought that are albums, EPs, and singles, along with a mixture of the taped bootlegs and my own "remix" collection. The overall collection of BoC material is pretty extensive.

I'd love to be able to make this easier to view by adding those same type of tabs from the Library view to the discography view.

This adds a few problems; how does Google know what is what? How can you define an "EP" when certain EPs are longer than other artist's studio albums? Well, the tabs would be not automatic necessarily. For example, "Bootlegs" is pretty unique and might not fit every artist. How would I suggest this be resolved?

Well, for one these tabs wouldn't just be set - they'd actually be "tags" for releases. What I mean is you'd say "Okay, 'BoC Remixes' is an album I created, so I'll tag it 'Bootlegs'" just like you'd tag a photo on Facebook, and it'd automatically appear in the tabbed area "Bootlegs" for that artist. You could even then make the tags searchable, so when I typed in "Bootlegs" into the search bar all the albums tagged as "Bootlegs" would show up.

It'd allow for certain mixtures of tags too; you could have a "Releases" tab where the entire chronological release of the artist (albums, EPs and singles) would appear, that would filter out all of the non-EP/Album/Single tagged releases. Google could make this clever though, and have a selection of suggested tags for each release like Album and EP based on scraping either Wikipedia or the EchoNest for information on each release.

To Close

These are just a few slight UI changes I'd love to see in Google Play Music. There are loads of other little niggles that I encounter (like the fact clicking on the album art makes the release start playing on the app but on the web it opens a large format version of the artwork) that I'd like to change, but these are far more niggly - the above changes are ones that would make my everyday use so much easier and make the whole thing cleverer compared to other streaming services. 

If Google want me to replace my entire listening experience with GPM I'm already there - I just wish it was easier and better to use than it is now. 

A One Time Thing

Date Eggers' book The Circle is a fascinating but flawed novel that details a Google or Facebook service that has replaced all types of communication which slowly but surely creeps surveillance into ever part of people's lives. Of course, that kinda already happens, what with my phone and it's GPS tracking, but The Circle goes one step further and adds constant video feeds of people's lives, day to day, as well as a camera that is so small it can't be seen, or found, but wirelessly transmits it's feed across the internet for anyone to watch.

It is an addictive read, despite its flaws which I won't go into here, and one I enjoyed quite a lot. It did touch on one thing that was interesting and key to the world that had been developed in the novel, and that is of selfishness.

In the book the character Mae, a new employee at The Circle, finds her self committing a minor crime that is captured by one of the wireless cameras. Instead of being properly pinished for the crime, she is asked why she had not personally recorded the event. She had taken a canoe out onto the water and watched a stunning sunset whilst seals swam next to her, and her boss asks her why she hadn't recorded the event.

In the books logic it makes a point that the not recorded event was selfishly unshared by Mae and that, because she hadn't saved it, it was lost forever. This part of the books is where I gave into the world, as it resonated with thoughts I'd had myself; the more we scramble to record things, the less we feel that they didn't occur without the recording.

I make this point following the Scottish Album of the Year Award ceremony that I went to o  Thursday there. Ten albums, including some belters, we're up for the award including my very own Boards of Canada. I assumed from the outset that they wouldn't appear, and I wasn't alone in thinking that, and I was also correct. Instead they did a video thank you to the audience and nominators that was interesting, for it was certainly all new video footage, all new never before heard music, and they rarely do anything without thought behind it.

However, upon the video starting it was clear that this was unique. The video stream that was showing the whole ceremony cut out leaving those at home out of the new music. I tweeted about it and quickly it was retweeted across the Internet, and soon it turned up on the Boards of Canada forums, where superfans started to take it all apart, first dismissing it as a hoax, then as a throwaway track before being frustrated at it not being recorded.

One thing that has been read into the lack of it being broadcast is that it must mean something. I was there and it was explicity stated that the video was a gift to "all those who are here tonight" which makes me think that it wasn't a comment on anything other than just a bit of in the moment magic. Why does everything need to be recorded? The brothers who make Boards of Canada music have fabricated an enigma around themselves and they must enjoy it in some parts but it feels like they can't do anything without analysis, and this seemed like a way of commenting of that.

It was fun to see it hear it and take part in it, but I honestly don't know if it was a new EP, a tease of something else, or just literally a onetime unique thing that was engineered to be that way. Either way, I didn't recorded it, and the thought didn't even cross my mind, instead I chose to be in the moments. Others online did record it.

At least that means it definitely happened. I mean, I did just see a unique Boards of Canada track played in front of an audience at the Barrowlands which is something I thought I'd never ever ever say. So there is that.

The Circle on Amazon