YouTube Music Samples

YouTube Music has become the latest streaming service to launch a vertically-swiping feed of video clips to help people discover music.

It’s called ‘Samples’ and is a new tab within YouTube Music’s mobile app. It offers a feed of clips from music videos on YouTube, including live performances, personalised to the listener’s tastes.

They can tap buttons to play the full track; mark it as liked; add it to a playlist or share it. They can also open the page of the album it’s taken from, or launch a radio station based on it.

There’s also a ‘Shorts’ button that takes them to the track’s page in YouTube’s short-videos service, to see what videos have been made using the song, and (if they want) to create their own.

‘Samples’ has a strong whiff of TikTok’s ‘For You’ feed about it – of course, YouTube Shorts is the closer-to-home influence – just like Spotify’s own new vertical discovery feed did in March. And, like Spotify, YouTube Music is keen to stress that the aim is to help people go deeper with music, rather than just flick from clip to clip endlessly.

“We didn’t build this experience to be a means to an end in itself, but instead to be the appetizer to a whole meal,” is how YouTube Music’s T. Jay Fowler explains it in a blog post published this afternoon.

“We wanted to make it as easy as possible for you to dive deeper into the songs and artists you discover and love all without leaving YouTube Music.”

Another important point about the new feed: ‘Samples’ views WILL count towards the official music video view counts on YouTube. Music Ally’s assumption was that they wouldn’t (since they’re sub-30 seconds) but we checked with YouTube, and the company confirmed that they will.

The ‘Samples’ tab is rolling out globally from today. Ahead of its launch, Music Ally talked to Brandon Bilinski, director of product management at YouTube Music, to find out more, including the research that fed into the decision to create the new feature.

“The rise of short-form video has been one of the sea changes in music over the past couple of years. When we talk to users, the number one place they discover music is always their friends and family. But the number two has changed throughout time, and recently it’s become short-form video,” he said.

Hence the decision to bring the vertical-video-feed paradigm into YouTube Music as a core feature. Bilinski explained that the ‘Samples’ feed will be personalised based on each user’s consumption on YouTube Music and also YouTube.

“The focus is on discovery. You shouldn’t see a ton of stuff that you’ve consumed before,” he said. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all artists and songs that are new to you. For example, it will serve up clips for tracks that you’ve listened to but not (at least as far as YouTube Music’s algorithm knows) seen the music video for.

The clips are 30 seconds long and play on a loop until the viewer swipes on. Which 30 seconds? That’s decided by YouTube Music rather than by artists or labels, although Bilinski preferred not to give too much away on the process.

He reiterated the ‘appetiser to a meal’ metaphor, stressing that while ‘Samples’ is designed to be an enjoyable part of the app to spend time in, it’s ultimate aim is to lead in to deeper listening to the music and artists that it surfaces.

“I’ll give you an example of how it has been pretty powerful for me. A lot of what I work to is instrumental math rock. I’ll play a playlist or a radio station for a couple of hours. So recently, when I was browsing ‘Samples’, it knew that’s a genre I like, and this video came up,” said Bilinski, showing a clip for ‘Falkor’ by US band Covet.

“Normally that would have fallen by the wayside: in one ear, out the other! But seeing it was different. The drummer’s really cool, the lead guitarist is incredible, so I went to learn more about them, saw they were touring, and then went to see them in Santa Cruz.”

“The thing that’s worth noting here: in a random, infinite feed, with a 30-second clip, I was able to get the feel for this band more than I would have with the standard recommendation. I could close the loop!”

YouTube video

The argument here is that ‘Samples’ is not just good for listeners (well, viewers in this context) but that it’s also good for artists – with the added benefit that YouTube isn’t asking them to upload any new clips themselves.

“We’re cropping it for them. We’re picking an interesting segment and delivering it to users that maybe would not have seen it in the past. We’re hoping this really builds up the user-artist connection,” said Bilinski.

The no-effort aspect to ‘Samples’ will appeal to many artists and their overworked content teams, although we can imagine some would prefer to choose which segment of their video is used themselves. Perhaps that option could be added in the future, as part of the upload process for music videos.

One important point: this is music videos, plus live-performance videos from YouTube. ‘Samples’ may be a short-video feature, but at launch it will not be including YouTube Shorts videos in its feed – whether from artists or fans using their music.

“Right now we are not including actual Shorts in this tab. We want to be careful about how we might integrate those. Right now we’re leaning forward on content from artists. Premium content,” said Bilinski, who nevertheless said that forging links with YouTube Shorts – for example with the option to visit tracks’ pages on that service – is important.

“This is our first real connection between the YouTube Music app and Shorts. Inspiration is really important for creation: maybe you’ll see a video in ‘Samples’ and want to use it for your own video, so dropping you on the page that shows you the top Shorts being created is great for inspiration. We hope this helps with that fly-wheel.”

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