It seems like we’ve been following the saga of YouTube’s promised music streaming service for a very long time. That’s probably because we have. Whole generations of internet memes have lived and died in the time since YouTube first announced that it was working on a Spotify competitor. The Icebucket Challenge, Alex From Target, Planking, Icing, and the Red Bull and Milk Challenge have all come and gone. Even notoriously tardy Azalea Banks managed to release her long delayed album while YouTube was busy wrangling with record labels and managing a personnel crisis. Now it seems there might finally be hope on the horizon as YouTube has reportedly vanquished that last major obstacle to its streaming project.
In what is perhaps the single most ridiculous sounding sentence I have ever written, The Financial Times reports that YouTube has struck a pact with Merlin over music rights. In this case Merlin is not, as one might hope, the powerful wizard of legend, but rather a trade group representing a handful of independent European music labels. Merlin has been fighting back against YouTube’s planned foray into streaming music, claiming that the video giant used its video dominance to extort favorable terms from smaller labels. Don’t let the indie moniker fool you, these labels represent powerhouse acts like Adele and Arctic Monkeys who could potentially put a damper on YouTube’s plan to create a music library that rivals Spotify and Pandora.
With (non wizard) Merlin out of the way we could finally be close to a release date for the streaming service, reportedly called YouTube Music Key. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has indicated that the service is coming soon but declined to pin down a target date. Alleged screen shots of the Android beta version leaked online in late August, giving us an idea of what Music Key might look like. YouTube has also quietly moved to shutter YouTube Disco, a less sophisticated music recommendation tool that would be made redundant by the release of YouTube Music Key. Is the big day just around the corner? In a world where mankind can land a robot on a comet, reach a climate change deal, and see the release of Azalea’s album all in the same week, anything is possible.
Updated 11/12/14 11:00 pm PST: When I’m right, I’m right. Apparently indie labels were the last barrier standing in the way of YouTube Music Key’s launch. The service launched in Beta today in some of YouTube’s biggest music consuming markets. The US, UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Finland will all have the opportunity to sample Music Key before it rolls out globally. As an added incentive YouTube is offering the new service free for the first six months to early adopters. You can sign up here to be a beta user. Trials are set to begin in the next few days or weeks. Once the six month free trial wraps up beta users will also receive the service at a discounted rate of $7.99 per month rather than the full $9.99.