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YouTube Joins the Music Subscription Game – This is What it Means for Listeners

The golden age of free, online music consumption is coming to a close.

It's been a hectic few months in the world of online media, particularly in music. Soundcloud's on-going teething pains as they move towards a monetized model have been a very public affair. Spotify, on the other hand, recently announced a 25% increase in users over the past six months alone, while artists large and small have voiced strong complaints about the royalties that make it back into their bank accounts. Now YouTube have thrown their hat into the subscription brawl, as they today announced plans to launch a paid platform within a matter of weeks.

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The service, to be titled YouTube Music Key, to cost $7.99 - $9.99 a month, will enable access to both music and music videos, ad-free, with the extra ability to view content offline. The subscription will also feature access to YouTube parent company Google's Google Play music services, a library with access to over 22 million songs (not all of which are free).

The rollout of this service has been expedited after Google reached a deal with The Merlin Network, a rights agency that represents (according to their own press materials) over 120,000 independent labels, aggregators, and rights representatives worldwide. In the scope of dance music, they handle everyone from Ninja Tune to Armin van Buuren's Armada Music. Negotiations were allegedly arduous, but now YouTube has access to the 20 million tracks in Merlin's holding – in addition to accesses granted by deals already made with Universal, Sony, and Warner.

The deal with Merlin in particular extends the monetization debate into the underground. Spotify's libraries are limited when it comes to deeper music and SoundCloud are only in the early stages of inking deals with majors and individual independents in terms of advertisements, but YouTube's advertising platforms now have access to a much deeper pool of media than can be claimed by any of their competitors. You may soon be watching commercials before listening to even the most anti-commercial music.

So what does this mean for you, young cash-strapped aficionado of untz? If you can stomach the ads, you can still listen or watch whatever you'd like to on YouTube. It is entirely foreseeable that, in the near future, the veracity of the advertising on the free platform will increase as YouTube attempts to sway users towards subscription.

On a larger scale, the time of the Wild West in online media is coming to a close. From Napster to Spotify, listeners have enjoyed a freedom (pun intended) in the consumption of music. Now that the general populous is appropriately habituated towards platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube, the business models they have utilized call for aggressive monetization. This is what we've been seeing enacted over the past few months.

So, anyone working on a new music streaming app we should hear about?

Jemayel Khawaja is Managing Editor of THUMP - @JemayelK