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What is YouTube Music? Everything you need to know

Google once had its own dedicated music player called Google Play Music — and if you’ve looked into that streaming option lately, you will see that it’s been shut down. As you may know, people regularly use YouTube itself to play music, search for new songs, and assemble playlists of their favorites. This prompted Google to release a new, upgraded service called YouTube Music, a music-only source for streaming your tunes.

Is YouTube Music a contender along with apps like Spotify, Tidal, or Apple Music? Well, that may depend on how much you use YouTube to look for music and how important music videos are to you. Here’s everything you should know.

Explore section in YouTube Music.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The basics

YouTube Music is a dedicated music player with a free tier (ads included) that works via your Google account. Imagine if YouTube was nothing but songs and music videos, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s a significant update from Google Play Music, the previous player Google offered.

The interface is fast and notably more minimalistic than Google Play Music, getting you to your favorite songs and associated music videos ASAP with simple, direct controls. There are sections for your Home page, Explore to find new albums, Library to see your listening history and favorite artists or playlists, and an Upgrade section if you want to choose a subscription.

All this taps into your Google account information and history, so if you’ve already been using YouTube to listen to music for a while, you’ll find a lot of prompts to add your favorite musicians and build out a profile for recommendations (a step you can skip if you prefer). Left to its own devices, YouTube Music will continue playing past favorites that you’ve enjoyed.

Music library

As of April 2023, YouTube Music officially has 100 million tracks available to stream or download. At one point, that might have sounded impressive, but most of the major music streaming services now boast 100 million songs in their libraries, including Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Spotify, Qobuz, and Tidal. Still, that’s a boatload of music and should suit most people just fine.

YouTube Music has also recently started gradually adding podcasts to its offerings as of April 27, 2023, allowing “those watching podcasts on the main app to continue listening to them on YouTube Music,” as it’s meant more as a companion to YouTube’s main video podcasts. YouTube has also recommended that creators with audio-only podcasts create a video with a static image.

Audio quality

YouTube Music offers three different audio tiers that you can switch between depending on how much bandwidth you are comfortable taking up. These tiers also dictate how much audio will download onto your device and the size of those files:

  • Low: This sets the bit rate at 48kbps AAC.
  • Normal: This sets the bit rate at 128kbps AAC.
  • High: This sets the bit rate at 256kbps AAC.

You can switch between these at any time by heading to the YouTube Music settings. Downloads for offline listening provide you with standard audio files. YouTube Music does not offer the ability to listen to or download high-res audio files — that’s one area where features like Apple’s high-resolution audio options and Tidal and Amazon Music’s Hi-Fi tiers, among others, can go well beyond what YouTube Music is capable of. If audio quality is your top concern when subscribing to a service, YouTube Music isn’t the best choice, but if you are interested in reliable streaming, it’s a very competitive option.

YouTube Music with background play.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Costs and tiers

The base tier of YouTube Music is free, but you will get some ads. They’re not as egregious as YouTube proper where ads can interrupt your music before every song if you skip around often enough, but they are present. If you want to pay for a higher tier, you have a few choices to remove ads and add extra capabilities.

  • YouTube Music Premium: Along with a rate increase for YouTube Premium, YouTube Music also saw a price bump in July, 2023. For YouTube Music Premium, fees now start here at $11 per month or $110 for an annual payment. This upgraded service grants access to its entire catalog, allows the app to play when your screen is locked (important for listening on phones), and cuts out the ads. It also enables song downloads for offline listening.
  • Family Plan: Starting at $17 per month, this option allows you to add up to five family members over the age of 13 in your household. It can also be used to manage YouTube TV services.
  • Student Plan: This discounted plan offers a three-month free trial and starts at $5.50 per month. Students will have to verify their education status each year to keep on using this plan.

Platform compatibility

YouTube Music offers a web browser that will work from the browser of your choice, a good option if you’re on a desktop or laptop computer. However, there’s also a YouTube Music app that you can download to use the service independently. It works, of course, on Android, Google/Android TV, and ChromeOS, but is also available on iOS and WearOS for the Apple Watch. You can also easily cast it with Chromecast to any compatible screen if you want to pull up a music video, etc.

Creating new playlist for Youtube Music.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Features and music discovery

YouTube is, after all, still YouTube: Music videos are integrated into the music player and play automatically if they are available with a song (otherwise, you get album art). The videos will downsize and stay in the corner if you navigate elsewhere in the YouTube Music app. Additionally, there are options to specifically search for live performances and similar categories. That makes YouTube Music one of the best options if you like music videos or you want a visual component in the background while you listen to music.

You can also choose to create an automatic playlist based on what music videos you’ve liked and listened to in the past, or create a new playlist of your own and add songs — with options to make it public on your YouTube channel or set it as private. There’s also a lot you can do with any individual song that you’re looking at. Select the Dropdown menu to a song, and you’ll see options to play it next, add it to your current queue, add it to a playlist or to your liked songs, learn more about the artist, and more.

YouTube Music will also produce automated mixes based on your favorite artists, as well as radio station recommendations featuring the sort of artists you like listening to. My Supermix is a great way to discover new music, and there are loads of other genre-based new release mixes as well. You’ll also find recommendations from broadly popular playlists, current chart-toppers, specific genres, and more. If you like playlists, you’ll find a lot to love here, but YouTube doesn’t have any human-curated options, so you’ll have to put your faith in the algorithm.

Most recently, YouTube add a new “Your music tuner” feature to the service that lets users create their own radio stations made up of music from up to 30 artists that they add. It can be tweaked to your preferences, like if you want it to just include artists you added or if it’s OK to include similar artists, too.

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