A real bargain when included in an ad-free YouTube Premium subscription
No lossless streaming
Can be very difficult to search for specific music
YouTube pays the lowest royalty rates to artists and rights holders
YouTube Music has its flaws, but hardcore music fans would do well to choose it at least as a secondary music streamer because of its unique features.
Price when reviewing
$9.99/month or $99.99/year; Family plan: $14.99/month; Student plan: $4.99/month. Included with YouTube Premium plans: $11.99/month or $119.99/year; Family plan: $17.99/month or $119.99/year; Student plan:: $6.99/month
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YouTube Premium Music
YouTube Music Premium replaces Google Play Music, which shut down in October 2020 when Google transitioned those users to YouTube Music. It doesn’t have the hi-res streaming that’s becoming the business norm, or a dedicated desktop app for Mac or PC.
Still, it has a few features available nowhere else, and YouTube Music Premium may be the perfect one. second streamer for listeners frustrated by the holes in the 70 million song catalog that most streaming services share.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best music streaming services, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide to features to consider when buying this type of product.
How much does YouTube Music cost?
YouTube Music Premium costs $9.99/month or $99.99/year. The family plan costs $14.99/month and includes up to six accounts. College students can get the service for $4.99/month. You will need to confirm your student status with SheerID to be eligible.
YouTube Music Premium is also included in a YouTube Premium subscription, a great option that removes all video ads from YouTube videos. YouTube Premium costs $11.99/month or $119.99/year. The family plan costs $17.99/month and includes up to six accounts. Students can get YouTube Premium for $6.99/month.
You might think that’s a steep price for YouTube Premium, but if you’re the type of person who watches a lot of YouTube videos, that’s a huge difference. If you choose YouTube Music Premium as your music service, the extra few dollars per month for YouTube Premium is a no-brainer. If you’re engaged with another music streamer, but watch a lot of YouTube videos, you might want to consider YouTube Premium just to kill those endless ads.
There’s a free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music that provides access to a lot more on-demand music than you’ll get from the free versions of Spotify or Amazon Music. New members can get a 30-day free trial.
YouTube Music Premium streaming quality
YouTube Music Premium lets you control the quality of your stream, but the options are limited to High (256kbps), Normal (128kbps), and Low (4kbps). The only reason someone should consider a setting other than High would be because their ISP is imposing a data cap.
This high setting may suit many, but it is not competitive with what is offered by Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz, or Amazon Music Unlimited. Hi-res music requires more bandwidth, which costs the streaming service more to license and stream.
The flagship feature of YouTube Music
The one amazing thing that sets YouTube Music Premium apart from its competitors is the ability to add almost any song available on the YouTube video site to a YouTube Music Premium playlist.
YouTube is filled with live performances filmed by spectators around the world. Want to create a custom playlist for Bruce Springsteen concerts? There are hundreds of performances to choose from. An enterprising fan filmed the entire Gang of Four show in Atlanta last March. I created a playlist of a video from the show and now I have the option to watch or just listen to it from the YouTube Music app.
Here’s another example: I’ve been following the amazing Vietnam War Song Project YouTube channel for years, which aims to collect all the songs written about the war. Many of them were one-off, private 45s, and Justin Brummer meticulously archives them on YouTube. Not all of them are great, of course, but I’ve put together a great playlist of the channel’s best moments. Almost nothing of these songs are in the standard streaming catalog.
Musical discovery with YouTube Music
If you use the same email address when you sign up for YouTube Music Premium that you use for YouTube, the service already has a wealth of information about your tastes that it collects from when you watch videos on Youtube. It’s either a huge bonus, as you immediately get recommendations tailored to your tastes, or a chilling reminder of just how much data Google has collected on you over the years.
Sure, I might now wish I had been a bit more careful with what I’ve shared over the years, but the My Supermix playlist that greeted me when I logged into the app is really spectacular. There are 100 songs on the list and dozens that I already like. I’m also sure that I’ve never played almost all of these songs on YouTube. There’s a powerful algorithm at work here and it’s impossible not to be impressed.
Buttons at the top of the app generate music to match moods such as Relax, Workout, Energize, Commute, and Focus. It’s not a playlist, but a homepage version that includes songs that YouTube Music thinks fit that mood.
Searching for music is an absolute black hole if you’re not already familiar with the artist’s work. There are no dates attached to the albums, they are not in release order and the Led Zeppelin artist page includes tribute albums by other artists, and the like of discounted cover releases which are uploaded by opportunists looking to confuse inexperienced listeners and generate a few random games.
That’s no problem if you’re a voracious, savvy listener who can rummage through virtual crates and snatch rare gems. If you’re constantly bored or frustrated with the selection elsewhere, YouTube has a solution for you.
The app also pushes playlists created by other users into a section called “From the Community”. Engaged listeners with a point of view take the time to create public playlists, and there’s always something interesting to provoke you or bring a little joy.
Listen to your own music on YouTube Music
YouTube Music Premium makes it easy to add your own music to its system from your computer. Simply drag the files onto the app screen in your browser or click on your profile picture and choose “Download Music” to access the files on your hard drive. You can upload FLAC, M4A, MP3, OGG or WMA files.
There is a limit of 100,000 songs. If you ever decide that you no longer want to subscribe to YouTube Music Premium, your downloaded files and the playlists created from those files will still be available for you to stream for free and in the background on your personal device. . If you’re looking for a free way to stream your music library to any device, this unobtrusive feature is an outstanding solution.
YouTube Music Browser and Computer Streaming
YouTube Music didn’t create a desktop app for Mac or PC, so you’ll need to use a browser (preferably Chrome, obviously) to use the service on a computer. The web version includes plenty of videos from YouTube, so you get suggested live performances and TV appearances to go along with the music in the streamer’s library.
Our results on YouTube Music Premium
YouTube Music Premium doesn’t offer premium streaming quality, and its interface may look more like rummaging through the bins of an overcrowded thrift store than the slick presentations you’ll get from its competitors.
But it’s this element of shaggy weirdness that makes YouTube Music Premium such a compelling option. If you’re looking for hours and hours of music that you can’t stream anywhere else, YouTube Music Premium is your one destination.
If artists’ complaints about the streaming economy resonate with you, keep in mind that YouTube notoriously pays artists and rights holders the lowest royalty per stream in the music streaming industry.
I’m a YouTube Premium customer and the ad-free YouTube experience is well worth $11.99/month. I regularly use YouTube Music Premium as part of this subscription, but I would never use it as my primary or sole streaming service, due to both its streaming quality and its fees.
As part of a well-rounded personal music strategy, YouTube Music Premium is incredibly fun to use for hardcore music fans. Paired with YouTube Premium, it’s a killer.