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A picture of the Google Pixel 3 with the YouTube Music Premium app open to the home screen. The phone is standing vertically on a black table with a lens and water bottle in the background.

YouTube Music Premium review

YouTube Music has absorbed Google Play Music. Let's see if it's ready for the big leagues.
By
December 8, 2021
7.2
YouTube Music Premium
The bottom line
YouTube Music Premium is a great streaming service if you enjoy watching live performances, music videos, and covers. Its vast library is easy to get lost in. Audio quality falls short compared to the competition, but it's a viable option for anyone who needs to take their music on-the-go without incurring monthly overage charges from a network provider.

YouTube Music Premium

YouTube Music Premium is a great streaming service if you enjoy watching live performances, music videos, and covers. Its vast library is easy to get lost in. Audio quality falls short compared to the competition, but it's a viable option for anyone who needs to take their music on-the-go without incurring monthly overage charges from a network provider.
Release date

November 2014

Price

$9.99/mo (single)

$4.99/mo (student)

What we like
Download content for offline playback
Expansive video options
Student rates available
Subscribing to artists through the app is separate from regular YouTube account subscirptions
What we don't like
Local file support is limited
Audio quality
Clunky interface
Confusing to understand their different services
7.2
SoundGuys Rating
7
User Rating
Rating Metric
Our Rating
User Rating
Sound Quality
7.0
6.8
7.0
Value
7.6
7.5
8.0
Design
7.0
6.6
7.0

The days of owning music, be it in physical or digital form, are long gone. There are a plethora of viable streaming services out there, but not all are created equally, and certainly not all pay the artists equally. YouTube Music Premium affords access to videos and songs under YouTube’s “music” category. While great improvements have been made since its inception, we’d have to wear nearly opaque rose-tinted glasses to say it’s perfect. We tried YouTube Music for three weeks to get the lowdown.

Editor’s note: this YouTube Music review was updated on August 19, 2022, to update table of streaming payouts, subscription tier prices and details, FAQs, and formatting.

What is YouTube Music?

A close-up image of a Google Pixel 3 with the YouTube Music Premium app icon against a blue phone wallpaper.
YouTube Music Premium is a paid subscription service aimed to compete with the likes of Apple Music and Spotify.

YouTube Music is YouTube’s counter to other popular ad-free streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal.  YouTube Music Premium has officially taken Google Play Music’s place in the streaming service sphere.

YouTube Music offers a vast library of official and unofficial music videos that populate search results alongside audio files. Previously, subscribing to an artist’s YouTube Music profile automatically subscribed to your regular YouTube account to said channel. However, YouTube has since updated the subscription mechanism to separate YouTube Music subscriptions from YouTube subscriptions. Yes, it’s confusing, as is typical for Google’s myriad of overlapping applications.

YouTube Music Premium allows you to download content and listen to it from anywhere, saving you from running over your data cap.

Like Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, you can download music and listen to them without using all your data. This is invaluable for anyone with a limited data plan and takes just a few moments to do. YouTube Music is also directly accessible through Sonos smart speakers.

How to use YouTube Music

A picture of a hand holding a Google Pixel 3 with the YouTube Music Premium app open to the search function.
YouTube Music Premium provides subscribers with ad-free access to both unofficial and official music videos alongside live performances.

The mobile and desktop interfaces are nearly identical. The home screen displays a list of typical categories: favorites, recommended, new, and moods to fit your preferences. From there, you can tab over to search for a specific artist or song, check out a curated video hotlist, and peruse your library.

If you’re listening to a music video, you can switch to audio-only by selecting “song” at the top of the display. Doing so pulls up the actual audio version, instead of just playing the music video audio sans-video. This is great because it eliminates any extraneous dialogue included in a music video that isn’t present in the album edit.

Audio-only mode lets you turn off your screen, without a video or the extra dialogue from music video versions to distract you.

You can create a playlist by tapping the three clustered, vertical dots in the playback control module. This opens a menu of options including download, add to playlist, add to queue, start radio, and more. If you’re creating a new playlist, title it and choose whether it’s public, private, or unlisted. Note: when you create a playlist, it creates the playlist for your general YouTube account, too. Hopefully, YouTube fixes this in the future as it did with artist subscription overlap.

Does YouTube Music allow for collaborative playlists?

Yes! A new YouTube Music update lets you create a playlist and then add your friends to it (assuming they have an account). Then you can both add songs to the playlist. This is something that Spotify has had for a long time but it’s good to see YouTube building out the social aspect of the service.

A screenshot of YouTube Music Premium on a desktop.
The desktop layout of YouTube Music Premium is nearly identical to that of the mobile application.

Unlike other streaming platforms, audio adjustments are restrictive. There is an EQ option under settings, but it relies on your phone’s sound quality options. For instance, the Samsung Galaxy S10e allows you to toggle Dolby Atmos and choose between a few dubious EQ presets. You can’t actually create a custom EQ for YouTube Music though. When the service was first announced there wasn’t any official documentation of sound quality but that has since been added to the YouTube Music help page. You can choose between a few different sound quality settings:

  • Low: 48kbps AAC (uses the least data)
  • Normal: 128kbps AAC (default settings)
  • High: 256kbps AAC (highest quality setting)
  • Always high: 256 kbps AAC (maintains this even when the connection is poor)

This is the official quality for YouTube Music whether you’re on a mobile network or Wi-Fi. It’s not great seeing how Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music Unlimited, and a handful of others support lossless formats like FLAC or at least a higher bitrate. In an AMA a Google employee shared that YouTube Music has no intention to exceed 256kbps, citing FLAC streaming as a cost-inefficient option. This is disappointing for the likes of SoundGuys, but if you just want to hear music and don’t care much for its quality, selecting “high” audio quality should be fine.

Don’t have unlimited data? Download over Wi-Fi and listen anywhere

You can download a music video, song, or playlist by tapping the three vertical circles and selecting download from the pull-up menu. If you intend to download music videos, make sure your phone has the space for it or pick up a microSD card if your phone supports it.

You can take extra precautions to prevent streaming over data. Go to the homepage, tap your profile avatar, and select the cog icon labeled “settings.” Then slide the option to stream via Wi-Fi only. From here, you can also choose to limit mobile data, adjust mobile network quality, and more.

How does the YouTube Music Premium subscription work?

YouTube Music Premium charges $9.99 or $4.99 (for students) per month depending on if you enroll in an individual or family plan ($14.99 monthly), respectively. If you pay ahead for 12 months the price goes down to $99.99 annually. Regardless of your plan, you are charged directly from your Google account. You can use YouTube Music Premium features on a maximum of 10 mobile devices. Once you go beyond that, the oldest authorized device is revoked. You’re capped to four devices per year, presumably to prevent you from sharing it with different friends.

Family subscriptions include up to five additional members. Student memberships have to be verified and renewed each year for a maximum of four years, with the extra bonus of a three month free trial, rather than a single month with normal plans.

What’s the difference between YouTube Music and YouTube Premium?

A screenshot of the YouTube Music Premium mobile application library page with the last played picks up top and menu options below.
Anytime you “thumbs up” a song, it’s automatically added to the “thumbs up songs” playlist.

The difference is in what you’re afforded when you subscribe to the former versus the latter. It’s similar to how a square falls under the rectangle umbrella: YouTube Music falls under the YouTube Premium umbrella.

YouTube Music Premium’s main features include access to albums, live performances, music videos, and remixes. You benefit from YouTube’s discovery algorithm, which increases in accuracy as you “thumbs up/down” songs. You can play music with your phone screen locked as well as download music, something not allowed with the free, ad-enabled version of YouTube Music.

Remember YouTube Red? That’s now called YouTube Premium. Confusing, right? YouTube Premium, compared to YouTube Music Premium, takes a more broad approach to streaming. All videos are ad-free, not just music-related ones. You can download any video directly to your device, whereas YouTube Music Premium limits download functionality to songs and music videos. Another great feature is background play whereby you no longer need to remain in the native YouTube app for a video to continue. Instead, by exiting the app, a small window is overlaid in the corner of your device’s screen.

YouTube Premium demands $11.99/mo ($6.99/mo for students). If you’re an avid YouTube consumer, it makes sense to shell out the extra $2/mo for YouTube Premium. Family plans are $17.99 each month, and if you pay upfront $119.99 you get the service for 12 months. The free version of YouTube with ads still exists, of course. While confusing, YouTube really has a price point for everyone.

Speaking of confusing, don’t mix up YouTube TV with YouTube Premium either. The former allows you to watch live TV like a traditional service provider.

How does YouTube Music pay artists?

A stock image of pennies spilling onto a table from a glass jar.
Across the board, artists get shortchanged when it comes to revenue per stream.

YouTube is notorious for shortchanging content creators and this upsetting trend holds true with YouTube Music. Unfortunately, this is a salient occurrence across the board, regardless of what streaming service you use. YouTube Music just so happens to rank poorly compared to the other top contenders.

Of course, if you do want to support your favorite bands, you can always buy their albums, go to their shows, and buy their merchandise. Any of the above will garner more money for the band than streaming a song here and there.

Music industry website Digital Music News and blog The Trichordist have approximated figures regarding the payout per stream. While YouTube Music Premium isn’t on here, YouTube Red was the precursor to YouTube Premium. Equally confusing is the tiers of payouts depending on whether it’s free YouTube or paid YouTube. This is unlike virtually every other platform, except Amazon.

Digital Service Provider$ Per Stream
Peloton
$0.03107
iHeartRadio
$0.01798
Amazon Music Unlimited
$0.01123
YouTube Music/Premium (formerly YouTube Red)
$0.01009
Napster/Rhapsody
$0.00916
Tidal
$0.00876
Apple Music
$0.00675
Deezer
$0.00562
Amazon Prime Music
$0.00426
KKBox
$0.00408
Spotify
$0.00348
Loen
$0.00235
Pandora
$0.00203
YouTube
$0.00154
Yandex LLC
$0.00109
Vevo
$0.00083
UMA
$0.00022
YouTube Content ID
$0.00022

Source: The Trichordist

Can I listen to my own library on YouTube Music?

Yes, you can but the process of enabling this is clunky. You have to go into settings, select “library & downloads,” and enable “show device files.” From there, you need to tab over to your library, enter the “songs” section, and swipe over to device files. To make matters worse, you can’t add local songs to playlists or to your song queue.

You can, however, cast music from YouTube Music’s library, and on March 31, 2021, the company added the ability to shuffle music while Casting to smart speakers and displays.

Why you should use YouTube Music Premium

An image of a Google Pixel 3 with the YouTube Music Premium app open to the home screen. The phone is standing vertically on a black table with a lens and water bottle in the background.
YouTube Music Premium is an excellent option for anyone who likes to watch music videos or live performances.

YouTube Music Premium has great features for general music listeners. If you’re a music video fanatic, YouTube Music is hands-down the best subscription service currently available. Its expanse of unofficial, official, and lyric videos give it the edge over more limited platforms like Tidal. Meanwhile, Spotify has added lyrics, although, their accuracy is not reliable compared to dedicated fans generating lyric based videos on YouTube.

Really, most people will get more for their money with YouTube Premium, rather than YouTube Music Premium. One upside is the ability to subscribe as built into the conventional YouTube platform to different channels. Doing so means if a single user uploads a lot of different music, it’s one way to discover new artists. Sure, you can follow artists and monitor what your friend is listening to on other services like Spotify, but it’s more passive. Y ou can’t discount the social aspect of YouTube, which is not really available in quite the same way elsewhere with streaming apps.

What’s more, Google Play Music is already out the door. There was a grace period when GPM users could transfer their GPM libraries to YouTube Music Premium with just a few taps.

Why you shouldn’t use YouTube Music Premium

A picture of Apple Music playing on an iPhone.
The Apple Music app has a better user interface and design than YouTube Music Premium.

Aside from that, YouTube Music has some other pitfalls. Its “New Release Mix” and “Your Mixtape” selections fell into one of two camps:

  1. they were songs I already had in separate playlists, or
  2. they were songs I wouldn’t make the conscious effort to listen to.

I was a bit disappointed. After all, isn’t the algorithm supposed to know everything about us individually and collectively? I guess what I’m saying, YouTube Music, is that I’m hurt you don’t know me better. Oftentimes, the recommendations felt myopic and cyclical. This would likely improve as I continue to use YouTube Music, but that’s what happens within the first few weeks at least.

Its suggestions didn't allow for much music discovery and often repeated songs I already added to playlists.

On the whole, YouTube Music isn’t the best option when it comes to sound quality and falls short with its user interface. If you want something that offers lossless streaming with an intuitive UI, look into the competitively priced Amazon Music Unlimited: it streams FLAC. Alternatively, Deezer supports lossless streaming and has a more attractive UI than Amazon Music Unlimited. That said, YouTube Music is slowly maturing and getting better with time. While it isn’t quite there just yet, it will likely stand as a much stronger competitor to Spotify and Apple Music in the future.

If you’re thinking of getting a YouTube Music Premium subscription, I highly recommend investing an extra $2/mo for YouTube Premium. That way, you can enjoy all that YouTube has to offer ad-free and from anywhere.

How does YouTube Music compare to Spotify?

Close-up shot of the YouTube Music and Spotify appi icons on iPhone
Both apps are available on desktop and mobile.

Both YouTube Music and Spotify offer free, ad-supported versions, but Spotify free offers less control over music playback than YouTube Music free. However, there are definite downsides to free YouTube Music as well, such as an inability to exit the app and keep the music playing. If you do choose to pay for either streaming service, you can play music on-demand, in the background, and over higher bitrate files, though neither have high-fidelity audio.

The largest differences between the two streaming services are that Spotify offers podcasts whereas YouTube Music offers videos including live performances, covers, or original songs recorded by a band in their basement. You can find a lot of underground music on Spotify because they accept submissions from pretty much everyone, but in general, more people upload their music to YouTube than to Spotify. For an in-depth comparison of the two streaming services, check out our YouTube Music vs Spotify article.

Frequently asked questions about YouTube Music

Sometimes our readers have further questions after reading an article, and we collect these questions and answer them here! Below are our responses to the best questions we’ve been asked.

No, the download function just allows you to keep the files stored in your smartphone, but they can only be accessed through the YouTube Music interface. Downloading files for offline listening in this way is not the same as purchasing music downloads.

If you want to use YouTube Music Premium on the Amazon Echo (4th gen.) you will need to download an Alexa skill for it, and it’s not the most streamlined process. The Google Nest Audio is much more compatible with YouTube Music.

No, if you want to access YouTube Music on your Apple TV you’ll have to Airplay it from your iPhone or Mac computer.

Because they can. YouTube creators who want to monetize their videos can put in as many ads as they’d like to, and it seems that the amount of ads has skyrocketed recently. Luckily, our sister site published this piece about how to easily block YouTube ads on your browser. On the other hand, ads are part of what pays your favorite YouTube content creators.

Unfortunately, you can no longer perform a transfer from Google Play Music to YouTube Music. Google sent out emails months in advance with directions, but the grace period is over, so you can no longer transfer that music library.

Yes. See “How to use YouTube Music” above.

To cancel YouTube Music Premium, go to youtube.com/paid_memberships. The page will list your current paid subscriptions with the next billing date and payment method listed. At the bottom is a “Cancel Membership” button which must be clicked.