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.

Editor’s note: this YouTube Music review was updated on September 28, 2020, to address a new update that allows for collaborative playlists. 

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. As of May 12, 2020, YouTube Music Premium has officially taken Google Play Music’s place in the streaming service sphere. This means Google Play Music subscribers must transfer their libraries from the defunct app to YouTube Music.

YouTube Music offers a vast library of official and unofficial music videos populate search results alongside audio files. Previously, subscribing to an artist’s YouTube Music profile automatically subscribed 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.

See also: Best Sonos alternatives

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.

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. Additionally, audio quality options consist of low, normal, high, and always high. YouTube Music doesn’t provide specific streaming quality information. For that, I had to visit a YouTube Music AMA whereby a Google employee explicitly stated streaming qualities:

Right now if you stream at Normal quality, you are getting 128kbps AAC as your bitrate. For premium subscribers, we offer High quality which is 256kbps AAC. If you have flaky network connectivity or want to save data, you can switch to low quality which is 48kbps HE-AAC. 256kbps AAC is equivalent in audio quality to the 320kbps CBR mp3 that we had for GPM, but it uses less data.

It’s not great seeing how Tidal, Deezer, and a handful of others support lossless formats like FLAC. The same 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 even 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 per month depending on if you enroll in an individual or family plan, respectively. 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.

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. The free version of YouTube with ads still exists, of course.

How to get a YouTube Music Premium family plan

Technically there isn’t a standalone YouTube Music Premium family plan option. If you want to share with your family, you’ll have to sign up for a YouTube Premium family plan. This costs 17.99/mo and allows you to add five family members (six accounts total). As a family member on a plan holder’s account, you can only switch families once ever 12 months. Family members are afforded the same benefits as the original YouTube Premium subscriber.

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 isn’t on here, YouTube Red was the precursor to YouTube Premium.

Digital Service Provider$ Per Stream
Qobuz$0.04390
Peloton$0.04036
iHeartRadio$0.01426
Amazon Unlimited$0.01175
Napster/Rhapsody$0.01110
24/7 Entertainment GmbH$0.01050
YouTube Red$0.00948
Tidal$0.00927
Deezer$0.00567
Google Play$0.00543
Apple$0.00495
KKBox$0.00435
Amazon Digital Services Inc. $0.00395
Spotify$0.00331
Loen$0.00205
Pandora$0.00155
Vevo$0.00109
Yandex LLC$0.00051
YouTube Content ID$0.00028
UMA$0.00013

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. Oh, and don’t even try to cast it to a smart speaker: that’s restricted too.

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.

What’s more, Google Play Music is halfway out the door. If you’re a current GPM user and want a subscription service with a similar design language and broad content spectrum, YouTube Music Premium is it. A Google Employee stated during the aforementioned YouTube Music AMA that the seemingly inevitable transition from Google Play Music to YouTube Music will allow users to migrate libraries from the former to latter with a single click. While it may be difficult to part with the mature service, it won’t be a tedious transition.

Why you shouldn’t use YouTube Music Premium

A picture of Apple Music playing on an iPhone.

The Apple Music app has a much better user interface and design than YouTube Music.

One of the biggest reasons to avoid YouTube Music Premium is if you have a large local library. Again, YouTube Music does support local audio playback, but the inability to intermix it with YouTube media for downloaded playlists is a huge annoyance. Google has made it fairly easy to transfer your Google Play Music Library to YouTube Music, so long as you have version 3.65 of the YouTube Music mobile app on your device.

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 continued 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 HD: it streams FLAC. Alternatively, Deezer and Tidal HiFi both support lossless streaming and have more attractive UIs than Amazon Music HD. That said, once YouTube Music has more time to mature, it will likely stand as a much stronger competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. 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?

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 services, 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.

Next: Is YouTube Music worth the switch?

Frequently Asked Questions

I have a large music library I already paid for via Google Play Music. How do I access it now that Google Play Music has shut down?

There is a simple way to transfer your entire Google Play Music account over to YouTube Music Premium by following this link and clicking "Transfer." Alternatively, you can make the transfer by opening the YouTube Music app and tapping on your profile picture, then "Settings," "Transfer," and "Transfer from Google Play Music." Unfortunately, if you want to transfer your playlists over to YouTube Music, you'll have to create a YouTube channel, and the transfer process is not available in Venezuela or Belarus. Visit this help page for more information.

Should I just give up on the (admittedly slim) hope they will drop the YTM/Uploads splitting of the libraries? Who keeps their music divided into two distinct "piles"?

That's a tough one, and it's anyone's guess as to what will happen in the future. We wish we could be of more help, but as of yet we haven't heard much more out of Google on the issue.

Can I make playlists?

Yes. See "How to use YouTube Music" above.

How do I cancel YouTube Music Premium?

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.