A true bargain when included with 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 faults, but hardcore music fans would do well to choose it at least as a secondary music streamer because of its unique features.
Price When Reviewed
$9.99/mo or $99.99/year; Family Plan: $14.99/mo; Student plan: $4.99/mo. Included with YouTube Premium plans: $11.99/mo or $119.99/year; Family plan:: $17.99/mo or $119.99/year; Student plan:: $6.99/mo
Best Prices Today
YouTube Music Premium
YouTube Music Premium is the replacement for Google Play Music, which shut down in October 2020 when Google transitioned those users over to YouTube Music. It doesn’t have the high-resolution streaming that’s becoming standard in the business, nor does it have 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 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, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for 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’ll need to confirm your student status with SheerID to be eligible.
YouTube Music Premium is also included in a YouTube Premium subscription, an outstanding option that removes all in-video advertising 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. College students can get YouTube premium for $6.99/month.
You might think that’s a high price for YouTube Premium but, if you’re the kind of person who watches a lot of YouTube video, it’s a huge difference maker. If you choose YouTube Music Premium as your music service, then the extra couple of bucks a month for YouTube Premium is a no-brainer. If you’re committed to another music streamer, but you watch a lot of YouTube videos, you might want to consider YouTube Premium just to kill those endless advertisements.
There’s an ad-supported free version of YouTube Music that gives access to much 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.
Streaming quality on YouTube Music Premium
YouTube Music Premium gives you control over your streaming quality, but the options are limited to High (256Kbps), Normal (128Kbps), and Low (4Kbps). The only reason anyone should consider any setting other than High would be that their ISP imposes a data cap.
That High setting might be fine for many, but it’s not competitive with what’s on offer from Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz, or Amazon Music Unlimited. High-resolution music requires more bandwidth, which costs more money for the streaming service to license and stream.
YouTube Music’s killer feature
The one amazing thing that sets YouTube Music Premium apart from its competitors is the ability to add almost any song that’s available on the YouTube video site to a YouTube Music Premium playlist.
YouTube is filled with live performances filmed by audience members around the world. Want to make a custom Bruce Springsteen live concert playlist? You’ve got hundreds of performances to choose from. Some enterprising fan filmed the entire Gang of Four show in Atlanta this past March. I made a 1-video playlist of the show and now have the option of watching or just listening to it from inside the YouTube Music app.
Here’s another example: I’ve been following the amazing Vietnam War Song Project channel on YouTube for years, which aims to collect all songs written about the war. Many of these were one-off, private-pressing 45s, and Justin Brummer is painstakingly archiving them on YouTube. Not all of them are great, of course, but I’ve made a great playlist of the highlights from the channel. Almost none of these songs are in the standard streaming catalog.
Music 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’s collected for as long as you’ve been watching videos on YouTube. That’s either a huge bonus—because you’re immediately getting recommendations tailored to your tastes—or a creepy reminder of just how much data Google has collected about you over the years.
Sure, I might wish now that I’d been a bit more careful with what I shared over the years, but the My Supermix playlist that greeted me when I logged into the app is just truly spectacular. There are 100 songs on the list and dozens that I already love. I’m also sure I’ve never played nearly all those 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 like Relax, Workout, Energize, Commute, and Focus. It’s not a playlist, but a version of the homepage that includes songs that YouTube Music thinks fit that mood.
Music search is an unqualified black hole if you’re not already familiar with the artist’s work. There are no dates attached to albums, they’re not in release order and the Led Zeppelin artist page includes tribute albums by other artists, and the kind of cut-rate cover versions that are uploaded by opportunists looking to confuse inexperienced listeners and generate a few random plays.
That’s not a problem if you’re a voracious and knowledgeable listener who can dig through the virtual crates and pluck out the rare jewels. If you’re consistently bored or frustrated with the selection anywhere else, YouTube has a solution for you.
The app also pushes playlists made by other users in a section called “From the Community.” Engaged listeners with a point of view are taking the time to make public playlists, and there’s always something interesting to either provoke you or bring a bit of joy.
Playing your own music on YouTube Music
YouTube Music Premium makes it easy to add your own music to its system from your computer. Just drag the files onto the app screen in your browser or click on your profile picture and choose “Upload Music” to navigate to the files on your hard drive. You can upload FLAC, M4A, MP3, OGG, or WMA files.
There’s a 100,000-song limit. If you someday decide that you no longer want to subscribe to YouTube Music Premium, your uploaded files and playlists made 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 no-cost way to stream your music library to any device, this low-profile feature is an outstanding solution.
YouTube Music browser and desktop streaming
YouTube Music hasn’t built 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 a lot of videos from YouTube, so you’re getting suggested live performances and television appearances to go along with the music in the streamer’s library.
Our bottom line on YouTube Music Premium
YouTube Music Premium doesn’t offer premium streaming quality and its interface can be more like digging through the bins at an overstuffed thrift store when compared to the sleek presentations you’ll get from its competitors.
But it’s that element of shaggy weirdness that makes YouTube Music Premium such a compelling option. If you’re looking for hours upon hours of music you can’t stream anywhere else, YouTube Music Premium is your only destination.
If artists’ complaints about the streaming economy have any resonance for you, keep in mind that YouTube notoriously pays artists and rights holders the lowest per-stream royalty in the music-streaming business.
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 that subscription, but I’d never use it as my primary or only streaming service, because of both its streaming quality and its royalty payments.
As one part of a well-rounded personal music strategy, YouTube Music Premium is incredibly fun to use for the hardcore music fan. Paired with YouTube Premium, it’s a killer.