Stop listening to Music on YouTube – seriously!

Marc HenshallCulture & Industry11 Comments

Seriously, do yourself a favour and stop it – you deserve better.

Yes, it’s convenient, and yes, sometimes it’s nice to watch the accompanied music video; it can even be a great way to discover new artists or rare releases. But please, please don’t use it as your primary listening platform.

What’s my Beef?

First of all, if you’re consuming music on YouTube, the chances are you’re listening through small laptop or multimedia PC speakers that just won’t do your music justice. At best you’re listening through some nice headphones or even a hi-fi system. But even then, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice and denying your soul the ability to really experience something special – and here’s why:

All audio on YouTube is compressed (approximately to around 126 kbps AAC), which in itself isn’t such a bad thing; AAC compression can sound ok at relatively low bitrates. It becomes a problem, however, when poorly compressed videos are used as source files – effectively compressing the audio twice. In an attempt to improve the situation, Google does recommend using higher bitrate source files of 384 kbps when uploading videos, but even when these guidelines are followed the audio has still been compressed twice – not good!

Imagine then, the varying degrees of user understanding when it comes to video production and audio formats. Long story short, the quality varies enormously. In fact, it’s a complete mess.

The truth about compressed music

The truth is, compressed music – particularly badly compressed examples – is that it just doesn’t have the same effect on us emotionally. Badly compressed music can sound tinny, lifeless, or even distorted, and this has a knock on impact when it comes to our emotions. As an example, Sophie Heawood of the Guardian writes a fantastic piece about her experience of selling off all her music and going digital. Claiming, and I quote ‘Streaming music has made it so dull I’ve lost all interest in it’. Powerful words, but I suspect that what she’s experiencing is not so much a consequence of losing the physical medium, but more of a side effect from going all compressed.

Sophie’s experience is a trap, that, if we’re honest, we’ve all fallen into at one point or another since the rise of MP3 at the turn of the century. Combine this with the increasingly passive and fickle listening experience that streamed music encourages, and you can begin to see why people start to forget why they loved music in the first place.

Think about it. When was the last time you really felt moved by a piece of music on MP3, YouTube, or even Spotify to the point it gave you chills? Anyone who has seriously connected with music will be able to relate to this feeling, and I have a hunch it’s been a while since you felt it. Thankfully, there is a way back; you just need to get back to basics and shut down YouTube!

Do yourself a favour…

Next time you feel the urge to open YouTube and dwindle away hours casually drifting from one track to another – dig out an old favourite from your record collection instead. It can be vinyl or digital (it doesn’t matter), but make sure you sit yourself down in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed, and you can listen on the best system you have. Try to listen on a proper hi-fi if you can, but the most important thing is to take time out of your day and give 30 – 45 minutes to music, and music alone. It might just be the start of a rekindled friendship.

brain-listening-music-mriIn addition, it could also do you good. Music is powerful stuff; it has the ability to excite, inspire, and even reduce stress. Just look at this MRI scan of your brain listening to music from for a glimpse of how powerful music can be. Music is like food for the brain – shouldn’t you feed it the best it can get?

Finally, if I were to encapsulate how I feel about YouTube – or even Spotify – as a listening platform, it would be something like this:

Listening to music on YouTube is like consuming fast food. It’s quick, cheap, and delivers some result, but ultimately, you’re left unsatisfied. Do yourself a favour and rediscover real music; just like real food, it will cost more, and take more time, but ultimately, it’s more satisfying in the long run.

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