Stop listening to Music on YouTube – seriously!

AvatarMarc Henshall
Culture & Industry15 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 audiologyonline.com 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.

  • Avatar James Huycke says:

    Excellent piece. Micky Hart, Grateful Dead drummer, has amassed quite a bit of info on impacts of music, and Bob Weir, rhythm guitarist, has pontificated on the same issue of “lossy” recording. Nice job!

    • Avatar Marc Henshall says:

      Thanks again James. I’ll be sure to check out their findings. It is madness that we’ve spent over 100 years perfecting the recording process, only for it to be wrecked at the last possible moment!

      • Marc, please do write to me using your personal email and I will provide you with detailed overview of what has happened to music in the last 50 years. I will point to the real issues that had practically dragged Her Majesty Music to the compressed digital no-res gutter. I will also bring to your attention DSD format which, at last, saved the face of digital audio and allowed music to be properly recorded retaining all its analogue essentials and many things besides – things that allow us to hear and enjoy music for a change again. My company is about to start a global campaign in defense of Music – this unseen and misunderstood Invisible Art that for over 30 years had an increasingly rough ride at the hands of a new generation of clueless music ‘businessmen’ – inept digital audio packagers for want of a more polite description. I would be very happy to have your support and your audience that, on the whole, has no idea of the severity of the problem as well as where to turn for solutions. Sincerely, Sergei Rusakov [email protected]

  • […] on the most rudimentary of playback devices. In fact, you can even hear it on YouTube – which is not a way I’d advocate listening to music if you care about how it […]

  • Avatar Edward Fildes says:

    Difficult though when decent garage records go for 30 quid a pop on discogs

    • Avatar Marc Henshall says:

      Thanks for your comment. Totally agree, vinyl is way more expensive than I’d like it to be, but that’s supply and demand I guess. I wish we could have more ‘independent only’ pressing plants, as the majors clogging production with repressing seems to be a major cause of the supply issues. Cheers, and happy listening!

  • Avatar ckowkay says:

    i use youtube because there are so many different songs in one place that i cant find anywhere else and its so easy to save everything into one playlist that i can access anywhere

    • Avatar Marc Henshall says:

      O yea, don’t get me wrong, it definitely has its uses. But as a main listening platform – i’d argue we lose out.

  • Avatar Clara Bell Efrona says:

    I had an idea. How about if Google/YouTube made speakers. Specially made “YouTube” speakers. Yeah, sound quality will still depend on the people who upload, but for trusted channels, it would be a way better experience. It would also introduce a younger audience to a higher quality audio listening experience. I wrote the following rant the other night, but never posted it anywhere. “Dear Google, Will you please manufacture YouTube speakers? That way we can all enjoy a better listening experience when we’re throwing parties and are gathered around the computer playing video after video. Your UX peeps are already currently aware that audio is more important than visual for message impact, just ask them. So dish it out already, alright? Thank you very much. Love, Clara – Lady Audio”

  • Avatar LINUXGUY says:

    I’m a professional musician and composer/producer, and I dislike the overuse of compression/limiting in music production, as well as lossy data compression such is being discussed in this article. Unfortunately, this is how people do and will continue to consume media, and it’s only going to get worse. As someone who strives for perfection in my work, it is frustrating to know that the end listener will only hear a small chunk of what I have worked to achieve: each small adjustment I make is inconsequential, as those details will be lost as waveforms are approximated time after time.

    Does it make me work less hard? Do I throw in the towel and produce mediocre material because it doesn’t matter and they’ll be listening on Crappletop speakers and won’t hear those subtle parts, panning positions, EQ on this guitar, keyboard parts sweeping in and out…?

    Hell no, because I want people to hear my music! Period. A small slice is fine, yes please. Maybe seconds if it’s good. Seriously, the goal is to reach the masses. We use the tools that get us there. I hear you about quality, believe me. To be blunt, as a creative musician, i would rather have you listen to my music on the worst possible system, rather than not at all, in the hopes that my stuff is produced so well, that it sounds good under the worst circumstances, and will make you WISH you had a Macbook or something to listen to it on.

    This is coming from a musician with 20 years experience as a professional. The “it just sounds worse” argument is no longer valid, it is just an excuse for audio snobs to cultivate their psychoacoustic egos. That’s fine, someone’s gotta buy those $1000 IEC power cables I suppose.

    As an artist, we have different goals, and sometimes we wish people would be less concerned about the gear/system/speakers/blah/blah/blah and actually try to understand what is trying to be expressed.

    Anything short of a live performance is a compromise already.

    • Avatar Juan Diaz says:

      there are many, like me, that we are very demanding with the sound quality. That is why the only music service I use is Tidal, which does not compress the music. I think it is still important that musicians record with high quality.

  • Avatar Alex M. says:

    Youtube is a great platform for finding new music perhaps, but I would suggest once you find your favorite songs to switch to a different platform. When it comes to audio quality though, I think headphones are the most important factor. A good pair of headphones can change a bad music experience to an amazing one. Here are some of my favorite lists showing great headphones to use. I actually own a few pairs that show up on the list.
    http://www.audiogeniushq.com/headphones/best-headphones-2017/
    http://www.audiogeniushq.com/headphones/bass-headphones/

  • Avatar Than Zamp says:

    When the day come they will have replaced each old SSD drive with each new one having ~500 Exabytes of capacity and the Internet’s speed is 10000 times faster, then they start use as their main audio compression, the uncompressed WAV format. I can guarantee that to you.

  • Avatar Ken Corigliano says:

    Has anyone made an opinion of the new Amzn Music? here: https://amzn.to/2Bprh8l

  • Avatar Jemand says:

    I still buy CDs and rip them lossless as FLACs