The world's most popular music channel isn't iTunes or Spotify – it's YouTube. Three hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and much of that video is music – but it's music in a format that isn't ideal for listening to on portable devices like smartphones or iPods. That doesn't mean you can't download it or change the format, however.
Is downloading music from YouTube legal?
Downloading content from YouTube (whole videos or music) using third-party software is against YouTube's terms of service, which say you can only watch content if it's transmitted straight from its servers to your device.
It's also a potential copyright issue. Unless the music is in the public domain, you need permission from the copyright holder.
If you want to download music without risking rubbing YouTube up the wrong way, the paid-for service YouTube Music allows you to save tracks for offline listening (though you can only play them via the YouTube app).
File formats and quality
The most commonly used format for downloading music from YouTube is MP3, which works on pretty much anything from smartphones to car stereos.
MP3s can be saved at different bitrates, which adjust the sound quality to reduce file size or vice versa. 4K YouTube to MP3, which is the software we're using here, offers three options, ranging from 320Kbps – the highest quality, which is nearly indistinguishable from CD – down to 128Kbps, which is slightly less pleasant than being jammed into a metal trash can and pushed off a cliff.
Lossy compression: what it is, and when it's good
MP3 uses something called lossy compression to adjust file sizes, so you can get something that sounds pretty close to CD quality with a file size of about 1/12 of the original.
That’s great but it does involve the computer getting rid of things it thinks your ears won’t miss, and the more aggressively it does that the worse the sound quality becomes – so a 128Kbps MP3 is half the size of a 256Kbps one, but it’s also noticeably poorer quality. Unless you’ve got really atrocious speakers, we’d recommend sticking to 192Kbps or 256Kbps.
1. Install 4K YouTube to MP3
When it comes to downloading music from YouTube, it’s hard to beat 4K YouTube to MP3. It's completely free, and doesn't come bundled with any potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) or other junkware. Once it's downloaded, just run the installer, check the button to launch the program and click 'Finish'.
2. Find the right music
Now open your web browser and find the music you want to download on YouTube. Copy the URL from the browser address bar, then return to 4K YouTube to MP3 and click the green 'Paste link' button (when a valid link is in the clipboard, a YouTube icon will appear over the button).
3. Download the track
The music will be downloaded automatically at its original quality, in MP3 format. You can play it within 4K YouTube to MP3, or right-click the downloaded file and select 'View in folder' to see it in Explorer.
4. Change the settings
If you'd like to change the default download options, click 'Preferences' and you'll be able to choose a different format (your options are MP3, M4A and OGG), a different download quality (original, high, medium or low) and pick an 'intensity' (the number of threads to use). Using more threads might result in faster downloads, but might also end up with you being banned from YouTube.
You can also pick a different destination for downloads, and choose a naming convention that suits you better.