YouTube as a Music Platform?

I wouldn’t have though about YouTube as an Music delivery platform but the talk by Andrew Scheps in New York a few weeks ago got me thinking about it. He said that a large portion of the younger demographic searches for the new “hot” or viral tune on YouTube before looking on iTunes or other digital music retailers. I don’t qualify as a member of the younger demographic any more but I can recall numerous times that I’ve pulled up YT and typed in the name of a tune that had gone viral.

A couple in particular come to mind. The “It’s Friday” music video that blew got my attention…because of the hype and the manufactured “buzz” that it created. The second time was the Gotye’s “Someone That I Used To Know” song. My kids were amazed that I wasn’t aware of the song and insisted that I check it out. Where to look? YouTube…just like over 415 million other visitors!

Earlier this summer, I told myself that I would learn to play a new song everyday on my trusty 1971 Martin D-18 acoustic guitar. Where to look for instructional videos to learn some Beatles tunes or folk tunes by Gordon Lightfoot? YouTube, of course.

So I take Andrew’s point, YouTube is a major music platform even if it is primarily a video site. But what about the audio quality? It turns out that the fidelity is determined by the quality of the video that is associated with the audio. The encoding format and bandwidth allocation for the videos uploaded to YouTube has evolved since the initial roll out of the site in 2005. AAC and ogg vorbis audio files that range from 96 to 192 kbps have replaced the original MP3 files at 64 kbps.

It turns out that the higher the video quality that you upload, the higher the quality of the audio up to a maximum of 192 kbps. At that bandwidth, you can get pretty good standard definition audio but nothing approaching the quality of an uncompressed Redbook CD or HD-Audio file.

So as a music platform YouTube is okay but only if you seek out videos that are HD, meaning they’ve been uploaded at 720 or 1080p. So if you’re thinking about preparing an audio track for YouTube, create an accompanying “video” in HD, even if the video is a slide show of the lyrics or photos of the band. It doesn’t have to actually be a music video to be output at 720 or 1080p.

The management team at YouTube, which is owned by Google now, isn’t likely to move to HD-Audio in the near future. I’m sure they’re not getting any complaints about the audio quality paired with cat videos or ridiculous stunts attempted by teenagers. But for those that want to show off their latest song or recording, you would be well advised to use the highest quality video possible.

I’ve put a lot of videos on YouTube and I’ve tried to keep the quality as high as possible for the videos that were shot in HD. The standard definition ones…they bump along at 96 kbps.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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