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How to get the most out of your YouTube Music subscription

For better or for worse, streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Tidal have taken over the music industry, physical media be damned. Streaming services provide you with a fresh, ever-growing library of music, and algorithms that serve you music based on your preferences. The problem with these streaming services (okay, one problem) is that the algorithms that they so heavily lean on are flawed, and each streaming service is slightly different in terms of UI, suggestions, and data collection. If you’ve just switched over to YouTube Music, we have some tips and tricks on how to maximize your listening experience and fully take advantage of YouTube’s rather impressive suggestion algorithm.

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When you first sign up for YouTube Music, many of the options in settings are disabled by default. You should go into the settings and adjust things like audio quality, equalizer settings, location preferences, and play history options to your liking. Not all the options in the YouTube Music settings page will significantly change your listening experience, so let’s have a look at which you should adjust and why.

Add your favorite artists

YouTube Music is mostly algorithm-based—this means the algorithm will suggest music that it thinks you will like based on the information you give it. YouTube Music asks for details on your favorite artists when you first open the app (much like Spotify), and this information is the first step in letting the algorithm know what type of music you want to hear.


Don’t panic if you didn’t select all your favorites, though—you can return to the Pick some artists you like page by navigating to Settings, scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page, and tapping Improve your recommendations. You can also update your favorite artists as your taste changes, in order to further refine your recommendations.

Upload your own music

YouTube Music has over 50 million songs available, but in the unlikely event that the local indie band from down the road doesn’t have its music on the streaming giant, you can upload it to YouTube Music to listen to and add to playlists along with all the other music on YouTube Music. You can only upload music via the desktop, but it’s definitely a nice feature to have.

The music you upload to YouTube Music is only available to you. If you include any uploaded songs in a playlist and share that playlist with a friend, the songs simply will not be there for your friend. Similarly, the music you upload will not affect the recommendations that YouTube Music feeds you — if it’s not available on YouTube Music, the algorithm doesn’t have enough information to base recommendations on it.

Enable or disable locations in YouTube Music (your choice)

YouTube Music automatically disables location-based recommendations when you first sign up. You can enable location-based recommendations directly through the YouTube Music app (Settings -> Privacy and location -> Pause location-based recommendations for this device — turn this option off to enable location-based recommendations), or by managing the location history of your Google account (which you can also access from the YouTube Music Privacy and location page by selecting Location history, choosing your Google account, and enabling or disabling location history on your Google account by selecting Turn on, or Turn off). If your local music scene isn’t all that hot, you should probably leave this disabled.

Download music manually or automatically

One of the best perks of having a YouTube Music Premium subscription, or pretty much any other premium music account, is being able to download music and listen to it while you’re not connected. YouTube Music allows you to download any song, album, or playlist by simply long-pressing on what you want to download and selecting Download from the pop-up that appears.

YouTube Music’s Smart downloads feature takes downloads one step further. Smart downloads (when enabled) will intelligently download of your favorite songs to your phone’s internal storage or SD card. To enable Smart downloads, go to Settings -> Library and downloads, then scroll down to the bottom and enable Smart downloads — once you have enabled the option, you can also adjust exactly how much of your storage to use for the Smart downloads feature.

Optimize YouTube Music audio quality and data usage

Audio quality is subjective—you may like heavy bass, but your friend might prefer clean vocals and a wider sound stage—so it’s worth taking the time to set up your sound profile to your liking. The first audio option you should probably update, unless your internet connection is very slow, is to set the streaming quality on Wi-Fi (Settings -> Audio quality on Wi-Fi) to Always High to make sure the maximum audio fidelity is maintained.

If you struggle with poor internet connectivity or a limited data plan, you can drop the streaming quality down to Normal or Low. You can also enable a few other data saving options on the Settings page — Don’t play music videos will convert music videos to audio-only, Limit mobile data usage reduces data usage when off Wi-Fi, the Low quality option under Audio quality on mobile data will also help reduce consumption of data, and setting Show animated thumbnails to Never will also help reduce network usage.

On the Settings page, you should also navigate to Sound quality and effects -> Equalizer and select a preset that sounds good to your ears using the audio device you usually use. You can also enable and tune Dolby Atmos if your device supports it.

How your listening habits affect your YouTube Music experience

If you listen to music a lot, it’s worth adjusting your habits a little in order to maximize the quality of your YouTube Music recommendations — sure, the algorithm is good and will keep improving, but it needs information to learn. There are a few ways you can train the algorithm, and a few settings you can adjust if training isn’t going quite as planned.


Like, dislike, search, and skip songs for better recommendations

If you’re don’t like a song that YouTube Music recommended, you should skip or dislike it. Similarly, you should like songs that you enjoy. It seems trivial, but consider how many times you’ve just sat through an awful song because “It’s just 3 minutes, who cares?” If you don’t tell it, YouTube Music has no way to know you don’t want to hear the songs you don’t like—we’re not quite ready with direct brain-machine interfaces just yet.

Directly searching for songs trains the algorithm and teaches it your preferences as well—if you’re willing to go out of your way to find and listen to a song, you must like it, right? YouTube Music also uses the search and watch history from your Google and YouTube (the video one) data to provide better recommendations. This is not necessarily always useful though, so you can disable the feature by opening the YouTube Music app, navigating to Settings -> Privacy and location, and checking the options Pause watch history, Pause search history, or Pause activity-based recommendations (this last one pauses location, search, and watch-based recommendations). You can also delete search and location history from this page if you want to reset the recommendations to some degree.


While you’re on the Privacy and location page, you can have a look at the Google Play Music history options available there. If you used Google Play Music before Google pulled the plug, you may want to enable the Use Google Play Music history option to import your listening habits from the old app and make your recommendations more accurate.

How to reset the recommendations in YouTube Music

Sometimes the algorithm just doesn’t want to play ball. If you’ve tried pausing the location-based and activity-based recommendations as well as watch and search history, and you’re still getting bad recommendations, you can clear your YouTube Music recommendations. To clear YouTube Music Recommendations on mobile, tap your profile picture at the top right to summon your account options, navigate to Settings -> Privacy and location and find the Manage watch history, Manage search history, and Manage location history options—each of these will need to be deleted manually, but once you open each of them, you can find the DELETE option and select the period for which you wish to remove your listening history.

Clearing watch, location, and search history will also delete that information from each respective app. YouTube will delete the video history, Google Maps will delete its location history, and Google Search will delete the search history

YouTube Music isn’t the only game in town

Though streaming platforms and their algorithms are supposed to make things easier, and you shouldn’t have to sweat the small stuff, at least now you know how to get into the nitty-gritty of YouTube Music if you need to. If you find that YouTube Music just isn’t for you, maybe you should give one of the other streaming alternatives a try. Apple Music, Qobuz and several other streaming platforms offer high-res audio on your phone with an adapter or DAC.



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