The reasons you may want to use mp3s from YouTube are probably varied and probably, in some cases, valid. But is it a good idea? What are both the quality and legal ramifications of doing so? Ultimately, is it ok to DJ using MP3s converted from Youtube?
You can DJ with mp3s converted from YouTube however you never really know the true quality of the music file. You run the risk of playing tracks over a large sound system and them sounding weak due to low-quality encoding. This may be caused by the original uploader, or downloader you use.
As you can see from the summary, this is not quite a straight forward yes or no answer. Because of this I have broken down the answer into individual sections. This way you’ll get a full understanding of what is, and isn’t, possible with YouTube MP3 conversions.
Is Quality Affected When You Download from YouTube?
The short answer to this is, it may be difficult to tell, but yes, this is for a couple of reasons.
1, You don’t know the resolution that the audio was uploaded to YouTube in the first place.
Even if a video has an HD option, the audio track may have been low resolution in the first place. We will come on to audio quality in a second but just know that even if the video itself is HQ then it cannot rescue a low-quality audio file.
For example, a video export with audio render settings set to 320kps, that used a 96kps audio file, to begin with, will still only have 96kps.
This is because compressing music only goes one way, you can only ever down sample music. Once you do, then data is lost and it’s impossible to up sample again.
You Don’t Know What Was Done to the Music Beforehand
Another thing you can’t be sure of when planning to DJ using mp3s converted from YouTube is whether the tracks had some other form of effects/manipulation applied to it.
This can be something like someone adding FX (like echo, reverb or filters) to fit their video or to try and avoid YouTube’s copyright algorithms. People will often manipulate a track so that YouTube doesn’t recognize it as an existing copyrighted track and remove it.
A lot of times you will be able to tell these tracks but not always.
The Track May Be at a Different Speed
Another common technique that people use to avoid copyright algorithms is to slow or speed a track up. When this is done in the extremes then, of course, you will be able to tell. However, if it has only been done subtly then you might never know.
Plus, unless this was done on professional-grade software, then again this will affect the quality of the final file.
This is an extreme example (it is 800% slower than the original) but it illustrates the point.
You Often Can’t Download in HQ Anyway
A lot of the common YouTube downloaders, especially the free ones, don’t allow you to download in high quality.
This means that assuming the audio was added to YouTube in HQ anyway, you are going lose quality in the conversion to the mp3 download. So if you are planning to DJ using mp3s converted from YouTube then you’ll normally have to pay for a downloader that allows the saving of full-resolution video and audio.
But again, just to reiterate, even if you can download it in high quality, you can never rescue a poor quality audio file.
DJ Using Mp3s Converted from YouTube… When Does it Become Obvious?
While YouTube is a great place to listen to and find new music, the actual audio quality can be misleading.
Generally, when you are listening at home, you are listening through standard speakers. And, although they may be good, they are probably not professional standard or high-resolution quality.
This means that videos that sound good at home, but when you come to DJ using mp3s converted from youTube on a professional sound system (like Funktion Ones), you risk them sounding terrible. The trouble with this is that you won’t find this out until you are in a club, playing your tracks.
You might get away with this if you’re playing in a bar with a smaller system, for example. However, as soon as you’re on a proper club system, and playing alongside other DJs, the difference in audio quality will become v apparent.
Supporting an Industry
The other thing to bear in mind when ripping tracks off YouTube then you are not supporting the industry.
This is a bit of a conundrum because, if you like a track enough to rip it and then play it out live, then you obviously enjoy the artist’s work.
Therefore instead of taking money out of their pocket, you should be doing your best to support them. That way they can keep producing more of the music that you enjoy.
This also helps support a thriving industry. Meaning that DJs and producers get paid for their work, and so, in turn, you’ll get paid by that same industry.
After all, if you are doing everything possible not to pay for music, then you can’t be annoyed when people don’t want to pay for your music or gigs.
The music industry and particularly DJing and producing should be seen as a community that needs to support each other.
When people take advantage of the industry, it makes it much harder for those trying to do everything properly.
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DJ Using Mp3s Converted from YouTube… Is it Even Legal?
There’s a couple of points here.
Is it legal to use a youtube downloader/converter to mp3? In some cases yes, it would be legal if you already own the content in the first place.
For example, if you created a video for your own channel and then needed just the audio for something else. You could then rip use a YT converter and it is 100% legal. This is because you are the copyright holder.
The problem arises when you’re not the copyright holder and you’re using the content and distributing it to others.
So the super short answer to, is it legal to DJ using mp3s converted from YouTube? Strictly speaking, the answer would be no, it’s not.
There is, of course, the question of whether the person who uploaded the track to YouTube originally has done so legally. However, this is no defense. If they did act illegally in the first place, you downloading and using that track again offers you no protection. In this case, you are both acting illegally.
That said, there is a technicality here…
If you downloaded the audio just for personal use i.e for your own listening, and you never DJ’d with it, then this is technically not against the law. However, it does violate YouTube’s terms and conditions. Which would make it more of a civil matter rather than a legal case.
Copyright law, for the most part, deals with distribution i.e downloading is not illegal, it’s the sharing that’s illegal. This covers everything from uploading copyrighted material for others to download to playing a copyrighted track in public. In those contexts, you are still sharing and distributing.
As a general rule, it is always best to err on the side of caution.
So, when wondering whether something is legal, then it would just be safer to assume that it is not. Therefore, you are protecting yourself from being sued or any other legal ramifications.
What to Do Instead
Of course, the best thing to do both in terms of ensuring quality, and supporting the industry, is to find somewhere to legally download the track.
To guarantee high quality you want to download the track as a full resolution WAV or AIFF. At the very least you’ll want a 320kps mp3.
If you are limited in money then a good tip is to buy music that you’re confident you’ll be playing for years to come. This would include bona fide classics as well as personal favorites that you will enjoy playing time and again.
A good way to get high-quality music at a very cheap rate is to buy second-hand CDs. These you can pick up in charity shops and the like for mere pennies these days.
You can then encode these into high-resolution files yourself. In this case, there is no copyright issue as you own the CD so you are free to produce a high-quality digital copy for your own use.
As long as you are not sharing or selling it online.
Conclusions: Is it Okay to DJ Using Mp3s Converted from YouTube?
As you may now have gathered, there are a lot of unknowns with regards to quality, while the law is pretty clear. Therefore it is not the best idea to use mp3s ripped from YouTube.
There will be cases where you have found tracks, such as remixes, that have not been officially released.
Generally, with these, the producer normally includes a link where you can download that track via SoundCloud or similar. There are of course legal points around this as well, so you’ll need to use your discretion.
If there is a remix you find on YouTube without a download link, then perhaps you can contact that producer directly. Ask if they can provide you a high-resolution copy because you wish to play it out. In which case they may do so but it will be their decision. Just know you shouldn’t be paying for unofficial remixes.
Again, with this method, you will only really know the proper audio quality when played over a professional system.
And so, be warned…
If you have filled your music library with low-quality music then, in the club, it will be too late. Your set will sound noticeably weaker in comparison to other DJs you are playing alongside.
A Note on Music Quality
High-resolution tracks will sound a lot fuller than low-resolution tracks. One very rough way to theorize and imagine this is to think about file size.
Imagine, for example, a full-resolution track is 30mb. To make the file size quicker to transfer it can be compressed into an mp3.
Say the final file size after compression is 10mb, this means you have reduced the file size by 2/3. Well, the same applies to quality.
In audio, a reduction in quality manifests itself as power/punch when playing out. So, you can imagine when playing a compressed file you have removed two-thirds of the punch from that track.
Another way to think about this, that you will probably be familiar with, would be the difference between listening to a bass-heavy track, that rumbles your chest. Or listening to the same bass-heavy track through the speakers of your phone i.e you can hear the bass but there is no power or punch to it.
This is the risk you run when you don’t know the exact quality of the audio files that you are playing. You could be playing a track to a dance floor full of people that are thinking the music sounds weak. Definitely not what you want from your sets.
Is it illegal to download songs from SoundCloud?
If the uploader has made downloads available within Soundcloud then no, it is not illegal to download them. Unless otherwise stated they will still own the copyright though. Where things might get more tricky here is if they didn’t have permission to upload the song in the first place.
This can happen when they have created an unofficial remix for example. In theory, they do not have permission to distribute the track due to the copyright being owned by the original artist. Even in this case, it is not you that runs the risk for downloading the track, but rather them for uploading it in the first place. Soundcloud does have an algorithm that takes down copyrighted music so the chances of this should be minimal.