Download audio from YouTube

For the sort of weirdos who still host their own music files, but aren't preciously audiophile about it. Aaaaand also I'm wording this with the assumption you're a Linux, command-line and Python nerd.

Sometimes it's a video which is explicitly Creative Commons. Other times, it's a friend's otherwise unpublished non-commercial thing. Or maybe it's a massive commercial product from a famously litigious corporate behemoth, but you've already bought the soundtrack and you just really really wish you had a version which had the exact same sound effects or dialog or arrangement that you or your child has grown to love from obsessive movie re-watches.

I've got ya.

One-off setup:

Install ffmpeg, a venerable open-source command-line video/audio conversion tool.

sudo apt install ffmpeg

Next, install pipx, a tool to install commmand-line tools that are distributed as Python packages:

python3 -m pip install --user pipx
python3 -m pipx ensurepath

Finally, use pipx to install the youtube-dl, an oft-sued but never vanquished tool to download YouTube videos. (We're using the Python package because the apt package is too old to work):

pipx install youtube-dl

Goal fulfillment

Here, download your precious audio:

youtube-dl -x --audio-format=best URL


  • URL is the encoded version of the video URL (i.e. like ""), obtained by hitting the 'share' button on the YouTube page.
  • -x requests just the audio part, with no video.
  • While --audio-format=best is ostensibly the default setting, meaning YouTube decides which format to send, using -x seems to fail if we don't specify this explicitly. Alternatively, you can explicitly request "aac", "flac", "mp3", "m4a", "opus", "vorbis", or "wav". As I understand it, YouTube will only send the requested format if the uploader provided it. If they didn't then we get whatever YouTube provides and then convert it locally using ffmpeg. So you sometimes won't be getting the benefit of those lossless formats.

But mp3 works well enough for my needs.

Alternatively, for playlists:

youtube-dl -x --audio-format=best --yes-playlist -i URL


  • --yes-playlist / --no-playlist chooses which to download if the URL you provide is both a playlist and a video.
  • -i ignores errors, so one bad track in the playlist doesn't stop the whole thing.

My previous inferior way

This method is worse because it downloads the whole video file before extracting audio locally, and the download gets throttled by YouTube in some way, which of late is very slow indeed, i.e. substantially slower than watching the video.

Download the video from YouTube:

youtube-dl URL

This results in a webm file. I have no idea what that is, and am relieved to discover that converting it into an mp3 requires just:

ffmpeg -i MyVideoFile -vn MyAudioFile.mp3

Where -vn disables video in the output.


  • 2023/02/14: Wide-ranging rewrite of prose to enliven, enlink, and clarify.
  • 2023/02/14: Swapped use of pipsi tool, last released 2015, for pipx, which is more useful, well-maintained and popular.
  • 2022: Added "Goal fulfillment" section, initially called "The Best Way", and deprecated the previous method under "My previous inferior way".