Working with YouTube and Extracting Audio

In my last few articles, I've been exploring the capabilities of ImageMagick, showing that just because you're working on a command line doesn't mean you're stuck processing only text. As I explained, ImageMagick makes it easy to work with images, adding watermarks and analyzing content far more accurately than with the standard Linux file command, and much, much more.

Continuing in a similar vein, I want to look at audio and video in this article. Well, maybe "listen" to audio and "look" at video, but again, I'm still focusing on the command line, so in both instances, player/viewer apps are required.

YouTube to MP3 Audio

As someone who watches a lot of lectures online, I'm also intrigued by the online services that can extract just the audio portion of a YouTube or Vimeo video and save it as an MP3. Listening to a lecture while driving is far safer than trying not to watch a video on the move, for example.

Since there are so many live concert performances online, many people also like to use a video-to-MP3 service to add those songs to their music libraries.

Note: be leery of copyright issues with any download and conversion of content. Just because it's on Vimeo, YouTube or other online service, doesn't mean you have permission to extract the audio or even download it and save it on your computer.

Let's start with the most basic functionality: downloading a video from YouTube so you can watch it on your Linux system. There are a lot of browser plugins and even websites devoted to this task, but who wants to risk malware or be plagued by porn site ads? Yech.

Fortunately, there's a terrific public domain program called youtube-dl on GitHub that covers all your needs. At its most basic, it lets you download video content from YouTube and a variety of other online video repositories, but as you'll learn, it can do quite a bit more.

You can grab a copy for your system here.

Let's start by downloading a copy of one of my own YouTube videos. It's a review of the splendid 1More quad-driver headphones, and its URL is

As an aside: I have a YouTube channel where I review consumer electronics and gadgets. You should subscribe! Find all my videos at

YouTube has a bunch of ways it can assemble a URL, however, including using its URL-shortener, but fortunately, youtube-dl can handle the variations.

Downloading a copy of the video to the current working directory is now as simple as:

youtube-dl ''

The full output of the command is a bit, um, hairy, however:

$  youtube-dl ''
[youtube] BFL1E77hTHQ: Downloading webpage
[youtube] BFL1E77hTHQ: Downloading video info webpage
[youtube] BFL1E77hTHQ: Extracting video information
[youtube] BFL1E77hTHQ: Downloading MPD manifest
WARNING: Requested formats are incompatible for merge and
will be merged into mkv.
[download] Destination: 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
[download] 100% of 118.74MiB in 02:49
[download] Destination: 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
[download] 100% of 4.81MiB in 00:03
[ffmpeg] Merging formats into "1More Quad Driver In-Ear
Headphones Reviewed-BFL1E77hTHQ.mkv"
Deleting original file 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
Reviewed-BFL1E77hTHQ.f137.mp4 (pass -k to keep)
Deleting original file 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones
Reviewed-BFL1E77hTHQ.f251.webm (pass -k to keep)

You can wade through the output messages, but it's the message from companion open-source program ffmpeg that's most important: merging formats into ... mkv.


Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at