My favorite music-related YouTube videos

My favorite music-related YouTube videos
Photo by James Stamler / Unsplash

I've been interested in music my entire life and even pursued it as a college degree at one point. I love seeing the creative things all different types of musicians are trying all across the world. This list is my attempt to compile some of my favorites into one place.

Got a suggestion for something that should be on this list? Shoot me an email and I'll take a look.

If you're at all interested in music, I guarantee you'll find something in this list that speaks to you. Let's dive in.

My Top 3 Picks

Supermarket Flowers (street peformance)

I like covers. A lot. But that's not enough to explain the effect that this cover by Allie Sherlock has on me. Her voice perfectly combines the sentimentality that the songs lyrics convey and the innocence of a child singing at a relatives funeral who doesn't quite understand the weight of what they're giving.

I'm not overstating when I say this is my favorite video on this entire list.

Please, just listen to it. If you don't listen to another song on this playlist, just listen to the brief pause at 2:22 and tell me it doesn't make you think of a relative of yours that you wish you could have just one more conversation with.

Music is a medium that can express so many aspects of the human condition at once and this is truly an example of this. Stop reading me trying to explain it. Listen. Full volume.

It's ok to cry. Please do. I have. Many many times.

Imagine - Chris Kläfford

I've heard lots of Beatles covers, but none captures the emotion of the lyrics quite like this cover by Chris Kläfford. The raw feeling he puts into the song and the break between his amazingly raspy chest voice and his head voice (which some might call a quasi-yodel) makes this cover for me. This rendition is something I could both have on in the background when I'm working while at the same time being something I could pay complete attention to when I'm all up in my feelings.

Sweet Child of Mine (Scary Pockets)

This was the first video I discovered of Scary Pockets and I don't quite know how to describe what they do. I'll say this. I flew from Chicago to L.A. to see them in concert.

They have a way of reimagining music that both cuts to the soul of the song and also arranges it in a way that hasn't been done before. Which, in this day and age, is amazing. Most every cover I hear them put out makes me think about the source material differently, even if they're covering a song I've heard one hundred times. And that's truly amazing.

Everything Else

Chad Smith Hears Thirty Seconds To Mars For The First Time

This is an amazing look into the mind of a real musician. Without a drum track, he basically reconstructs the original beat and cadence of the recording, which just speaks to his musicianship and knowledge of the craft. You have to know your shit to be able to take a random track and apply drums that basically mimic the original. Chad Smith is the GOAT.

Playing Guitar on Omegle [The Dooo]

For anyone not familiar with this concept, let me explain. There's a website called Omegle where you get matched in a video chat with a random stranger. And in a series of videos, a talented guitarist named The Dooo goes on Omegle and plays people's song requests.

Regardless of how you feel about the rest of his content, I would urge you to watch this particular video between 7:03 and and 7:40. This moment of unadulterated joy from one of his viewers is frequently repeated in many of his other videos. But one of my life goals is to be someone who puts as much joy out into the world as The Dooo does to his random viewers on Omegle.

Hopeless Wanderer (Official Music Video)

Best known for their roles in Arrested Development, SNL, The Office, and The Last Man on Earth, Mumford and Sons* deliver a hilarious performance in this music video for one of their more popular songs.

* Not actually Mumford and Sons

Avicii - Without You (AFISHAL Remix)

There's a lot to say about this one. The fact that the graphics are synched to a completle custom audio/visual controller, the rhythm needed to keep everything together and the fact that it's not even his song all makes this just one really amazing video. If you're a fan of Avicii, Crash Bandicoot, Mario, impressive percussion, or even just amazing hardware builds, there's something in here for you.

Canadian Brass: Tiny Desk Concert

The premise of NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series is simple: bring a musician or musicians behind a tiny desk to perform their music in a much more acoustic, intimate setting. The artists go behind the scenes and tell some of the stories behind the music that normally wouldn't have come out. I particularly like this performance because I think it's so different from most of the other Tiny Desk performances. And the tuba feature doesn't hurt either.

Pokemon Trainer Battle - Rock Jazz Orchestra Version

This is equal parts nostalgia and awesomeness. This takes the Pokemon Trainer battle music and mashes it up with something that sounds the the soundtrack from The Incredibles and ends up coming out with an amazing result. I would recommend checking out their entire channel if you want some classic video game music reimagined, but this one is in my #1 spot because of the orchestration and just sheer depth of the arrangement.

Mr. Curiosity - Jason Mraz

If you've never seen Jason Mraz live, you're hontesly missing out. But this video is the closest you'll get without actually being in the same building. It's just him and a keyboard, despite the middle section where you might be convinced he's hired the sporano from the local opera to help him onstage. The way he goes between falsetto and his regular voice is honeslty insane. He makes it sound so easy and that alone will keep you coming back again and again.

Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke

Whether you like The Beatles or not, this is one of the most wholesome videos you'll watch this year. From Paul and James just messing around, to a true legend going all the way back to his roots, to a unsuspecting crowd getting overwhelmed with Sir Paul McCartney's presence, there's so much to see here. I guarantee this video will have you smiling as you watch or your money back.

Musician Explains Harmony in 5 Levels of Difficulty

I love these types of videos because regardless of whether you have any existing knowledge of the concept being explained, you can probably understand the explanation presented to the first couple levels (in this case a 7 year old and a teenager). With this video, I do happen to have a fair bit of knowledge about harmony, but I still feel I took a lot away. My favorite part of this was when Jacob was explaining to the teenager that harmony is "about injecting melody with emotion."

I also can't even imagine how intimidating explaining harmony to a professional pianist or to Herbie Hancock would be, but I thought it was super interesting how the higher level musician the person was, the more Jacob was able to communicate to them without words.

Lin-Manuel Miranda hears Weird Al's "Hamilton Polka" for the first time

This video is a great example of a crossover so niche that maybe only LMM himself can fully appreciate it. It takes all the classic Weird Al tropes and applies them to the Hamilton soundtrack so perfectly that even though I've listened to the Hamilton soundtrack at least 50 times and watched this video almost as much, each time I watch it I discover something new. And I can only imagine what LMM hears as someone who's lived this music for multiple years of his life. And beyond all the depth and musicality, it's just a bop. Listen up.

Ben Folds w/ Orchestra

This is one of those videos that's amazing just on face value, but even more of an amazing performance from the orchestra even than Ben. Knowing enough to play off your fellow musicians, hear the key and notes that he's just throwing at you by ear and make it sound amazing are all things that are truly the mark of a professional musician. And the fact that Ben can hear all this in his head even as he's dictating it, makes it that much better. Definitely worth a watch.

How sampling transformed music

Many people only know Mark Ronson from his work with Bruno Mars, but this talk from 2014 helps to show himself off in his own right. It's a live look into much of what happens in the recording studio and how samples and pieces of other music shape much of the new music we hear every day. He starts off remixing the TED theme, right onstage at a TED talk and then goes from there.

Wonder Woman Theme

Because I'm a music nerd, I've always loved videos like this especially. It not only explores why the things we listen to are the way we are, offering insight into the composition process and such, but it also attempts to explain why it makes us feel the way we feel. You just might never listen to a movie soundtrack the same way again after watching this video.

I Will Go The Distance (Sam Robson)

Bo Burnham has gotten lots of press recently for his recent special that he recorded all by himself, but Sam Robson has been doing this sort of thing for years: arranging and producing these amazingly intricate acapella arrangements. And "I Will Go The Distance" is no exception. Outside of being musically amazing, the visuals here leave you wondering where to look as he shows each and every one of the singing lines in a separate pane of video and truly lets you see how the piece comes together.

One of the Original Lip Sync Battles

You'll notice that this one technically isn't on YouTube (I'm assuming because it's been taken down), but this was the first version of Lip Sync Battle that I had seen. JGL's versions of Tiny Dancer (see the knee slide at 3:48) and Super Bass (the finishing move at 9:19?!?) were what sold me on this format. Just unbridled passion from guys who are putting their all into the challenge.

Stephen Merchant earns 1st runner up for his absolute commitment to the bit and 5 ⭐️ dance moves.

Bohemian Rhapsody in 42 Styles

The fact that you have to be "fluent" in 42 styles of music to even make a video like this is amazing. After you get over that and start listening, you realize that Anthony Vincent has talent that spans decades and eras. The ability to imitate musicians from Frank Sinatra to Skrillex to the King of Ragtime Scott Joplin requires not only a vast musical knowledge, but also an appreciation for the art that few possess. This in and of itself is enough reason to watch this video, but the fact that he, in a span of 10 seconds, ties Kenny G to Bobby McPherin to Star Wars, all while still covering someone else's song, should leave you curious enough to check it out.

Layla (Scary Pockets)

What happens when you shift a well-known riff by a half beat? Scary Pockets sets out to figure out just that in this video. A funk cover of an Derek and The Dominos classic that weaves rehearsal footage in with live performance footage will have your toe tapping the whole way through.

Longest Johns Sing Sea of Thieves

In one of the most wholesome online video game interactions I've ever seen, The Longest Johns take their vocal talents into a multiplayer online game and spark joy by singing sea shanties to fellow sailors. Long story short, if you hear "Would you like me to sing you a song?" in a video game chat, say yes.

The harmonies that will likely grace your ears can only be described as downright nautical and you don't have to be rum drunk to appreciate the hearty "hugh" that preceds them diving wholehearteadly back into their tune. They may not be the best sailors (and that much is obvious in-game), but as long as crews have an ear for music, they'll never be out of a job.

Vienna Horns - Pirates of the Caribbean

As a French Horn player from 5th grade all the way through college, I was introduced to the Vienna Horns relatively early. There's something powerful about seeing an entire group of musicians made up of your instrument of choice. And when they apply that instrument to something as epic as Pirates of the Caribbean (or Titanic, Robin Hood and many others), you just have to listen. The fact that a group of the same instrument can produce the lowest of base tones as well as the highest of voices (0:59) is a testament to the talent of these musicians.

Halleujah (Pentatonix)

There have been many covers of this particular song. But I can't think of a single one that does the original anywhere close to justice as this one.

Pentatonix may have started off as a bunch of high school choir kids, but they've evolved into one of the top vocal groups of our time and this cover cements them in one of those top spots.

If you've listened to them since their early days, you can hear how they've each evolved, individually and as a group. And the fact that their voices are best heard together rather than separate means they'll be a musical force for years to come.

Piano Guys

I've been following the Piano Guys for years and I've been constantly impressed with how they've been able to push the envelope, both cinematically and musically.

This arrangement is not only beautiful to look at, it's a freaking bop. You can't help but bob your head to this mashup and compilation of songs that have clearly inspired the Piano Guys over the years.

Walk Off The Earth

This video encapsulates what it is is four people to do what they love through music. And that's amazing.

As if that wasn't enough, everyone who has a vocal part has an amazing voice. If you can accept that, tune your ears to 1:04 where Sarah absolutely takes over. She's the perfect combination of melody and gravelly texture that makes it impossible to listen to anything else.

Outside of that, the entire group knows how to fit together and their arrangements are always amazing. If ASMR was imagined by a music major, they would have landed on WOTE, so give them a listen.

Yo-Yo Ma Tiny Desk

NPR's Tiny Desk is a series unlike any other. The fact that they're a proving ground for new artists in a way that few venues are is no accident. And the fact that someone as established as Yo-Yo Ma can come into this space and absolutely take all the air out of the room in the most effortless way is a testament to his musicianship.

"Believe it or not, this was the very first piece of music I started on the cello when I was four years old, one measure at a time..." He goes on to give us a behind the scenes glimpse into his multi-decade music career and how his music has given moments of his life a very special meaning.

He puts a feeling into his instrument unlike any I've ever heard. He forces you to pay attention and to interpret his feelings through his playing in a way that is wholly unique. If you've ever wanted to be in Yo-Yo Ma's living room, this is probably the closest you'll ever get. And trust me, that's a place you very much want to be.

Star Wars [Epic Piano Arrangement]

I've always been a fan of piano arrangements of popular songs and this video is no exception. As a music nerd, I love both the piano visualization that lets you see what is actually being played as well as the arrangement and musical choices made throughout the piece. The fact that it gets more complicated and intricate as you go along is just a bonus. If you're looking for something peaceful and a little nostalgic to have on in the background, check this one out.

Fly Me To The Moon (with rap verse)

This is the video that caused him to "blow up". If you never thought you'd be into astronomy rap, give this one a listen. Every line is better than the last, and even more than that, the rhythm guitar that leads into the hook is a bop.

This video truly shows his talent from start to finish and I hope to see him selling out arenas one day soon.

Reharmonizing Hello, Adele

Besides the fact that this is an amazing reimagining of a very popular song, Adam Neely provides justifications for all of his arranging choices. Because of that, this is really an amazing behind the scenes look at the process of arranging.

"F does not lay as low on a five string guitar as Db does." This is the kind of arranging insight that you don't get when you just hear the final version on Spotify. He not only explains the "what" but also the "why". And if you're into music even a little, you'll get a ton out of this video and learn more about how musicians support and design around each other than you much normally would.

Also, the offbeat triplets on the drums that eventually lead to the sax solo are unreal and an entire vibe. Saturday Night Live meets pop music in a way that would not have happened if not for YouTube.

Into The Unknown (Horns and Band)

Frozen took the world by storm when it came out, but I haven't seen or heard a cover of the most impactful song from the first film than this one. Electric guitar, trumpets (both muted and wide open), saxophone solis and more (a purple trombone?!?) make this one of the best arrangements I've heard of this new classic.

This is also a testament to how bringing musicians together remotely can work amazingly. Clearly from the video, all of these musicians are in separate locations, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from the recording, which sounds as cohesive as anything recorded in a studio.

Neil Patrick Harris

If you've never watched the Tony Awards, I would say you're in the mainstream. But if you're a theater nerd, you know how important this night is. And how important the opening is.

Neil Patrick Harris succeeds in bring so many of the Broadway musical tropes into the mainstream. From the moment the gradually ascending chords kick in, you'll feel at home. And the fact that literally every musical of the season is name checked while still sticking to the style of a Broadway score is impressive enough.

But then NPH shows off his magic skills, appears at the back of the theater and then subtly shades Les Mis. What more could you want?

Sound of Silence, Live on Conan

At one point the most streamed clip from Conan's show, Disturbed puts on a cover performance that is simply unmatched. When you have the original artists of a song calling you the next day to tell you that you are their favorite cover of their song, you know you've done something right. And to bring that level of musicianship to a national late night audience is a rare feat indeed.

There's something about the quality of the vocals in this cover that will cut you to your very core. The perfect mix of light instrumentals and gravely "metal" vocals is why I think more metal groups should do covers like this (shoutout Avenged Sevenfold).

Put simply, it's four and a half minutes that will draw you in and let you go appreciating silence just a bit differently.

The Killers live from their bathroom

This is an amazing example of "doing more with less". These are artists that have played stadiums and more, but they sound just as home in their bathroom as they do belting into a microhphone for thousands of people.

Honestly, I love these sorts of arrangements because they get to the soul of the music, but this version dives deep into the music in a way that few recordings do.