Is it possible to convert a youtube video to mp3 using ffmpeg but without youtube-dl to first put in on the server? All the examples I've seen involve youtube-dl first to extract the physical video file.

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The answer is "probably." The reality is that no one will want to publicly help you because doing so would do 2 things:

1) break the law. (why?! Because you are using copyrighted material for whatever you plan on using it for)
2) piss off google. (why?! By changing it …

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The answer is "probably." The reality is that no one will want to publicly help you because doing so would do 2 things:

1) break the law. (why?! Because you are using copyrighted material for whatever you plan on using it for)
2) piss off google. (why?! By changing it into mp3 you are deleting their adverts, thus breaking their TOS)

Which one is worse is up for debate, though.

All the examples I've seen involve youtube-dl first to extract the physical video file.

how else would you think it would be possible to do anything with it anyway?
You need to have the code in order to be able to transcode it.

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