Google announced a new addition to its roster of digital offerings, Google Music. This long awaited service followed trials of its beta version (see MBJ, Nov. 2011). The reader may recall that there were many doubts as to both the viability of the service and its launch date, which has finally come.
Google Music surprises with a distinct set of features.
First, it is a music store, similar in function to iTunes. Whereas other services are offering pay-for-access models, Google is sticking with the tried and true method of content ownership by having consumers purchase music on a per-song or per-album system. It also offers cloud services to its users and does so free of charge.
iTunes and Amazon, the two services most similar to Google Music, both offer cloud services to their users as well, but at a price. iTunes “Match” service has an annual $25.00 charge, and Amazon Cloud Drive offers only 5GB of free storage, roughly 1,250 songs, before charging for increased capacity. Google Music is offering instead up to 20,000 songs worth of cloud storage for free, and it is clear the service will try to offer more. Yet with only three of the four major labels offering music through the service (Warner has not opted-in yet) it might still fall short.
Second, its library may not have the depth of iTunes or Amazon, but what it lacks in size it tries to make up for in service. Google Music offers a free single download every day, as well as a number of free live recordings, and has nabbed some exclusive content. Busta Rhymes’ new album is being offered exclusively on the service, as are myriad concerts from artists such as Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews Band. It also seems to give hefty discounts. Coldplay’s latest album, Mylo Xyloto, sells for half the price than it does on iTunes. But lack of product availability may still hinder Google.
Third, Google Music offers a web based music client for easy access to a personalized library of songs from any computer. Instead of having to have a program installed on every device, as iTunes requires, Google’s web application is accessible from any browser. Another unique feature is its seamless integration with Google Plus, the company’s social network. After purchasing music from Google, a user can share it on Google Plus ; friens in a “circle” can play it for free. The hope is that this will encourage sales. Of course, Google is trying to link music plays to a social network, such as Facebook is doing on a larger scale.
Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, Google Music has a secret weapon that deserves more attention than it gets. It is called the Google Music Artist Hub– a way for artists, signed or not, to put their music out there in a 70/30 split, i.e. 70% of gross earnings going to the artist and 30% going to Google. Google also charges a one-time fee of $25.00 for the artist’s page, where a personalized hub is generated to attain projection in media links, music genre pages, and YouTube.
Independent artists will find this feature useful and upload smaller albums of singles or traditional full-length albums. The page has to undergo a waiting period of one or two days for approval. This is because copyright policy is stringent. Google makes it extremely clear that anything posted that does not belong to the artist is an infringement and can lead to immediate termination of the account and legal action. Once cleared, the artist is added to Google Music’s roster and can start selling music immediately. Artists are then able to take advantage of the features of Google Music, including ninety second song previews, and Google Plus integration. The Artist Hub concept is not new. TuneCore runs its business on a similar idea. Yet, Google’s seamless integration and easy of use are especially attractive.
Overall, Google Music is a contender in the online space, offering free cloud storage, free downloads, a web based client, and a unique product for independent artists. But it is still in its infancy and its library is incomplete. Moreover, for now its software lacks the ability to download songs from the cloud directly to other devices so in a crowded musical landscape, with rivals like iTunes, Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, and Amazon, the projection of the service could be slow. Time, nevertheless, could be on Google’s side. It has plenty of funding compared to most of its rivals and, fortunately for musicians, Google needs music to develop an alternative social platform to compete with Facebook.
By Jeremy Moccia