Digital Top Stories

Google Music launches

By | Published on Thursday 17 November 2011

Google Music

So, Google Music proper is here, people. Well, it is in America. But hey, we got Spotify first, plus we managed to offload Piers Morgan on that lot as a “serious journalist”, ha, I think we’re ahead.

Anyway, as expected the web giant announced its big music offer in LA yesterday, transforming the digital locker service Google launched earlier this year – that time without the music companies on board – into a fully fledged, fully (nearly) licensed, download, cloud storage, mobile play, social media recommendation and artist profile service, backed by three of the four majors and most of the independents, including, crucially, the digital rights body representing the bigger indies, Merlin. So, despite talk of Google having to put its music offer live with large portions of the mainstream music catalogue missing, in the end only Warner’s recordings aren’t included, and I think all of us, at some point, has had to put a digital music service live without Warner on board.

I think it’s fair to say response to Google’s big music announcement has been mixed. Little was announced that we weren’t expecting, and in reality the slick new platform doesn’t really offer anything not already on the digital music market. And all of this has been a very long time coming, we having expected Google to launch something like this on various occasions over the years when other “big music announcements” were promised. Plus, Apple-style, everything on the all new Google Music is pretty locked to the Google platform, rather than integrating other social media and music services.

But, arguably, no one other digital music service currently offers the combination of functionality Google’s new platform will provide. And there will be no subscription fees, not even for the digital locker element (the Google locker was free during beta, but subscription charges had been expected long term). And by being fully integrated with the Android Market store the reach is potentially huge, as the number of Android-powered smart-phones around the world continues to rocket.

It was probably the potential of the Android integration that wooed the music companies in the end. Although most of the music rights owners already enjoy a good and lucrative relationship with Google’s YouTube division, their past relations with the rest of the web giant have been mixed – many feel the company should be doing more to stop copyright infringing services from appearing in Google searches and from earning from Google ads, and most were very pissed off when the web firm announced the initial launch of its digital locker earlier this year without any label deals in place (even though, technically, no such deals were required for the beta offer).

Three other things stood out at the big announcement, though. First, having Merlin on board at launch is a coup, given many of the other big music launches have left the key indies out in the cold, despite the people behind said launches often claiming an affinity with the grass roots creative community.

Second, the social networking integration – although limited to Google’s own Plus social network – will enable users to offer their followers a full track preview of any songs they buy and recommend. Google reps were very keen to stress how this was ground breaking. In Europe, of course, mflow has offered that service for sometime, and with limited success, although having the full-track-preview-of-peer-recommended-songs functionality integrated with a bigger music offer with an existing sizable user base will likely make its impact more noticeable.

And third, the artist hub will let self-releasing artists get their music into the Google Music platform from launch in a simple way, offering various bits of functionality akin to direct-to-fan service providers like Topspin and Bandcamp. If cleverly integrated with YouTube – the biggest streaming service on the net – and the new sell-through store the Google video site is launching, that could make quite a compelling combination of services for DIY talent.

There’s exclusive content and free tracks galore as well, though that all that seemed rather run of the mill. In fact, while the various Google reps who took to the stage, to deliver their best Steve Jobs impressions (while sneaking looks at a stage-level teleprompter every 37 seconds), often implied they were leading some kind of revolution with their big music offer, as we say, pretty much everything Google Music will do is already being done pretty well elsewhere.

But, that’s not to say that the fact Google has finally entered the market with a decent music service, and one that brings lots of functionality into one place, and which is extra-friendly to independent and self-releasing artists, and which is fully integrated with millions of smartphones, isn’t important. Which leads us to the next big question of course – when, exactly, will this come to Europe?