Google Music is out of beta and open to everyone, and it picked up a new trick in the process of launching – music purchasing. Google Music is taking on iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 store. As during the beta, users can upload up to 20,000 tracks into their ‘locker’ for free (up to 250MB per track) – from any source, not just Google Music purchases. You can then stream these to any client device, which means pretty much anything with a web browser, or the native Android app.
In many ways Google Music is closer to Amazon’s Cloud Drive and Cloud Player than iTunes. But Cloud Drive only offers 5GB of free storage, or up to around 1,000 songs. (Cloud Drive offers generic storage for photos, docs, etc. But Google already does that with Picasa and Docs.) Google gives users 20,000 free tracks. Though Amazon doesn’t count tracks purchased from their MP3 store against their storage limit, if you have a lot of tracks already it is a barrier to switching to their service. Currently 20,000 is a hard limit for Google Music, unlike Amazon they don’t offer paid options for more storage, but I expect that is something that will come.
You can purchase music via the web-based music store or from the newly updated Android Market on any Android device. Tracks are 320kbps MP3 files, the maximum quality for MP3. It should compare favorably to Amazon’s 256kbps MP3 bitrate and should hold its own against iTunes’ current 256kbps AAC bitrate.
Here’s a little intro video from Google:
Google has lined up quite the collection of music for the launch:
The store offers more than 13 million tracks from artists on Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI, and the global independent rights agency Merlin as well as over 1,000 prominent independent labels including Merge Records, Warp Records, Matador Records, XL Recordings and Naxos. We’ve also partnered with the world’s largest digital distributors of independent music including IODA, INgrooves, The Orchard and Believe Digital.
13 million tracks is pretty good for a launch; Amazon claims around 17 million for their MP3 store, while iTunes has over 20 million worldwide. You might notice one hiccup in the rollout – they only have three of the four largest studios; Warner Music Group is a hold out. However, I’m confident Google will get them on board. With 200 million Android devices and 550,000 new devices being register every day, and most of those having built-in default access to the Android Market, and thus Google music, I think WMG will want a piece of that action. If and when Google gets WMG on board that should substantially increase their track count. I’m sure Google is pursuing additional deals with other distribution networks as well. Of course, in the meantime, you can purchase non-DRM tracks anywhere else and upload them to you Google Music locker.
Google has another hook too – sharing on Google+. Any track, or entire album, you purchase through Google Music can be shared on Google+, or via an email link for friends not on Google+. Everyone you share with gets one free listen. Hey kid, the first taste is free. So if you find a new track you love and want to share it, it is easy to do. And, of course, if your friends like it as much as you do, it is easy for them to make the purchase. Google Music is also offering free music. They have hundreds of free tracks, with new tracks each day.
Your tracks can be downloaded too, you don’t have to be connected to the cloud to play. Clearly that’d be an issue in situations when streaming just isn’t an option, the prime example being on a flight. For such situations you can sync tracks or playlists to your device for offline listening. That’s also useful for those worried about their data plan usage.
Note that I said Google is taking on iTunes in the subject, and I didn’t call this an “iTunes Killer”. The BLANK Killer is overdone. This is not going to kill iTunes, or Amazon MP3. I think this will siphon off some of their business, I’m already planning to move my new purchases to Google Music instead of iTunes when possible, but clearly Apple is safe with the iEcosystem. This is more about providing an Android alternative to the iTunes/iOS pairing than killing iTunes. Amazon probably has more to lose than Apple, since they’ve had their Amazon MP3 store on Android since the early days. But they have a lot of customer loyalty, not to mention the Kindle Fire has their MP3 store – but not the Android Market and Google Music.
If you’re an Android user, Google Music is worth checking out. Even if you don’t purchase your music there you can sync your music from other sources there for easy access.
But what if you’re an independent musician? How do you get a piece of the action? Google has you covered, with Artist Hub:
How does a $25 account setup fee and a 70/30 profit split sound? That’s 70% for you, the musician, and 30% for Google. With your Google Music account you get unlimited uploads – you can distribute as much of your music as you want. You can change the track or album descriptions as often as you like. Link your YouTube videos directly to the Google Music track for purchase. Setup a Google+ page and share tracks with your followers for a free taste – and they’ll have to buy the track to listen again. You can set your own pricing, offer promotions, create albums, set tracks as ‘album only’, etc. The artist has control, and all you need is a Google account and your music. And every artist or band gets their own dedicated page with bio, photo, links, etc.
Google is really trying to make it easy for artists to get their music out through Google Music.
All in all I think Google Music is off to a good start. It isn’t perfect, but I expect it to follow Google’s typical approach of iterative improvement and frequent updates. I definitely plan to use it.