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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Google to Launch Cloud-Based Music Service Today, Major Labels Not Included

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 6:00 AM


The Google I/O Conference is in S.F. The confab's keynote speech is scheduled for this morning. And Google execs say today's the day that the Internet search giant is planning to unveil its long-awaited cloud-based music service -- without any licensing deals from the major labels.

Music Beta by Google is the much-hyped music in the cloud, or at least an early go at it: You get the software -- which is invite-only at this point -- and can upload up to 20,000 songs to Google's servers. The music is then available anywhere you have an Internet connection, via computer, phone, or other device.

But since Google couldn't come to terms with the labels, you won't be able to buy music through the service and have it instantly appear in your locker-in-the-cloud. Instead, you'll have to upload all the music you want to the locker -- a process that, as TechCrunch points out, could take a couple of pretty unexciting days.

Amazon launched a service like this, also without label deals, in March. From Billboard:

[Google's] is virtually identical to Amazon's Cloud Drive, with a few differences. Most notably, the service is available on a limited, invite-only basis limited to U.S. users. Those wanting to use the service will have to request an invite at, with priority given to those with the Motorola Xoom tablet and to attendees of the I/O conference. Additionally, Google is limiting the number of songs that can be uploaded to the music locker to 20,000. The service is free while in beta, and the company would not comment on what future pricing options it may have planned.

Many believe the lack of label deals will be a disadvantage for the Google service. Apparently it's not what the company was hoping to roll out on launch day.

"We've been in negotiations with the industry for a different set of features, with mixed results," [Google director of content partnerships Zahavah Levine] told Billboard the night before the announcement was made. "[But] a couple of major labels were less focused on innovation and more on demanding unreasonable and unsustainable business terms."

In contrast, Apple -- which is expected to launch its cloud service in June -- already has deals with the labels through the iTunes store. There's reason to think this could give its music-in-the-sky effort a significant edge, TechCrunch says:

Instead of having to upload your thousands of MP3s, iTunes may be able to simply check your (much smaller) database file and re-create it online using a central repository of music (in other words, no huge uploads). The technology wouldn't be new -- Lala, which Apple acquired in 2009, was doing that years ago. It's just a matter of hammering out the deals with the labels. And really, I can't imagine Apple launching a service that tells its users to sit back and wait a couple of days. Instead, you'll fire up the new version of iTunes, check a box saying you want your iPhone and iPad to have access to all of your content, and bam -- users won't have to learn what an online locker is, their stuff will just be where they want it.

Billboard says that Google's cloud service has a few cool-sounding features, though:

The music app has an Instant Mix feature that creates a playlist based on a single song. The service analyzes the song's characteristics (not just metadata) and pulls other similar songs from the users' music library. Another cool feature is that the playlists created can be synched across devices. So playlists created on a user's mobile phone will immediately show up on a tablet device or Google account online. There's no need to transfer files between devices.

Ultimately, we're curious about the Google service, even if we're not expecting anything mind-blowing just yet. But it sure says something that Google -- a giant, transformative, seemingly all-powerful company -- hasn't yet been able to get Sony and Universal to play ball on what could (or could not) be a significant change in the way we consume recorded music.

[WSJ / TechCrunch/Billboard]

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