Google Music, a useful service that no one’s using, has just made it easier to get started with a new scan and match feature for storing your music online. After hitting Europe last month, it’s available now to U.S. users as well.
Just like Apple’s iTunes Match and Amazon’s scan and match service, Google Music now compares your local music library with its own database of songs. When it finds a match, Google places its copy of that song in your online library, then it uploads any remaining songs that it can’t match. A lightweight piece of software called Music Manager handles all the syncing.
Once your songs are stored in Google Music, they’re available for streaming at 320 kbps through play.google.com/music, and through the Google Play Music app for Android. Unofficial apps are also available for iOS (I’m partial to gMusic) and Windows Phone (try Gooroovster).
The big difference between Google and its competitors is that Google doesn’t charge for the service, so you can scan and store up to 20,000 songs online without paying yearly dues. Apple charges $25 per year to scan and match up to 25,000 songs, and Amazon charges the same for 250,000 songs, beyond a free offering of 250 tracks. All three services offer free storage for any songs you’ve purchased through their respective music stores.
The biggest potential downside with Google Music is that it relies on an Internet connection to access your music. On phones and tablets, you can download individual songs, albums, artists or playlists for offline listening, but there’s no easy way to bulk download your entire library onto mobile devices. If you have a tiny data plan or live in an area with unreliable service, that can be a problem.
The flip side, however, is that your music library doesn’t have to hog all the storage space on your phone or tablet. If you have the bandwidth, the fact that Google Music is Internet-based is actually beneficial.
For existing users, Google says it’ll start automatically matching libraries against its own in “the next few months.” The other option is to delete all your songs through Google Music settings, then re-upload them through the Music Manager software. You may have to click “Change” under the “Advanced” tab in the Music Manager software if your songs are stored outside your computer’s default music folder.
I wouldn’t recommend going that route, though. To check out the new feature, I deleted my songs from Google Music and then re-scanned my library. Google Music only scanned the first few hundred songs before falling back on uploads for the remaining couple thousand tracks, including popular music that I’d expect be recognized. Google doesn’t provide any way to see a list of all tracks that were scanned vs. uploaded; the only way to find matched tracks is to look for a “Fix Incorrect Match” prompt in each song’s options list. If you’re looking to swap out all your old MP3s for 320 kbps copies, Google Music may not have you covered just yet.
According to All Things Digital, Google is paying big up-front checks to record labels for the scan-and-match service instead of paying a fee per user, as Amazon and Apple do. By giving away the service and eating the cost, Google is likely hoping to jump-start its MP3 store, which may be an easier task now that all the major labels are on board. Still, the service works just fine if you haven’t purchased music from Google Play, and never intend to do so. It’s worth setting up if you want easy access to your music from any device with an Internet connection.