Google Music: Great Idea, Needs Music

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At last, we can put the Google Music rumors to bed, because Google has finally launched the darned thing.

But you can’t try Google Music yet, because the service is invite-only. For now, just imagine a web-based version of iTunes. You store all your songs online, and then they’re accessible from any Flash-equipped web browser, along with Android phones and tablets.

Sound familiar? That’s because Amazon announced a similar service in March. Like Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player lets you upload all your songs to Amazon’s servers, and then stream them to Android devices and desktop web browsers.

But I like what I’m seeing with Google’s take on the digital storage locker. Not only can you stream songs from the Web, you can also access your most recently played songs offline and toggle additional albums for offline listening directly through a phone or tablet. This level of song management goes a long way toward decentralizing your music collection, because you can always manage local storage through the web. Google Music can also generate smart playlists, kind of like the Genius feature in iTunes.

There’s just one huge, glaring problem: Google Music has no music. To add songs to the service, you’ll have to buy them from somewhere else, like Amazon or iTunes, and manually transfer them. That kind of defeats the purpose.

Blame the labels. According to one rumor, Warner Music Group wanted Google to charge $30 per year for storage alone, and negotiations fell apart when Google tried to give every user 500 stored songs for free. That may explain why Jaime Rosenberg, Google’s director of digital content for Android, called the labels’ deal terms “unreasonable and unsustainable.”

In any case, Google has gone ahead with the service without the labels’ blessing, which means no built-in music store, and no serious competition from what could have been the biggest iTunes competitor yet. It’s funny; record labels were supposed to be clamoring for an end to Apple’s tight grip on the music business. Apparently they don’t want it badly enough.