In Defense of Google Music

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Jared Newman /

Poor Google Music. According to CNet’s unnamed sources, the streaming music service isn’t doing well, with revenue and customer adoption below Google’s expectations. Now, some folks in the music industry are reportedly feeling concerned.

That’s a problem, because Google only has two of the three major record labels on board. Sony Music Entertainment and Universal sell songs through Google Music, but Warner Music Group does not. Without interest from users, Warner doesn’t have good reason to play ball with Google, which in turn may prevent more users from embracing the service.

(MORE: Google Music Store Launched with Free Track Sharing, Exclusive Content)

Google Music’s troubles are upsetting to me because I use the service almost every day, not to buy music — these days I listen to new stuff through MOG — but to listen to songs I already own, including past purchases and live shows. Google Music is great for that. You download the Google Music Manager desktop app, it stores up to 20,000 songs online for free — regardless of where they came from — and then you can stream them from anywhere, also for free. Your songs are available for streaming through desktop web browsers, the Google Music Android app or third-party iOS apps such as gMusic. So basically any device, instantly.

Apple’s iCloud service doesn’t do that. If you’re not paying $25 per year for iTunes Match, the only songs you can pull down from the cloud are the ones you bought from iTunes. And even if you are paying for iTunes Match, you can’t stream the songs, you can only download them. That means you have to be careful about how many songs you download. If you run out of space on your device, you’ve got to go through your library and delete songs to make room. And if you’re using a non-Apple phone or tablet, iCloud isn’t available to you.

Granted, some people may prefer to download their songs instead of streaming them. I don’t. My home Internet connection is fast and reliable, and my smartphone rarely has issues streaming songs either. Google Music lets you download songs for offline listening, but I prefer to keep them all online. That way I never have to transfer songs or worry about storage space.

Google Music is a handy service, but it has an obscurity problem. I know a lot of Android users, but most of them have no idea what Google Music is. The service isn’t a selling point for Android phones, so it gets ignored. Still, when I show people what Google Music can do, they’re impressed. They want the service for themselves.

Which brings me to the next issue: Google needs to make its service more welcoming to the average user. Although the Google Music Manager software works fine, using it is literally a chore. You deal with a lengthy upload process up front so that you don’t have to expend any effort later, but I suspect people don’t want to make that first push. Packaging the music manager with a simple, lightweight desktop music player might be a better approach for Google. I know a lot of people who hate how bloated iTunes has become, so Google could position itself as a stripped-down alternative that also makes your songs available anywhere.

I want Google Music to succeed — if not as a music store, then as streaming service with more generous storage capacity than any of its competitors. And Google should want customers like me, who are using the service without purchasing music. We may not be direct sources of revenue for the company or the music industry, but we’re becoming loyal. For Google, anything that helps release iTunes’ grip on the music-consuming public is a positive.

MORE: Trying to Be Optimistic About a Google Music Streaming System