Google did not disappoint in its hotly anticipated launch event for Google Music in Los Angeles this afternoon. Although the company is relatively late in launching a music-download store, it has put together a compelling suite of features that should put Apple, Amazon and other competitors on alert.
Attendees and YouTube viewers got a look at the long-expected MP3 store and sharing functions. But they also saw a big emphasis on free content from major artists and an unexpected platform for independent artists to sell music directly to consumers.
Google's download store launches with what the company described as more than a thousand content partners including Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony, Merlin, IODA, Iris Distribution, TuneCore, The Orchard, INgrooves, Beggars Group, Merge and Warp.
Warner Music was notable by its absence but speaker Zahava Levine, chief counsel for YouTube, said they hope to announce more partners soon. Eight million tracks are live today while the remainder will be added over time.
Google Music is open to everyone in the U.S. without invitation. A new version of the web player and a new version of the Android app are available now. Google announced today it has activated 200 million Android devices worldwide and is adding 550,000 Android devices each day.
The Google Music download store is integrated with Android Market, which already had stores for apps, books and videos. Purchased downloads are 320 kbps MP3 files and are instantly added to a user's locker. Google has emphasized curation by adding sections for new releases, staff picks and promotions. Artist pages include recommendations based on each user's entire collection.
One nice feature for some mobile users comes from T-Mobile. The carrier will soon allow customers to pay for purchases at Google Music through their T-Mobile bills.
As expected, sharing is central to Google Music. Friends will get one free listen of a shared song. A song can be shared on Google+ and also via email. On Google+, the song is posted with a play button and is streamed on the same page.
Google is putting a major emphasis on free and exclusive content. Google Music will offer six never before released concerts by the Rolling Stones, a 5-track live EP by Coldplay and the debut of the new studio album by Busta Rhymes. It's also offering live releases by Shakira, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band.
Some releases, such as Shakira's 5-track live EP and the 18-track Dave Matthews Band concert, are available for free in their entirety. Others, such as the Rolling Stones concert and the Coldplay EP, offer only one free song.
And as part of T-Mobile's partnership with Google, the mobile carrier is offering free exclusive content from Drake, Maroon 5, Busta Rhymes and others.
At first glance, pricing appears to be similar to that of iTunes. Each track on Adele's "21" costs $1.29 and the entire album costs $10.99, for example.
One surprise is Google's effort to empower independent artists. Built into Google Music is the Artist Hub, which gives people a direct route to sell music if an artist owns the rights. Artists create their Artist Hub page for a one-time fee of $25. They keep 70 percent of sales of their music. Artists can set and change their own prices and can choose to let people listen to their albums free of charge. Google Music is also working with YouTube to enable artists to sell music on their YouTube pages.
The MP3 store is integrated with Google's cloud storage service launched in May. Google is allowing users to store up to 20,000 songs free of charge. Music will be available over the web and via Android devices. A song, album or playlist downloaded to the device for offline listening.
Unlike Apple's cloud music service, Google Music does not have a scan-and-match function. Instead, Google Music users must upload each song individually. Apple charges $24.99 per year for iTunes Match and limits a music collection to 25,000 songs.
Billboard.biz will have more on the launch of Google Music soon.