In addition to Universal, Sony and the recently sold EMI are expected to be on board when Google announces the addition of MP3 downloads to Google Music at an event Wednesday in Los Angeles, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. A person with knowledge of the negotiations recently told Billboard.biz that Warner Music Group is still in negotiations with Google; reps for Sony and WMG had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
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Without all majors on board, Wednesday's event could lack the firepower that might otherwise be seen at a major product launch by a technology giant. Although one major label source recently told Billboard.biz that top-tier executives from labels will not be in attendance, presumably that could change by Wednesday afternoon. The event will be held at the studio of the artist Mr. Brainwash and broadcast live on YouTube's Android channel YouTube.com/Android.
A launch without all major labels would not be a surprise. People at major labels told Billboard.biz in October they believed Google might launch a download store without deals with all four majors in place. They have pointed to the lack of advance discussions between rights owners and Google before the company launched its cloud-based storage service and media player back in May.
The impact of launching Google Music without two major labels depends on the type of service being launched. If Google Music is a download store on par with iTunes, it would likely elicit negative responses since consumers expect just about every title to be in stock. While it is not unusual for a music service to launch with holes in its catalog, it is uncommon to launch without two majors.
But there is uncertainty about exactly what type of product Google will launch. At its heart, Google Music is a download store and cloud-based storage service with an iTunes-like music player for web and Android apps. It is believed Google wants to incorporate some type of sharing abilities, according to people familiar with the discussions. Putting an emphasis on sharing makes sense given Google's foray into social networking, Google+, and the cloud-based nature of Google Music.
Currently called Music Beta, Google's music product offers free storage for 20,000 digital music files and synchronization between mobile devices and PCs. Songs in a user's collection are uploaded one file at a time - the company does not have the proper licenses to offer the sort of time-saving, scan-and-match product that Apple will soon launch. Adding music to a collection doesn't always take so much time, however. Through Google's Magnifier music blog and buttons on Google Music, users can instantly add songs to their Music Beta account.