Google Music Beta has a lot going for it. For starters, it has the benefit of being launched by Google. That means deep pockets, a smart and talented team and integration with Google's popular web and mobile services and products (Google's recent acquisition of Motorola, for example, could lead to good things).
As for the product itself, it's functional and intuitive. The web-based service works in tandem with the Android mobile app. And there are good, little flourishes, like the "add to my library" button that offers a drop-dead simple way to add music to your collection.
But Google Music Beta is not living up to its potential. It seems a bit rudderless, lacks a clear identity and it is not exciting music fans who would gladly line up for a better way to catalog and access their music collections. So here are five ideas that would help put Google Music Beta on a better path.
Get Licenses from Rights Holders:
Licenses are the difference between a dumber locker and a smarter locker. But really it's a matter of user convenience. Without licenses, Google Music Beta takes an unacceptable amount of time to upload even a modestly sized music catalog. The only songs that should be individually uploaded are bootlegs, unreleased DJ mixes and songs that have not yet been officially released (I'm talking legal pre-release music here, not pirated music). Everything else should be scanned and matched instantaneously - which requires a license.
Change the Interface to Better Handle Large Catalogs:
If you have 20 songs in your collection, Google Music Beta is not a bad way to catalog your music. But large music collections - which the target audience will have - are too large for anything but a large computer monitor. Google Music Beta currently has too much dead space, and that means an average sized laptop monitor or a tablet is too small for the current layout. As for the Android app, it needs to recognize that people have less inclination to browse and navigate on a small screen.
Improve the Magnifier Blog:
Magnifier is brand new, but there's already room for improvement. Give music fans a reason to visit every day. Make it a great online publication, not just a place to get free music. Let the contributors have free reign to put together mind-blowing posts. There's a lot of competition out there, and music blogs readers can tell the difference between a good blog and a mediocre blog. Casual music fans may not see the difference, but they're not the target audience. And yes, corporations can put together worthwhile music blogs, but it takes a commitment to produce consistently excellent editorial. Refer to eMusic's 17dots blog.
Change the Name:
Eventually the Beta will be removed, leaving Google Music - less bland but still in need of improvement. The name "Google Music Beta" sends a signal that Google is not serious about music. It's bland. Not, bland in the way it is alright for Google Docs -- online office productivity tools don't require the same attitude needed in online music. A name needs to lend itself to a service's identity. Take Google-owned YouTube, for example. It's a great name for a business because it's memorable and it perfectly describes YouTube's role as an aggregator of user-generated videos.
Drop the Headphone Logo:
The common eye will find it bland and unattractive. The sharper eye will note that headphones are an overused and generic music-themed image. Just about any stock photo for a news article or market research report has either a pair of headphones or a smiling music fan wearing a pair of headphones. In fact, the image as a logo hasn't been fresh since Stereogum launched back in 2002.