Everyone wants to know what's going on with Google Music. A look at the (possible) team putting the (probable) platform together
One of the worst-kept secrets in the music industry right now? Google is working on the launch of a digital music service. To say that the service is highly anticipated is the understatement of this young year. The labels are anxious for a company with the size, prowess and audience of Google to offer a fresh take on the streaming music market at a time when download sales are flattening and CD sales are worse. Potential competitors like iTunes-also rumored to be mulling a streaming music option-and newer entrants like Spotify are equally anxious to see what they're up against. Music fans just want something new.
Details leaked to date point to a digital music "locker" service, one that allows users to access music they own through a cloud-based server, from any Internet-connected device. In other words, you could access your library from your phone, computer, stereo, even your car without worrying about synching files between devices.
Meanwhile there's all manner of speculation about why the service isn't yet live. Some point to publishers holding out for per-stream payments (a deal-killer to be sure) while others say it's just the natural cautious nature of labels drafting a unique agreement from scratch for a type of service they've never licensed before. Google has yet to comment publicly about what it's planning, or when it might go live.
But: Actions speak louder than words, and by that measure Google has said plenty. The company has been on a hiring spree of late, poaching music industry personnel from other digital music services in a seeming effort to staff up both its licensing and internal development teams.
Google is being almost Apple-like in its refusal to even confirm the names and titles of the staff charged with developing the music service. So Billboard compiled this list of key employees-both veterans and new hires-apparently involved in the Google Music project. It was assembled through conversations with more than a dozen music industry sources, chance meetings at music industry conferences like MIDEM and published reports.
When it comes to the Google Music service, the buck stops with Rubin.
"All the stuff with music begins and ends with him," says one label source, who confirms that Rubin has personally pitched the major labels on Google's music plans. By all accounts, he's the one cracking the whip within Google in regard to both getting the licensing deals done and building the service's interface and features. Most everyone involved reports to either him directly or someone who reports to him.
Rubin consolidated control of the process last year. During a technology conference last summer, he dismissed an iTunes-like store as "not the right experience" and instead envisioned a service that provided users with a more "intimate experience" with their music.
Rubin came to Google when the company bought Android in 2005-the phone operating system that now powers the entire Google mobile strategy. A former Apple engineer, Rubin founded smart-phone manufacturer Danger, which was later acquired by Microsoft.
According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, he enjoys a great deal of autonomy (even controlling the landscaping around his office), and given Android's success, is a bit of a golden boy at company headquarters. Google hopes Rubin can do with music what he did with Android: take market share away from a competitor. Despite launching a year after the iPhone, Android now claims 26% of the smart-phone market, to iPhone's 25%. But iTunes is a far more entrenched competitor in digital music.
While Rubin is leading the construction of the music service, it's not clear whether he plans to run it once it goes live. Google last summer was involved in a high-profile executive search to find the right candidate to run the music division. It found no takers, and sources say the recruitment outreach has waned as the focus has shifted to getting the service up and running. However, sources say there's an internal debate within Google over whether it even needs to hire a music person to run the service versus just handling it internally. If the latter position prevails, look to Rubin as being the overseer for the foreseeable future.
General counsel/VP of business affairs
While best-known as Google's general counsel/VP of business affairs, Levine was at MIDEM last month passing around cards that read "director of content partnerships" for Android.
Levine is the point person handling all licensing negotiations with the music industry for the music service. It's a role she's familiar with, having done the same while chief counsel at YouTube. However, this time her role is elevated. Whereas at YouTube she was involved primarily with the legal side of the site (including the $1 billion Viacom lawsuit), sources working with her say she's now shifted to a primarily business affairs role.
Levine's reputation is that of a tough negotiator who's not afraid to stand up to the music industry, with some in the biz respectfully referring to her as a "pitbull." For instance, during the Viacom/YouTube proceedings, she accused Viacom of secretly uploading content to YouTube while simultaneously suing the site for hosting it.
"If I needed an attorney, I'd hire her," a music industry source says.
Before Google, Levine was associate general counsel/director of music licensing at Rhapsody, which she joined when RealNetworks acquired her prior employer Listen.com, where she served as senior counsel.
Head of international music licensing, Android
Valkonen is charged with negotiating label and publisher deals outside the United States. He's a recent addition to the Google team, formerly serving as global head of business affairs for Nokia, where he started in 2008 negotiating the international music deals for the now-shuttered Comes With Music service.
Known as a "numbers cruncher" who knows his way around music deals, Valkonen also has hands-on experience running a digital music business. He served for several years as president of DiscLive, a service that helped artists burn and sell CDs from a given night's live performance. Prior to that he spent nine years at BMG, eventually earning the title senior VP of business development and new media. He was a fixture at the MIDEM conference in Cannes last month, networking within both the tech and music circles alike.
Business development manager, Android
There's very little that's obvious about Kartzman's role at Google-until you look at his pedigree. He joined the company after two-plus years at the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, where he was VP of client services. Before that he was director of Rhapsody's independent label business, where he handled all the service's licensing duties among indie labels. And he also co-founded JamBase, an online database of concert listings and information. Add to this the fact that he's the former manager of indie act the Slip, and remains chairman of the indie-focused digital marketing and distribution firm reapandsow, and a pattern begins to emerge. Sources say Kartzman is leading Google's licensing efforts and relations within the independent label community.
Head of global content programming, Android
One of the first eyebrow-raising hires, Quirk joined Google after leaving Rhapsody, following its spinoff from parent RealNetworks. He was VP of music programming at Rhapsody and GM/VP of music content and programming at RealNetworks.
At Google, he's said to be the guy focusing on the service's look and feel from a content perspective. This includes overseeing featured music; editorial descriptions of artists, albums and songs; marketing; and working with the labels on joint promotional activities. A former member of alt-rock band Too Much Joy, Quirk made headlines while at Rhapsody for a blog post about the way labels pay out digital royalties to artists.
Corporate counsel, YouTube/Google
Despite her experience in negotiating music industry deals for such clients as Myspace Music, imeem and MOG, it's not clear how Moody fits into the Google Music process. Some sources say she's been MIA in terms of any label-facing activity, but others believe she's assisting Zahavah Levine on the nuts and bolts of the deal terms. "She knows the music business and can deal with the ins and outs of labels," one source says.
Content partner manager, Android
Shen joined Google in January. Her role is to work with content partners (read: labels) contributing to the Android store, and presumably the music service. While her title doesn't specifically call out "music" as her main account, it's hard to see her working on much else. She has spent her career since 2001 working at Universal Music Group, starting as an artist development representative and moving on to sales rep for classics and jazz. She spent her later years at UMG as an account director, in charge of managing relationships with Amazon and various digital accounts. And from mid-2009 until she left last December, Shen was manager of business development. Shen is the only new Googler we could find that hails directly from a record label. It's unlikely she'll be the last.
ONES TO WATCH
Director of product management, Android
It's believed that Rosenberg oversees the Android Market app store. He and Rubin go way back, as Rosenberg served as VP of premium services at Danger. Once Microsoft acquired the company, he stayed on as director of premium services. Rosenberg joined Google last July. While Google's music plans span well beyond mobile, it's the ability to access music from Android-powered mobile phones that will separate it from iTunes, since iTunes doesn't yet have a streaming option. Giving third-party app developers access to the streaming music service as well would be a major strategic advantage for both the Android platform and Google Music service. As a key contact between Google and Android developers, Rosenberg could play an important role in that process.
VP of Web applications
Google's ninth employee was the key champion for the YouTube acquisition, and leads that unit today. He's a founding member of the Google product team and led the team that built AdWords. Sources say he hasn't been directly involved with label discussions, but that his presence is felt on the back end in terms of development and features.
VP of business development, YouTube
Maxcy has led the unit's interaction with labels, publishers and artists. Given YouTube's prominence as the leading provider of music videos online, it's hard to imagine videos won't play at least some role in the Google Music service. And given Maxcy's involvement with the music industry so far, he'll likely be involved in at least providing the music team some direction on strategy and relationships.
VP of engineering
Gundotra-along with Rubin and Kamangar-is one of the top three product gurus at Google. He's reportedly charged with leading Google's super-secret response to Facebook in the social network space. With Facebook lacking a clear music strategy, and Myspace losing relevance, a combined Google music/social media play could have large implications. A former chief evangelist to the software community at Microsoft, Gundotra also plays a key role in mobile developer outreach for Google.