Search engine giant Google has unveiled expansive new music search capabilities designed to not only facilitate music discovery, streams and sales, but also drive traffic to several digital music services selected as content providers for the newly launched initiative.

Under Google's new music search system, submitting a search query based on an artist's name, song or album title -- or even snippets of song lyrics -- will now display results in a special section on the Google results page. These results include album art and a set of "play" links that will open a special Google music player, which then immediately streams the full song.


Google's new music search results:





Providing the streaming music for this feature is MySpace Music and Lala. According to Google director of product management RJ Pittman, who oversaw the project, the system will randomly choose between the two providers when displaying the streaming links. Each song can be played in full once.

The music player also features a "buy" button, where users can purchase the song from whichever service is providing the stream, as well as link back to the service where users can further explore the features of each. The MySpace player will also include links to watch the music video and get concert details if the artist is currently on tour.


Lala player:





Also included in results will be links to music services Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody, allowing users to navigate away from Google's results and directly to the artist page on the corresponding service, where they can stream or buy songs from each site directly.

There's also a search-by-lyrics feature as a result of Google licensing Gracenotes lyrics database. Before today's launch, searching song lyrics would result in a list of links to other lyrics services -- some authorized, some not. Now, the first result would be for the song in question with all the new features, allowing users to stream or buy the track.

The new feature will roll out beginning Wednesday (Oct. 28) evening, a process expected to finish by the evening of Oct. 29. Google unveiled the new service during a special event at the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles, where all partners and several record labels were in attendance.

Record labels executives -- who were consulted in the development of the music search tool -- have expressed great excitement over the announcement. Music is already one of the top music search terms on the Internet today -- with the words "lyrics" and "music" both placing in the top 10 searched-for terms on Google in the last month, according to the company's Insights for Search. But until now fans had to dig through the results to find a place to actually hear the music, often a hit-and-miss process.

Yahoo's search engine has a similar music sampling feature, powered by Rhapsody, but Google is considered the big win. According to Nielsen MegaView Search, Google commands a 64.6% share of the Internet search market, with Yahoo a distant second at 16%.

"I think it's amazing," EMI Music senior VP of global digital marketing Syd Schwartz says. "Any situation where we can make the process of discovery and helping artist and audience find one another in better ways is something that's going to help the business."

It's also seen as a great opportunity for the digital music services involved. According to Internet tracking firm Hitwise, Lala for instance ranks No. 70 today on the list of online music destinations. It's placement as a premier content provider for the world's largest search engine is expected to drive enough awareness and traffic to significantly increase its placement in the coming weeks.

"For use it's great because it just [increased by] an order of magnitude the number of people that are going to be able to buy music from us," says Lala founder Bill Nguyen, who last week also scored a deal to provide the music gifting service for Facebook. "We're going to go from about 15 million [monthly unique visitors] to about 140 million uniques just because of Google and Facebook."

Despite the strong interest in music-related searches over the years, Google held off on developing a more music-focused search function such as this primarily because it didn't think the digital services in the market were ready to support the kind of capability Google wanted to provide.

According to Pittman, Google wanted a service that was legal, had a large catalog of music, the ability to stream music over the Internet for free, and that had additional music discovery capabilities that would entice users to keep coming back.

"The group we're launching with were the ones that fit all the criteria and worked under this model," he says. "Our goal of trying to crate a fast, scalable, and reliable music search experience was bolstered by the maturity of the online music services that exist today. It's much more mature and scalable that it's ever been. It's reached an interesting point of opportunity."

See this Friday's issue of Billboard for further details and analysis.

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