Alex Pham's Digital Notes: YouTube's Free Tracks, Amazon's Cloud Store, Siemer's Big Prize

YouTube's Free Offerings
Google, it would seem, loves giving stuff away. Last week, it was QuickOffice, a suite of productivity apps it purchased in June and is now distributing as a free download. Today, it's more than 150 audio tracks that people can use as background music for their videos -- all royalty-free. We reported on the announcement when it was made at Vidcon in August as an upcoming feature. Now the tracks are live and organized by mood, genre, instrumentation and duration. They can be downloaded as 320 Kpbs MP3 files and used "free, forever, for any creative purpose (not just YouTube videos)," YouTube managers Fred Beteille, Jason Toff and AJ Frank wrote in a blog post. YouTube paid the tab for professionally recording and producing the tracks. You're welcome. 

Amazon Plugs Store Into the Cloud
Amazon has a music retail business. It also has a cloud locker service that lets customers access their music library from anywhere via the Internet. Until today, those two products were fairly separate. The Seattle retail giant on Wednesday announced that its cloud service now has the MP3 download store built-in -- no need to navigate to the retail site to browse through the company's catalog of 20 million tracks.

The company was the first among the big digital content distributors to launch a cloud locker for music, back in March 2011, beating Apple and Google to the punch. Since then, Amazon has slowly layered on more functionality. In July 2012, Amazon added a scan-and-match feature that let listeners access their music library without having to upload their songs. Instead, Amazon, equipped with licenses from rightsholders to do so, was able to scan a customer's computer to see what songs they have in their library and make those songs available to them over the Internet. Users are able to access their music on Amazon's Kindle Fire, Android phone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Samsung TV, Roku, Sonos or web browser. The store, however, is currently only available on the PC version. The company on its product page promised, "Mac Users -- stay tuned. We're working on a version just for you." 

Siemer & Associates' $160K Big Kahuna Start-up Prize
Siemer & Associates announced its Big Kahuna prize package, worth $160,000, to be awarded to one lucky start-up at the venture firm's Silicon Beach Summit, taking place in Santa Monica on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3. A handful of music and video companies have been selected as contenders, including StageIt, NeonGrid, Songspace, AudioMicro and QWire.

Notably, most of these companies operate in the "tools and licensing" space. StageIt, for example, gives artists tools to host online performances with a limited group of fans. NeonGrid gives artists tools to create a virtual portfolio showcasing their work across multiple platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes and IMDB. AudioMicro specializes in content licensing, including sound effects, stock music, YouTube videos and celebrity photos. QWire gives creators tools for composers, filmmakers, artists and production studios to manage media projects via a cloud. And Songspace helps artists manage their publishing rights. Let the pitching begin.