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Google Music: Lots of Potential, Lots of Work to Do

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Google Music

After months of beta testing, and a day after iTunes Match ignited, Google Music finally launched yesterday with both a free 20,000-song digital locker and a refurbished music service in their Android Market. Google finished third behind Amazon and Apple in the race to the cloud-based streaming technology, so at this point you know what you're getting: A digital storage locker that allows users to access their music collection with the push of an app button. However, since this is Google Music, their service was crafted especially with Android devices in mind. Google Music also has some Spotify qualities that iTunes lacks, like its ability to tap into and share music over Google+. While Google Music has all the tools to become a worthy adversary of Apple's iTunes, the service isn't without some glaring flaws.

Sure, it's free, and that's enticing, but the biggest problem Google Music will face, however, is the massive undertaking users encounter when transferring their music library to the digital storage locker. Yesterday, The Amp downloaded the Google Music software in order to upload our free 20,000 songs to the service. The tracks began to upload so we left it running and went to gym, then to dinner, etc. A few hours later, we returned to our computer to discover that 34 songs had been uploaded. 34 songs in a few hours! And these weren't 30-minute Phish jams; we're talking Animal Collective and Adam and the Ants songs. That's slower than a snail's pace and the best possible advertisement for the quick and easy iTunes Match, even if Apple's cloud costs $25 a year. Also, the whole uploading process absolutely crippled the speed of our computer to the point of constant rainbow wheeling.

Maybe it was because everyone was testing out Google Music, but this upload situation needs to be sorted out fast, or else Google Music might be crashing like Google Wave sooner rather than later. Another aspect of Google's musical endeavor is the Android Market, which is envisioned as the company's challenger to Apple's industry-dominating iTunes Music Store. How does the Android Market match up to iTunes? Not well. The Amp randomly picked five artists -- Neil Young, Radiohead, Wu-Tang Clan, David Bowie, and Katy Perry -- to see how both stores' selection stacked up against each other:

Neil Young: iTunes offers the singer's entire catalog, plus singles, obscure EPs, live albums, greatest hits compilations, etc. Android has only three Young LPs — odd ones too, like 'Old Ways' and 'Everybody's Rockin'' -- and a handful of Neil tribute discs. Winner: iTunes.
Radiohead: Android does a little better here with all of Radiohead's Capitol Years albums in digital stock, and even a few EPs. However, iTunes has all that, plus their post-EMI albums 'In Rainbows' and 'The King of Limbs'. Winner: iTunes
Wu-Tang Clan: The only "real" Wu album on Android is 2007's '8 Diagrams'. Apple, meanwhile, has the rap group's entire discography, plus all those unofficial releases. Winner: Once again, iTunes ain't nuthin' to eff wit.
David Bowie: Android has all of Bowie's essential albums, but the Thin White Duke's entire post-Let's Dance output is missing. ITunes once again has the works. They even have Bowie's songs from 'Cool World' and 'Labyrinth', which is incredible. Winner: iTunes for "Real Cool World" alone.
Katy Perry: Pop music is where the digital music services really make their money, so it's imperative that Google can compete with Apple on this front. Fortunately for Android, they house all the same Perry albums, singles, unauthorized tributes, and needless remixes that iTunes has. Winner: Tie.

As you can see, Google Music still has a long way to go before their music store is even in the same league as iTunes. In terms of selection, iTunes is the world's biggest Tower Records, and Google Music is currently that one aisle of CDs at your neighborhood Best Buy. Another (easily fixable) drawback of the Android Market is how they arrange their music: Essential releases like 'Ziggy Stardust' are hidden among tribute albums and interview discs, but some instilled algorithm will probably repair that once more people start using the service. Google Music is offering a handful of exclusives though, from a full Dave Matthews Band concert to a Coldplay live EP.

So far, Google Music is much ado about nothing we haven't seen before, but given time, it could start luring people away from iTunes, especially Android users and Google+ acolytes. In order to make an immediate, noticeable impact, Google Music needs to do a stunt similar to when Amazon MP3 Store released Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' for 99 cents. Amazon ended up taking a massive loss on that idea, but if Google Music was smart -- and it's Google, so we're assuming they're smart -- they'd work out an deal with someone huge -- Lady Gaga, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath with Ozzy, etc. -- to lock in exclusive digital rights to the artist's next album. That would force iTunes users to head to Google Music, and who knows, they might like what they see. At this point, that's the only way any music service will ever make a dent into iTunes' sales.

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