Google Music is out of beta in the US, and it pretty much does everything we thought it would. It will let you buy, store, stream and share tracks you already own. Sounds familiar... maybe because it's an entirely unoriginal idea.
It's not available in Australia yet, so Giz AU reserves judgement for the moment. However, it seems that Giz US is not impressed.
Tying a music store to a storage locker is not enough anymore. The technologies might be current, but the ideas behind Google Music are tired. An a la carte music store? A storage locker? MP3 lending? Guh. These concepts are all old. More to the point, they're DONE. If, as a company, you're going to improve on an existing product, well, that's awesome. Thank you. But if you give us more of the same shit we've already had for years, we'd kindly ask you to leave Thunderdome. In a body bag.
Speaking of old and tired, were you really pining away for another a la carte music store? Probably not. Most of us have been buying tracks from iTunes and Amazon for years. Why would we switch? Especially when the shelves aren't fully stocked: Google Music only has three of the four major labels on board. And the fourth, Warner, reps a whole mess of huge names. Like it or not, music stores are commitments these days; getting your tracks from one to another may not be impossible, but it takes *some* effort, and people are lazy. You gonna hitch your wagons to Sony, EMI and Universal? Gonna fill that storage locker with The Offspring?
Oh, speaking of that storage locker: It's nothing more than the application of current technologies to yesterday's ideas. The concept behind it is as old as a shelf full of records: stuff you already have, sitting in one centralised place. Which a) is available elsewhere and b) does not advance the experience of listening to music one iota. Sure, it's a good solution to the problem of backing up your tracks, especially with 20,000 songs (~300 gigs) for free, but — zzzzzzzzzzz... Oh, sorry, I fell asleep. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, this complete let-down of a music service from one of the only companies in the world with the clout to actually change an system, not just recycle it.
Let's move on to this song sharing system. Like really? Remember the time the Zune came out and let all 37 Zune owners "squirt" tracks to one another? I bet you don't. Let me refresh your memory: Even Microsoft let borrowers play a song more than once (Google limits you to a single play). And eventually Microsoft even opted for the subscription-based Zune Pass, which was an early model of a what is quickly becoming an industry standard. An industry standard that Google is coming in well below.
Say what you want about the long-term viability of streaming subscription services; they're the only cool thing happening in digital music right now, the only products that are helping people leverage the best qualities of digital audio to discover new music. Maybe they're not huge money makers yet, but at least they're trying to take an awesome, forward-thinking concept and make it work. It's the kind of bold move you'd expect from a powerful company like Google. Instead, it's the province of startups. If the Spotifys and Rdios hang on long enough, they — or someone with a better product and a window of opportunity — will figure it out. Especially as musicians start to lean on the major labels less and less (you know, the labels who reap the benefits of these streaming deals), and start earning larger royalty cuts.
Long story short, Google is late to the digital music party in every way imaginable, just like it was with its ebook store (remember that?). Which would have been fine had it come with something better than everyone else. But Google Music arrived bearing the same gifts as the other guests — oh, and some exclusive live Dave Matthews Band tracks. Just more evidence that Google has no idea what is going on with music today.