Google’s Music Search

Google announced its new music search Oct. 28 and it was immediately hailed as the next “iTunes killer.”

Feeling a little déjà vu coming on? Seems as if every time someone announces a new music application or service, some scribe somewhere is proclaiming it as a contender for iTunes’ throne.

Google says two of the top 10 queries in the U.S. are music related. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was only 10 years ago when the RIAA was sounding the alarm saying most search queries were for MP3s. Of course, at that time major label music was still sold via physical media only and most MP3 searches resulted in illicitly posted tracks.

Google’s new search feature, which was scheduled to roll out within 24 hours of the initial announcement, is set up to enable users to find, listen to and purchase music quickly. To accomplish this, Google has partnered with MySpace, Lala, Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody.

Here’s how it works. Enter a song title and Google returns with the name of the artist or band in the top four results, and links to where you can listen to and purchase the track. Other results, such as fan pages, artist websites and blog postings, appear lower on the page.

Audio previews and purchase links are handled by Lala and MySpace. The latter recently spent $20 million acquiring iLike, which had been working with Google on the music search project for months.

For example, searching for “Bohemian Rhapsody” will result in links to MySpace and Lala where you can listen to a preview of the Queen track as well as purchase it.

However, finding and buying songs are just two features on Google’s overall music agenda. Partners Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody provide links to similar artists, making the new search feature a tool to discover new music as well as find old favorites.

Plus, like other Google searches, the company has set this one up to be as all-inclusive as possible, meaning if you don’t know the name of the song or the artist, you can use song lyrics in your search. A bit of the chorus or the first few words of the song will return links to the recording as well as to other artists you might enjoy.

Before you think this is just another Internet announcement that will soon be forgotten, this is Google we’re talking about – the search company that changed the way people use the Web. In preparing its new music search feature, Google analyzed current methods of searching for music on the ‘Net and found them to be rather awkward and confusing.

Essentially, Google’s search is designed to cut down on the time between searching for music and listening to it. Google calls this time period “Time To Music” and the company’s goal is to shave as many seconds off of “Time To Music” as possible.

Of course, having predefined search routines leading to partners helps eliminate the clutter, resulting in more successful searches. And one of the problems with music searches is that results often lead to as many dead ends as legitimate song sources.

But an iTunes killer it isn’t. Although it will lead customers to online music sources other than iTunes, it probably won’t directly compete with the No. 1 online music service.

On the other hand, it’s only the beginning and Google says it has more music search features yet to implement. The search company’s cell phone partners also have plenty of Android-based mobile phones to sell. Connecting those devices to its music-service partners will help phones based on Google’s mobile OS a little more friendly for downloading tracks and synching music libraries.

But making finding and purchasing music easier is definitely a step forward. The trick is to see if music fans follow Google’s lead.


Streaming From Lala Land

Hey, kids! Wanna stream your iTunes library to your iPhone? Lala’s got your app.

Yes, the music service that began life as a CD trading site, is headed for iTunes with a new application based on streaming rather than downloading.

At one time it was thought Apple would resist approving iPhone apps for any music service other than its own iTunes. But the U.K.’s Spotify won approval earlier this year while Rhapsody got the Steve Jobs seal of approval in September.

Music service Lala recently showed off its yet-to-be-approved iPhone app to Associated Press. What makes this one different is that it gives users the ability to listen to songs almost instantly and not have to wait for time-consuming downloads.

The idea is simple. Assuming you already own the tracks in your iTunes library, Lala places copies in your digital locker for streaming to your iPhone. Each track you stream comes with a one-time-only charge of 10 cents, after which, you can stream the tunes ‘til the cows come home.

“There’s no downloading, no links to click on, it’s just there,” said Lala co-founder Bill Nguyen, who called the app “the end of the MP3.”

Like Rhapsody’s iPhone app, users are streaming the music from “the clouds.” Unlike Rhapsody, the Lala app identifies the tracks a user listens to most and then stores those songs on the person’s iPhone to allow listening when data connections are weak or nonexistent.

The Associated Press reports it takes about two seconds for songs streaming from Lala to play on iPhones, considerably less time than the two minutes or more it takes for music downloads to land on mobile devices.

But there is a catch. Lala is streaming as little as 32 kilobits per second – not quite the same quality as the 256 kbps tunes sold on iTunes and found on most music files already stored on mobile devices. But Nguyen says streaming bitrates will improve as cell phone data networks become stronger.

Lala will also sell higher-quality MP3 versions of the songs for 89 cents, but that requires users to connect their iPhones to their computers. The service expects its app to debut on iTunes in November, pending Apple’s approval.