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"We're trying to get consumers to interact with some of these more legitimate services. Having Google step up and support this is a positive development."
——Thomas Hesse
GOOGLE GETS TUNED IN
Innovative Music Search Feature Could Help Level the Playing Field
Google's new music search methodology is now live. The smartest guys on the World Wide Web introduced their wicked-cool new search tool Wednesday night at a press conference held in Capitol Studios, with Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, Mos Def and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder on hand. In short, Google’s suite of features is designed to make the process of finding music easy and enjoyable, while providing links to band websites, tour dates, videos and the like.

The music search feature, which is being warmly embraced by the music biz, lets users stream millions of songs in their entirety—not just the standard 30-second samples—with an option to buy or “rent” them from such partners as MySpace Music, Rhapsody, Lala, iLike, Pandora and iMeem.

A search for any given act would give you four songs you can play once for free (before reverting to a 30-second sample), along with album artwork, lyrics provided by Gracenote) and links to Google’s online retail partners.

"We're trying to get consumers to interact with some of these more legitimate services," said Sony Music President of Digital Business Thomas Hesse. "Having Google step up and support this is a positive development."

But Google, which last month accounted for about 70% of Web searches in the U.S., said it wasn't interested in competing with digital music retailers like iTunes (which was responsible for 69% of U.S. digital music sales in the first six months of this year, and 35% of all music sales) and Amazon (which accounted for 9% of digital music sales and 10% of overall music sales), noted L.A. Times technology reporter Alex Pham in his coverage of the event.

"We're not in the music business per se," said R.J. Pittman, Google's Director of Product Management. "We don't license the music nor sell the music directly on Google. We are merely a music search feature."

Up-and-coming start-ups such as Lala, as well as longtime players such as RealNetworks’ Rhapsody sub service have tried to gain an edge over iTunes and Amazon by offering lower prices or different features, Pham pointed out. Lala, for example, lets buyers listen to an entire album once free of charge before they buy. It also sells Web-only songs for as little as 10 cents a track, and downloadable MP3s for 89 cents.

"This offers an incredibly powerful front-end to our experience," said MySpace Music head Courtney Holt. "This will continue our amazing growth."

Millions of people already use Google to look for music on the Internet and learn more about bands, last week accounting for 30% of referral traffic to music-related sites, according to Experian Hitwise. Said Marissa Mayer, Google VP of Search Product and User Experience, "We see millions of queries daily that are music-related." She added that two of the top 10 Google searches during the last five years have been music-related, with lyrics #1 and “music” #10.

"Technology has made music more affordable and more instantaneous than ever," said Lala founder Bill Nguyen. "Google is helping people to find and listen to what they like with virtually no effort. When you make it easier for people, they tend to buy more music."

For more details, see Google’s blog post describing the features.

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