Google Empyrean (beta)

Originally published in Bandwidth Magazine.

If Google is trying to be subtle about taking over the landscape of the internet, it is failing. Spectacularly.

Initially no more or less noteworthy than any other search engine, it innocuously grew common features such as its own email service and news aggregate. Then Google Labs got creative and gave us such quirks as iGoogle and Google Docs. More recently it has tried to creep out of the browser, first creating a browser of its own, and, more recently, an OS.

Google’s comprehensive “I can do all of that and make you dinner” mentality naturally extends to music. General listening aside, between jingles, soundtracks, and theme songs, music is everywhere, and it makes up roughly 6% of Google searches.

With the rise of Facebook, MySpace has increasingly become the annoying little brother of social networking sites; the one you only play with because your mother tells you to. However, in the music department, a Facebook Page for your band still falls far short of the popularity and functionality of MySpace Music, which, even at the front of the pack, is still surging forward.

In addition to photos, tour dates, streamed tracks, embedded videos, and numerous other MySpace features, beta product MySpace Music Charts has recently been created, and is being tentatively touted as the Billboard of a new generation. It monitors, analyzes, and lists track and artist popularity by genre, region, and even designation as indie or major.

Additionally, in recent months MySpace has acquired social music sites imeem and iLike, and partnered with (wonder of wonders) Google to make music more searchable. The new combined service will allow a searched song to be previewed through MySpace or streaming site Lala, either of which will provide a link to purchase the track.

If all you have are a few lyrics from the desired song, they will be searched through the Gracenote database and the song information will still pop up with the same options.

Purchasing, too, is being simplified. Rumours are flying that major player iTunes might be developing a web-based purchasing service to work alongside the iTunes store. Until recently, clicking an iTunes-related song link would either open the program on your computer or instruct you to download and install it. However, with the quietly rolled out iTunes Preview, you can now see the album information, reviews, track listings, and prices directly in the browser. Streaming and purchasing are still limited to the iTunes Store, but this small step has many speculating over potential giant leaps to follow.

Additionally, iTunes has partnered with Twitter, Facebook, and Last.fm to make it easier to recommend artists and songs via social networks. Each notification also includes a link to preview or purchase the recommended track.

Even if iTunes doesn’t go web-based, there are plenty of services willing to fill that void. Sony has recently released information about its forthcoming Sony Online Service, which will sell music, movies, books, and mobile apps, and allow photo and video content to be uploaded by users, providing a youtube-like atmosphere. Some remain dubious of Sony after such media fiascos as the rootkits of 2005, but the network supporting their PS3 gaming console has seen plenty of praise.

One of the PS3’s primary competitors, Microsoft’s XBox, is also trying to prove itself savvy in the social media department, having recently partnered with Last.fm to provide streaming through the XBox. The launch of the service resulted in one million new Last.fm accounts, though it remains to be seen how many of those accounts will upgrade to paid subscriptions.

For those who prefer to stream off-console, established services such as Napster and Rhapsody are also seeing their fair share of new competition. MOG Music Network is intending to set up a streaming service that is comparable in functionality but with monthly rates lower than either competitor.

With so many sites offering streaming services and online stores, and connecting to virtually every popular online service, music piracy might decline simply because tracks are easier to buy than to steal.

While acquisition is becoming simpler for the consumer, it is similarly benefiting the producer. Existing in one corner of cyberspace is better than nothing, but with so many services expanding, interacting, and incorporating, the task of being everywhere is less daunting than ever before. Rather than simply having a web presence, it is possible for aspiring artists to very easily have a Web 2.0 presence.

As various services seek to become the ‘be all and end all’ of the internet, it often comes down to a toss-up between trying to develop the ability to do everything, or focusing on one thing and partnering with companies who can do everything else. Google almost certainly falls into the first category, and yet to solidify its supremacy it still behaves like the second.

Google is no longer a search engine, it is an internet potentate that also happens to offer one. In the modern media climate, if you want to develop and publicize your music in an online capacity, it is almost necessary make Google your friend. The service will happily take your traffic in exchange for comprehensive visibility.

Besides, if you don’t, it may develop a beta product to smite you.

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