Music-Industry Execs Weigh In on Google’s China Service

Google hopes its new digital-music service in China will surpass the expectations of users accustomed to the broken links and hit-or-miss quality that comes with ilegitimate downloads, but it’s already surprised music industry executives.

Jacky Cheung
Jacky Cheung

The company flexed its engineering muscle Monday when it unveiled Google Music Search in its full form. Just as in beta, mainland China users can download or stream licensed music for free, from a database that now has 350,000 tracks from around the globe, including songs from Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung to American R&B singer Usher.

In addition to its basic function, however, Google has added a tool that recommends music based on genre, language and singer’s gender. It also has an automated system that suggests new music based on a listener’s preferences for tempo or sound saturation (think: live Linkin Park concert vs. a boys-choir’s rendition of “Ave Maria”).

With this product, “you’re starting to see technology moving in other directions,” says Lachie Rutherford, president of Warner Music Asia Pacific.

“You have to realize that not all consumers are musically knowledgeable. A lot of people need help to find out what they want. Radio is not the force it used to be to recommend music to you,” he says. “So, this to me, is a medium.”

Google and its Chinese partner, Top100.cn, expect in coming months to offer more than one million tracks. They’ll come from 140 record labels, including the world’s four biggest: Warner Music Group, Vivendi’s Universal Music, EMI Group and Sony’s Sony Music Entertainment.

Label executives, who were in attendance at Google’s launch event, said the new search would also provide the much-needed metrics on which artists are most popular, which has been hard to determine because of unreliable data.

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