Google Music: The Future Home of Independent Musicians?

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There has never been one place you could go to find out everything you needed about any band anywhere. Imagine: One resource that operates like an instantaneous card catalogue for current music. Among the many that have tried, none has the potential of Google Music Artist Hub.

Google Music made its full-scale debut last week. How it will affect the way people consume music seems unclear. Its loudest feature, the Android music store works essentially just like the iTunes store, and you can ask Amazon how easy it is to bite into that market. Not that Google backs down from these sorts of challenges (right, Facebook?), but it's hard to get too excited about another place to pay 99 cents for an .mp3.

The other main tenant of Google Music is its cloud storage: You can upload up to 20,000 songs from your own library to Google's servers, where they could then be played from the digital device of your choosing: computer, tablet, phone, server, etc. But with Spotify and other streaming music services getting bigger, faster and free, the Google Music upload seems to appeal to an incredibly small number of people: Obscurists, audiophiles and a certain brand of selective technophobe.

Buried in the myriad bells in whistles of the Google Music launch was Google Music Artist Hub. It's not much now and won't be any time soon, but a year down the road, it could be the first and last place you go to find out about nearly any band.

Others that tried

MySpace was close: it was essentially comprehensive and included a way to listen to music and a place to find information about the next show. But the web site itself was never elegantly designed, it was hard to navigate and it was never really designed with a community in mind - it was a fine landing page for a single band and its immediate band-friends, but that was about it. And, of course, its desperate and ill-advised redesign only hastened its descent. Have you been on MySpace recently? It's like a vacant shopping mall in a depressed suburb.

Facebook seems like it should have been the obvious answer. As MySpace's successor and superior in nearly every way for the individual user, its band interface should have followed. But it never did. The band profiles were designed to be used like corporate profiles or even individual profiles, but no thought ever seems to have been given to the unique needs of a musician. So it's a little hard to tell when the next show is, harder still to listen to the music and impossible to send a message directly to the band. What Facebook nailed was the community element that MySpace lacked: Events remain, in our opinion, an invaluable promotional tool, and there is some amount of interaction possible with a musician Facebook profile.

There have been endless other players on small levels that perform various relatively niche functions. Bandcamp and cdbaby are sites we particularly admire, and others such as Soundcloud and last.fm have their place. Those sorts of outlets will continue to help artists do specific things. But they will never do the most critical thing here, which is get a useful percentage of the musicians in one place and offer the possibility that they might also get on the same page. Why this might be different

This is the first time we've seen a high-profile social media platform for artists that seems to a) be engineered with bands in mind and b) has the capability of doing everything you might want the online home of your band to do. Because of its ties to the Android music store, the onboard player is effective and useful in a way Facebook's never was. Its events will be better than Facebook's because Google's calendar is, by default, infinitely more usable than Facebook's nonexistent one.

There really aren't any functions here you can't find elsewhere. But the key is that they're all in one place -- you might conceptually be able to direct people to your Google Artist Hub and from there they could find everything they might need to become a fan and follow your career.

The trick here, of course, is getting everyone to join. Facebook might as well have put up signs that said "Bands don't bother" on its home page, so little thought was put into its musician features. Yet Facebook is barely less than essential for an independent musician, simply because that's where everyone is: Fans, other bands, media outlets, promoters, venues, etc. If that same critical mass can be found on Google's platforms, the Artist Hub could allow an unprecedented level of communication throughout a music community .

Why it might fail

The success of Google Music Artist Hub is predicated completely on Google Plus catching on. Without a massive social network attached, it's just a fancy, less cost-effective Bandcamp or cdbaby. There are reasons to believe Google Plus will catch on, however -- despite its slow start, it's well constructed and everyone with a Gmail account basically has an Google Plus profile sitting there waiting for her.

Google also needs to ensure that it is thinking about these things from a social networking standpoint first and a selling music standpoint second. The connection to a particular music community is much, much more important than the connection to an online store. The payment division and start-up fee (detailed below) definitely reflect a store-first mentality (creating any barrier to entry for an artist, even if it is only $25, will surely steer artists away from signing up, especially in the beginning when the added value is fairly low).

The fine print

You must agree to the Google Music Artist Hub terms and conditions in order to sign up for a profile. The full text can be read below, but the highlights are:

-You may set whatever price you like for your music, and Google will take 30%. You have to pay a $25 sign-up fee. That's fairly standard, or maybe slightly better than you would get for the two most common ways of getting music in the iTunes store: cdbaby and Tunecore.

-They will keep your music on their server even if you delete your artist page, but only to replace defective files customers have purchased.

-There is no explicit statement made about control of images and text you might upload to your artist page -- it's likely Google would "quote" those things in its searches much as it does for the rest of the content online.

Google Music Artist Hub Agreement

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