Google Music is here, promising the magic of the cloud. Is it the perfect way to consume music digitally? Well, that's what they want us to believe.
Google Music isn't perfect. You're limited by what you already have (and plan to purchase in the future). If your library is big, it could cost a small fortune to even get it to the cloud. There's a divide between your desktop music app and Google's web app. And for now, it's not platform-agnostic. But the perfect music service is out there—at least in pieces. It's waiting to be created, from the best the Internet has to offer.
At its core, the perfect music service would offer every song, ever made, wherever you want to listen to it, whenever you want to listen to it. Rdio and MOG and Rhapsody and Zune know this. Unfortunately, they can't offer it yet. And it's not happening anytime soon, because that just isn't a profitable model. Someday, though, the music library will be the least of a service's worries.
Microsoft knew this was a big idea when it launched the Zune, but ultimately, they didn't know how to go about it. Apple cynically tacked on a half-baked solution to their iTunes music store with Ping, but that held everyone's attention for all of 23 minutes.
Rdio, however, has the right idea. Instead of the social element revolving around its music component, the music component revolves its social element. The service forces you to look at what your friends are liking, listening to and adding to their library. And they do so in a way that's easy for you to digest. You want to follow people out of curiosity. What are their tastes? What do they listen to most? They added that? They can't really be serious. Unfollow.
Most music services are available on most devices in some form or another. But you wanna know the beauty of Amazon's ambitious, yet flawed, storage locker? It can pretty much be accessed from any browser, desktop or portable. You don't need to download an app, or worry about compatibility. Just log in and go.
Your local and cloud library are one. Sure, you have access to millions of tracks, but there will always be those obscure albums that you bought from some dude on a street corner, and you want access to those always. Lala's was one of the first to match your iTunes library against its database—and arguably did this better than anyone has since. Now, Rdio will match your own library (though with some serious holes). Grooveshark will let you upload your own tracks. The perfect service will give you access to an unlimited library of millions of tracks, but also give you a little space in the cloud to nurture those rare gems.
The perfect music system will learn what you like and will use that in a variety of ways. It will build you playlists, and curate radio stations like Pandora. It will recommend people for you to follow. It will show you artists who are similar to your favorites or those who you're curious about. But it will also get a sense of your tastes and recommend new releases as they come out. When you can't decide what you want to listen to, it will go and find an album, or tracks without you having to give it prompts. It knows what you've been listening to lately, and it knows what you like to listen to at that specific time of day. And like radio still has the power to occasionally do, it will surprise you.
Someday, this music service will arrive. It's not that the current companies aren't aware that these are the perfect ingredients, they have to be. But they don't know how to make it palatable to the masses while making money off of it. And like the best, most innovative tech companies in the past, the best, most innovative music service will find away to give us everything we want while getting everything they want.