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Google launches music search with Lala, Pandora, Rhapsody, imeem and MySpace

October 28, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Google this afternoon began rolling out its widely rumored music feature, which lets users search for and listen to entire songs for free.

The search engine banded together with several music service sites that are responsible for streaming the songs on Google's search results pages. Searching for Coldplay, for example, will yield the band's album cover art, alongside four popular songs that users can play once for free. Once a song has been played by a user, they will only be able to hear a 30-second sample of tune. (The feature is being gradually rolled out over the next 24 hours, so some folks may not see the feature until tomorrow.)

Google Music LaLa Google itself isn't paying record companies for the rights to play millions of songs on its search page; its partners are. Those include Lala, Pandora, imeem, MySpace Music and Rhapsody, a subscription service from Real Networks. All have licensing agreements with record labels to stream or sample millions of songs online.

The Mountain View, Calif., search company said it's not interested in competing with digital music retailers such as Amazon and Apple's iTunes.

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

But in steering millions of Internet users to these sites, Google is indirectly boosting their ability to compete with 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, including physical albums, according to market research firm NPD Group Inc. Amazon, the second-largest player, accounted for 9% of digital music sales and 10% of overall music sales.

Google says it's only interested in helping people find and discover music. Whether it can help revitalize the music industry is another question that Times editorial writer Jon Healey addresses here.

Millions of people already use Google to ...

... look for music on the Internet and learn more about bands. The search engine last week accounted for 30% of referral traffic to music-related sites, according to Experian Hitwise, an Internet traffic tracking firm. At any point, two of the top 10 terms searched using Google are music-related, Pittman said.

Some of that traffic has been going to sites that offer free, pirated songs, something that record companies have struggled to deter. Google's efforts to steer traffic to legitimate music sites, where labels at least have a chance of making money, are welcomed by music executives.

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

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

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