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10 Ways to Improve Google Music

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This week, Google dropped the beta from its Google Music service and integrated an online store with major label partnerships. Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and EMI hopped on board with Warner Music Group being the sole holdout among the Big Four, and indie labels continue to be added as well.

Playing catchup to the likes of iTunes and Amazon, the store offers 320Kbps-quality songs which won't count against your music locker's free 20,000-track limit. Users can also share purchased music on Google+ for a free listen. In addition, Google Music will serve up some free daily tracks that you can add to your collection.

Along with the store, Google also released an improved Android app to access your music locker.

Although a Google Music store is a huge addition, many users are having a "been there, done that" reaction. After all, it's not like music fans have been left wanting for a place to purchase online music. However, its existing features -- although basic -- still put the service on par with a cloud-based iTunes.

It's free. It's accessible anywhere via web browser on a PC or Mac and an Android smartphone app. The 20,000-track allotment is huge and not limited by file size or quality. And music can be streamed, saved, and synced to multiple devices and computers.

In short, it's a nifty service for the anti-iTunes lot, and the fact that it's free sweetens the deal.

But admittedly, there are numerous ways that Google Music can improve by cherry-picking some of the better features of its competitors -- as well as stuff that nobody's touched yet. If Google is looking to boost user experience across the board, it would be remiss not to consider these additions.

1. Fill Out the Indie Label Selection
Warner is the obvious gap in the Google Music store's catalog, leaving out essential albums from Pixies, Led Zeppelin, The Smiths, Gang of Four, Joy Division, The Replacements, Jimi Hendrix, and -- of course -- Nickelback. But a quick perusal of non-Warner artists also shows some glaring omissions. While indie labels like Rough Trade, Epitaph, Naxos, Beggars, Merge and Domino have signed on, without Dischord, Up, and Mr. Lady, bands like Modest Mouse, Fugazi, Le Tigre, Built to Spill, and Jawbox are left with incomplete entries.

2. Track Matching
A service so nice that Apple can charge $25 a year for it, track matching eliminates the need for uploading gigabytes of content to an online server. The system scans your library for tracks it already has online and allows users to only upload the content it doesn't have. In return, users have top-quality 320Kbps files available to steam or download anywhere as well as their unknown tracks. It's one of iTunes' best features, and it would be phenomenal to see Google Music to offer something similar.

3. "Add to Google Music" Feature
It's counter-intuitive to stumble across an MP3 online that you'd love to have in your personal collection, only to download it to your Google Music folder and upload it back online to your music locker. It would be a boon to users if they were able to transfer music found elsewhere with a simple "Add to Google Music" function. No need to download and store. It's all automatic and kept online.

4. Full Integration of AllMusic Info
As of now, only artist info is culled from the comprehensive AllMusic.com and it's limited to the Google Music store section. While it's nice to have bios of the bands, AllMusic.com is practically the IMDB of music with reviews, granular genre listings, and intricate band recommendations. Why not include its unparalleled artist discovery tools with Google Music? Allow users to see critics' reviews of albums as they're played, browse the groups that influenced a particular band, and fine-tune a College Rock playlist separate from American Underground. If Google is the king of information, prove it with a overly informative Google Music experience.

5. Better Podcast Aggregation
For Android users, your best podcast app is still DoggCatcher -- a full-featured app with everything you need to cultivate multiple podcast subscriptions. Sadly, Google's only entry in podcast aggregation, Google Listen, pales in comparison to the feature-heavy, consistently updated DoggCatcher. It's time to kill off Google Listen, take what works with DoggCatcher, and integrate it into Google Music -- feed subscriptions, remembering playback position, automatic downloads, automatic deletion, etc. Just give users the opportunity to listen to Doug Loves Movies and Comedy Bang Bang without having to open another app.

6. Smart Playlists
When I finally grew tired of the bloated iTunes software, probably the feature I missed most was its Smart Playlists and its multi-tiered sorting of tracks into better culled playlists. My favorite was "Way Back Greats" which took tracks I rated over 4 stars but hadn't listened to in over a year. Unfortunately, Google Music doesn't have much in the way of auto-updating playlists, save "Thumps Up," "Last Added," and "Free and Purchased." The service should include other variables into automatic playlist construction like iTunes does. (Albums from 1988 that I've listened to less than three times. Post-Hardcore artists with more than 12 songs. Every song starting with the letter C.) And speaking of ratings...

7. Better Ratings System
Sure, Siskel and Ebert were able to grade countless films with a bipolar Thumbs Up/Down system, but the average user cannot seriously weigh every track as "LOVE IT!" or "HATE IT!" For some songs, I had enough trouble choosing between a 3-Star or 4-Star rating in iTunes. There needs to be more variance in the degree to which a fan loves a song. In a perfect world, Google Music would allow a rating system ranging from 0.0 to 10.0 and have it detectable in automatic playlist construction.

8. Gapless Playback
This is just plain common sense. Unlike the iPod software, few Android music apps eliminate a silent pause in between tracks. For audiophiles, that hiccup in between songs is extremely grating -- especially for albums like Girl Talk's Feed the Animals which play as if it's one long track. Eliminate the gap, Google, and throw in crossfade playback while you're at it!

9. Greater Social Integration
While allowing users to share a song or album they've purchased is a nice addition, it's a feature I'm likely to never, ever use. In 2011, there are no less than 3 million different ways to stream new music without being limited to one play. Google Music needs to expand upon the social integration. Why not be able to share playlists like Spotify does? How about a real-time "What Are My Friends Listening To?" feature like in Facebook and Last.fm? Maybe a window with status updates and tour info provided by the band via Google+? The social media options are practically limitless, and shouldn't be whittled down to "Share track on Google+ for one play."

10. Video
Yes, it's called Google Music, and opening up the service to lengthy negotiations with studios would be a gigantic headache for Google -- especially when it had enough trouble with Google TV. But this is where every streaming service is inexorably headed, and there's no reason an online music locker can't also contain video files -- aside from the copyright ramifications. It was only a few years ago that a cloud-based iTunes, Google Music, and Amazon's Cloud Drive were impossible dreams. Now -- along with Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark, Turntable.fm, Last.fm, and countless other streaming sites -- our massive music collections are always within reach. Ten years from now, after the rigamarole of studio complaints and profit sharing, the same will be said about our movie collections.

No sense in stopping Google Music from getting a head start.

(See also: Steve Jobs Planned on Taking Phone Companies Down and Google Engineer Calls Google+ a Complete Failure)

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