How Google thinks it can beat Apple Music and Spotify

While Apple, Spotify, and Pandora are all competing to become the dominant streaming music service, Google wants to make sure you haven’t forgotten about its own music app: Google Play Music.

The company announced on Tuesday that it will be rolling out a free version of Google Play Music.

It won’t let you pick specific songs like the paid version, but instead will let you choose from a wide variety of human-curated and incredibly specific playlists — more like Internet radio with dozens of DJs than a music on-demand service.

Incredibly specific playlists

These playlists are created and curated by Google’s team of music experts that it acquired when it purchased Songza last July for a reported $US15 million.

This human curation aspect isn’t specific to Google Play Music — Apple’s new service also has a radio station called Beats One that features live DJs that broadcast music and commentary 24/7.

But Google differs in that you can find playlists that are built around an idea and a feeling rather than just a genre or mood. For example, rather than just offering a playlist titled “Summer Pool Party,” you can find a playlist that’s created to imitate the specific mood and feeling of the pool party from the iconic pool scene in the “Mad Men” episode titled “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Or, if you want something that captures Beyonce’s personality beyond just mixing a curation of her music, you can listen to the “What Would Beyonce Do” playlist, which offers up a selection of confident and upbeat R&B tunes in addition to Beyonce’s own music.

The key is to make sure the playlist resonates with a certain type of mood, says Parry Ernsberger, an experience lead and content editor for Google Play Music.

“It’s not just a mixtape,” she said. “It’s a mixtape that keeps you in the same mood throughout.”

The Google Play Music team says that once they create a playlist, they never really stop working on it. They’re constantly updating playlists with new songs and looking at what worked and what didn’t.

The music content editors are responsible for coming up with new themes and ideas for playlists, too, and the process is a bit like writing for any other medium — you pitch an idea around a certain theme or feeling, and then run with it.

There’s even an editorial calendar for keeping up with pop culture events that may be a good fit for a new playlist theme.

“If you can’t communicate the idea of a playlist, it’s probably not a good idea,” said Jessica Suarez, a product marketing manager at Google and an editor for Google Play Music.

Not apples to apples

The new free version of Google Play Music gets you access to all of these playlists, plus basic radio stations that are based on a specific artist or your history that are curated by an algorithm (as Pandora does), not Google’s staff of experts. You also get to listen to music offline without ads on any device under the free tier.

But, if you want to search for an artist and listen to full albums and songs on demand, you’ll have to pay for the monthly subscription.

That’s where it will be hard Google Play Music to compete with Apple and Spotify.

But Google isn’t worried about that — the team is confident in the idea that people want these expertly crafted playlists just as much, or perhaps more, than they want to be able to search for any song and listen to it.

With Google Play Music, it’s more about providing the best soundtrack to fit your mood or whatever you’re doing at that moment.

“The music savvy audience is already well served,” said Elias Roman, a product marketing manager at Google, when asked how Google Music differentiates itself from Apple Music and Spotify. “We’re focused on something more specific, improving the things you do everyday.”

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