Updated to further clarify MySpace’s involvement: Google (s goog) is set to lift the lid on its new music search system this afternoon, with a party at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood to celebrate the occasion. The product is a lot like what I’d expected: a helpful revamp of Google’s search results that gives users access to song streams from various third-party providers. It isn’t a full-fledged music service, but it does make Google a better music search engine, with some unexpected twists — such as exclusive content — that could broaden its edge on its big-media peers and search rivals such as Microsoft’s (s msft) Bing.
Music search queries will now return streams from either of two featured providers, Lala.com or MySpace-owned iLike.com, which will play in a popup window within Google’s results page, as well as links to hear the same songs via Imeem, RealNetworks’ (s rnwk) Rhapsody,
MySpace-owned iLike and web radio provider Pandora on their own web sites. Lala’s streams can be played once as full songs by each user, then they revert to 30-second clips; the other services collectively offer a mix of full-song streams and previews. (Lala allows users to buy permanent song streams for 10 cents, or downloadable MP3 files for various higher prices.) You don’t have to be searching for an artist or song title to get music results — a half-remembered chorus will do. A search for a snippet of lyrics brings back an opportunity to stream the song itself from Lala or the other partner sites. Google will use Emeryville, Calif.-based Gracenote’s database to match up lyrics with titles, artists and songs.
Google and Lala will be offering exclusive songs through the service, showing that Google is willing to go beyond reorganized search. Beginning Monday, artists will begin releasing songs that can’t be heard anywhere but a Google search results page — not even on Lala’s own site — for a one-time stream or subsequent purchase.
The revamped results with song streams will likely keep visitors around on Google’s own pages for longer, boosting ad rates. Six percent of Google’s top 1,000 song streams last week were music-related and 1.48 percent of its total searches sent users to music sites, Hitwise’s Heather Dougherty noted in a blog post today. Many music searches on Google result in quick exits to MySpace, YouTube or Wikipedia; the chance to hear a song will surely make users linger for awhile. And while Google is still stomping the competition in terms of overall market share, it’s actually only now catching up to what Yahoo has been doing for about a year with music search.
Today’s announcement is a clear win for Lala — and MySpace, whose bargain-basement acquisition of iLike this summer now looks like a steal — and increases the pressure on Microsoft’s (s msft) Bing and other search rivals to offer a more alluring product. (Microsoft appeared to have acquired assets of music search engine Seeqpod several months ago, although no formal announcement was ever made.) Specialized music search engines such as Amie Street-owned Songza may still be more satisfying for deeper music queries, but for casual listeners and everyday music search, Google’s new product represents a modest improvement.