Saying that it wants to bring music fans “closer to your favorite artists,” Google has added a new Music Search OneBox to its search results. The new OneBox includes content from partner sites such as MySpace, Pandora, Lala and others, and lets searchers listen to song clips right from Google’s search results page. Searchers should begin to see the new OneBox in the next 24 hours.
Google has had a music OneBox before, but it disappeared some time ago, perhaps in preparation for the launch of this new Music Search 2.0, as we’re calling it. There’s also a deeper search function that only surfaces music-related content and still appears to be active — see this U2 search, for example.
According to today’s announcement, searches for the name of an artist, album, or song will show the new OneBox in Google’s main search results. If you search for an artist or album name, the OneBox will include a set of four songs that are chosen algorithmically by the partner music site, not by Google. Each song will be linked to an audio clip that will play in a Flash-based pop-up window provided by the partner site. In some cases, the partner may provide one full play of the song before defaulting to a 30-second preview.
Google’s music OneBox will include links to these music partner sites to discover more information about your music-based search, and sometimes the links will help you discover music that’s related to your search. Contrary to recent rumors, you won’t see any links to purchase the songs — at least for now. Google’s RJ Pittman told us today that, while some of their music partners have a commerce element, the focus of Google’s new music search is information, not selling digital songs. In fact, there’s no commercial arrangement at all, we’re told, between Google and the music partner sites included in this launch.
In some ways, this is a case of Google playing catch-up. Yahoo already offers a music shortcut with better features. From Yahoo’s search results, you can listen to up to 25 full-length songs per month (via Rhapsody, which is also partnering with Google now) and watch full-length music videos from Yahoo! Music.
But this shortcut is only shown on Yahoo searches for artist names, not for album or song names. Yahoo used to offer a lyric-specific shortcut, too, but that appears to have disappeared.
Speaking of song lyrics…
This is where Google’s announcement gets really interesting. Many of us don’t know the name of the song or artist, but we remember a line or two from a song and we use that as our search query. Google’s new music search will try to divine when searchers have put song lyrics into the search box and surface the correct song. The Google blog post shows a search for the phrase “static silhouette somehow”, which returns a OneBox about the song “Rome” by Phoenix.
How does Google know if your search query is a song lyric or not?
Pittman says the algorithm will look at things like the popularity of the search term; if Google starts to see a lot of searches for a popular song or its lyrics, it’ll show the OneBox. He also says it’ll take “at least a phrase” to initiate the lyric search, and the more words in your query, the more likely Google can correctly identify it as a lyric search. Google has partnered with Gracenote for this lyric matching effort.
What about when more than one song contains the same lyric?
In situations like this, Pittman says Google will only show one matching song — at least for now — and that the music partner’s algorithm will determine which song is the best likely match.
But there’s obviously a lot of room for error here, with so many songs sharing similar titles and similar lyrics, not to mention new artists covering old songs and sometimes changing a lyric or two in the process. “There are lots of songs with lots of overlap, and we’ll have to continue to improve,” Pittman says. Google’s announcement today even acknowledges the challenge of identifying search queries as song lyrics and returning the right song: “In some instances, we may not return links to the song you’re looking for.”
Google has partnered with well known music sites such as MySpace, Pandora, iMeem, and others, to help searchers discover more about their favorite artists. But, as I suggested on the call today, there’s a lot of musical information that Google isn’t surfacing in its new OneBox — information from the many excellent fan-based web sites, for example, or from intelligent music media sites and blogs.
Sure, I’m biased. In 1995, I created @U2, which is the oldest independent site on the web about U2. We’ve been honored by Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and countless others over the years. As I said today, I’ll put our U2 lyrics, band biographies, etc., up against these music portal sites any day of the week.
Google’s announcement says “there’s a lot of music out there in the world,” but by limiting its results to a handful of partner sites, Google is limiting how much of that information will be found in its new Music Search OneBox.
See also: Live Blogging From The Google Discover Music Launch Event, by Danny Sullivan