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Google Music announces free, ad-supported streaming ahead of Apple Music debut

At a time when free, ad-supported streaming music is increasingly under fire from artists and labels alike, Google today announced that Google Play Music will join the ranks of Spotify and other streaming services to offer a free tier in the U.S.

One of the lower-profile streaming services on the market, joining the ranks of other streaming services from tech titans like Amazon’s Prime Music, Google Music is perhaps going free in an effort to stir up some much-needed attention in a streaming marketplace that continues to be flooded with choices.

“At any moment in your day, Google Play Music has the right soundtrack to accompany the occasion. Whether you’re working, working out or working it on the dance floor, Google Play Music gives you curated radio stations to make whatever you’re doing better,” reads Google’s press release.

The free service adds to Google Music’s paid subscription service, which offers premium features like caching for offline playback, playlist creation, and unlimited access to Google’s 30 million songs for the industry standard of $10 per month.

The timing of today’s announcement appears to be designed, at least in part, as a direct shot across the bow of Apple’s forthcoming subscription-only service, Apple Music, which will launch a week from today. While Apple’s new service will offer a host of new features including DJ curated stations, 37 million tracks, and a 24-hour live radio station called Beats One, the service will not offer a free, ad-supported tier. Instead, Apple has offered a three month free trial in an attempt to entice listeners to migrate to the streaming service.

Google claims the new ad-supported branch give fans “just the right music” while giving artists “another way to earn revenue.”

The latter point will no doubt be met with criticism, as ad-supported music streaming has drawn the ire of independent artists, music labels, and outspoken power players in the industry like Taylor Swift for its extremely low royalty payouts. Swift famously removed her music from Spotify, saying “I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

Swift’s comments are backed up by Spotify’s own financials: The service made over 91 percent of its profits last year (around $897 million) from its 15 million paying subscribers, while bringing in less than 10 percent from its larger portion of 45 million users who rely on the ad-free tier. That kind of discrepancy has lead to a broader conversation about the value of streaming music, with many claiming that ad-supported, on-demand streaming should be highly-restricted, or even eliminated.

For her part, Swift has become a champion of sorts when it comes to the fight against ad-supported streaming. In fact, while the pop superstar has said that she believes Apple’s paid subscription-only service could be the “platform that gets it right,” she famously called Apple out in a Tumblr rant over the weekend for its plan to withhold royalties from artists during Apple Music’s free trial period. In response, Apple reversed its decision, pledging to pay artists during the free trial.

While Swift may have swayed Apple execs, it appears her words had little affect on the higher ups at Google headquarters. Google’s new free streaming service will become available to users on the web today, and is slated to roll out to Android and iOS devices later this week.

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