Friday Night Fights: Google Music vs. iTunes Match [Feature]

Laaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to Friday Night Fights, a new series of weekly deathmatches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

After this week’s topic, someone’s going to be spitting teeth. Our question: What’s the better music-in-the-cloud service? Google Music or iTunes Match?

In one corner, we have the 900 pound gorilla, Cult of Mac; in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, we have the plucky upstart, Cult of Android!

Place your bets, gentlemen! This is going be a bloody one.

Vincent Messina, Cult of Android

I’ll start this one off by pointing out that if you’re even considering iTunes Match it’s because you use iTunes and most likely own Apple products. With that being said, you probably already have most of your music stored in iTunes and therefore will have no reason to move it to Google Music. However, there are some advantages to using Google Music, most notably its price tag — free! In fact, once you compare the two, the only real feature being offered by iTunes Match that you won’t find in Google Music is the ability to match any song available in the iTunes store and make it available without having to upload it. This will of course save you time when uploading your library to the cloud and if that’s worth $24.99 a year to you then so be it. Otherwise, you can hold onto that money and use it to purchase a few extra albums from Google Music.

With Google Music you can store up to 20,000 tracks for free (iTunes Match offers up to 25,000), you can stream your music and even download it for offline playback on just about any device with an internet connection (including iOS devices). There’s no need to be tied to a specific product or limited to how many devices you can use to listen to your music. Another cool feature offered with Google Music is the ability to share music you’ve purchased with friends via the Google+ network (the full track not just a preview). When it comes down to it, your decision is most likely going to be decided by which market or service you generally use to purchase and store your music. Just know that Google Music is well worth exploring, especially since it will cost you nothing.

John Brownlee, Cult of Mac

As an Apple fan and customer, I’ll be the first person to admit that I was a little disappointed by iTunes Match when it was first announced.

What the rumor mill told us to expect was everything from an a la carte music subscription service (like Spotify or Rdio) to a streaming locker service (like Google Music). Instead, what we got seemed, at first blush, like a less full-featured version of Google Music or Amazon Cloud Locker: an online repository of all your music, but without streaming… all you can do is re-download your tracks, and even then, only on devices with iTunes installed (PCs, Macs and iOS devices). What’s the point of that?

When I finally got to play with iTunes Match, though, I realized that appearances were deceiving. iTunes Match is actually a fantastic product.

For one thing, unlike Google Music, iTunes Match doesn’t merely manually upload your tracks to Apple’s servers: it matches your library automatically, no uploads required. In other words, if you have a song in your iTunes library, iTunes Match makes it available to you on any other compatible device without ever squirting the MP3 up channel. The only exception to this is when Apple doesn’t recognize the track (which is rare, and usually only applies to non-commercial music), at which point, Apple will upload the track to its servers manually.

The “Match” part of iTunes Match lets Apple do some neat things that Google Music can’t even begin to do. For one thing, putting my 40GB iTunes library in the cloud only took a half an hour with iTunes Match, where as it took literally days with Google Music. For another, because all of the songs on Apple’s servers in iTunes Match are CD-quality 320kbps, I was able to upgrade literally hundreds of low-quality 128kbps tracks that had been bumping around my hard drive since the early 2000s in just minutes. All I did was let iTunes match them, then re-download them.

Again, Google Music can’t even hope to do these things right now, but that’s not to say Google Music doesn’t have some advantages of its own. As I said earlier, Google Music streams, where as iTunes Match just re-downloads. That means that you always need room on your device to save an album you want to listen to to disc with iTunes Match, which seems like a fairly absurd restriction in a modern music-in-the-cloud service and is probably motivated by Apple trying to placate its carrier partners, whose 3G networks are already being crushed by streaming apps.

The other thing Google Music can do that iTunes Match can? Offer your music library for streaming on any device capable of running an HTML5-compatible browser. Forget installing iTunes every time you want to grab a song on a new computer, all you need to do is open the browser. That’s a big perk.

Finally, Google Music is free to store up to 20,000 tracks. iTunes Match costs $24.95 a year.

You might think, then, that I’m going to end my argument by just a limp shrug of the shoulders, a “different strokes for different folks” cop-out. But you know what? I’m not going to say that, because while the iTunes Match vs. Google Music debate may mostly be an iOS User vs. Android User exercise, there is one group of people for whom iTunes Match is clearly and inarguably the better service: music creators.

Why? With iTunes Match, Apple finally figured out how music creators can make money off of pirated songs. We predicted it back when it was first announced, but now it’s actually happening, and musicians are suddenly getting big checks for pirated tracks being accessed through the service, because Apple is paying 70% of every iTunes Match subscription fee to the music publishers whose tracks are being stored on their servers. That’s not something Google Music is doing at all.

At the end of the day, then, what the iTunes Match vs. Google Music debate really comes down to is whether or not you support piracy vs. artists being paid for their work. With iTunes Match, Apple figured out how artists could finally cash in, at least in part, off of 15 years of torrented, pirated and traded MP3 tracks. iTunes Match is helping to save music. What has Google done for music lately?