From Apple to Google, Music's a High-Tech Buzzword Again

Apple's big announcement Wednesday may put iTunes on the web, while Google has been talking quietly to the labels about the Droid

Just when it seemed all the wired geeks had moved on from music, a couple of big players are showing some interest again.

Industry insiders tell TheWrap that, as has been conjectured, at least part of Apple’s super secret announcement in San Francisco on Wednesday will be a new streaming, cloud-based service that will allow iTunes listeners to access their music anywhere online.

Additionally, Google — which has been quietly looking for a corporate heavyweight to run its yet unnamed and officially non-existent music service — has been talking to the labels about making music together, says a person familiar with the talks.

First, Apple.

Though the company "doesn't have all the licensing deals in place yet, they have the tech, the devices and the ability to increase their reach and start a streaming service almost immediately,” one label executive who has worked closely with Apple in the past told TheWrap.

In fact, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has quite a few digital ducks in a row — including one important one.

In April, Apple suddenly announced that it was shutting down its music-streaming site LaLa, which it purchased for around $80 million in December 2009. But is LaLa really dead?

Using LaLa's cloud-oriented technology, Apple customers could easily put their entire iTunes libraries on servers accessible for streaming from iPods, iPhones, iPads and even boring old laptops and desktops.

“You don’t think Steve Jobs bought LaLa just to close it, do you?" the label executive said. "They know this will liberate them and their consumers.”

Another music insider familiar with Apple’s plans says the company will likely increase the preview time consumers can listen to a song on iTunes from the present 30 seconds to perhaps the whole tune and “move more to a cloud-based service on an iTunes.com site.”

Also, earlier this summer, the always observant CNET noted that Apple has stealthily introduced cloud-based music streaming to its iDisk online storage service.

Then there's Google, which has been making moves about seriously getting into the game — including streaming and possibly downloads — for months.

“They began talking to labels in very general exploratory terms at CES in January,” a music insider close to the situation told TheWrap. “All roads point to something that would work with the Droid.”

Motorola’s bestselling Android phone series, which debuted in 2009, already features Google technology.

So why this new emphasis on music, with only slightly over half of iTunes users looking exclusively for songs, according to a recent report by industry analysts the NPD group? Especially when Apple is talking about streaming entire songs for for free?

Some industry experts believe songs are not the endgame. For the tech companies, the real appeal of fully accessible music is an entry point to all of their platforms and properties, they say. Indeed, since its 2001 debut, Apple's proprietary iTunes has become not just the leading music retailer but a big distributor of TV, films and now apps.

“I don’t think it’s about music at all,” Antony Bruno, Billboard’s executive director of digital and mobile content and Programming told TheWrap of Apple’s plans. “When you look at the money they make from music and the money they make from other properties like the iPhone, it's a drop in the bucket, and most of the money goes to the labels anyways.”

“It’s about their device, mobile in particular, and keeping you within their eco-system,” Bruno added, “Music, digital music, is a big big part of what they need to get more people to use those.”

Bolstering that argument, the label executive says he has heard part of Apple's presentation Wednesday will be about improving the iTunes process so fans can find more discoveries.

Neither Apple nor Google responded to requests from TheWrap for comment … so we’ll all just have to wait and see. And hear.