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Earlier this week, we learned that after some speculation, that Google had acquired Songza Media, a streaming music and recommendation service. And while music services are certainly hot right now, the bigger question is why Google felt it necessary to purchase another music property when it already has several.

In an age when digital music sales volume is declining has already occurred, larger consumer technology companies are firmly claiming ground in the prevailing music landscape — audio streaming — while continuing to hold onto their legacy audio content distribution channels. To date, Apple and Google have the most comprehensive offerings, which include the following four pillars of streaming music services:

Pillar 1 – Music for purchase

Users login to an online store along the lines of Google Play and iTunes to purchase songs or albums a la carte (e.g. Classic iTunes, Amazon and Google)

Pillar 2 – Music storage

Users can upload their music files onto Apple or Google servers in the Cloud so they can stream the audio from anywhere they have Internet access (e.g. iTunes Match, Google Music, and Amazon Cloud Player)

Pillar 3 – Digital streaming radio

Users use songs, artists or music formats (e.g. Pop, R&B, etc.) as source material to create a template for a radio station whereupon computer software will generate a playlist based on its understanding of the characteristics of the source material (e.g. Pandora, iTunes Radio)

Pillar 4 – Digital music subscription services

Users pay a monthly fee in order to gain access to the entire catalogue of songs available to a particular vendor. There they can create playlists and pick and choose from whichever songs they want to listen to (e.g. Spotify, Rdio)

With Apple’s recent purchase of Beats and Google’s recent acquisition of Songza, there’s a new piece supporting the streaming experience: Pillar 5 — the Hyper-focused playlist generation.

Rather than the Pandora-focused experience described in Pillar 3 (above), Songza’s hyper-focused playlist generation allows users to choose a playlist based on a more human level. Put another way, where Pandora focuses on an artist, song or music format to create a playlist, Songza’s playlist generation focuses on mood, activity, time of day and other variables.

Likewise, Beats allows users to create playlists based on “the sentence,” an on-the-fly playlist generation technology that allows users to gain the same level of granularity as Songza’s playlist creation scheme, albeit without the human element. Beats Music’s playlists are generated by computer while Songza’s playlists are edited by their in-house staff of music experts.

The key here is that when it comes to listening, users can set it and forget it. While services like Spotify and Rdio give users incredibly tailored experiences with access to hot indie tracks and an inexhaustible supply of songs to choose from, services like Beats and Songza are simpler — allowing the user access to the same or similar music with none of the set-up hassle associated with creating the playlist themselves. At the same time, users gain more control over what they’re listening to than they would with Pandora’s Music Genome algorithm.

Finally, Songza and Beats also bring new users to the digital communities of these more established technology companies. While Apple can court the youth and urban markets that are associated with Beats’s headphones, Songza’s more than 4.7 million active users (Music Alley, May 2013) is a welcome jolt to Google Play Music’s community, which has yet to stand out as particularly active.

As long as they were alone in the marketplace, Songza and Beats faced vast uphill battles for users and market-share in the face of titans like Pandora and Spotify– especially since both of their strategies fell somewhere in the middle. As one of many pillars of a digital music streaming service, they form an integral part of a suite of offerings that will keep both users and their precious data flowing to their respective parent organizations.

Devindra Hardawar assisted with this story.

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