Free, on-demand streaming music is a rising tide: since the start of 2009, I've covered relatively new services like Spotify and Just Hear It, and there are plenty of established players like MySpace Music, Imeem, and Grooveshark.
Instead of trying to stop the tide, Sony Music has wisely embraced it: starting today, the company will introduce streaming music players on the Web sites of its most popular artists, including popsters like Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and Jacko himself. It makes perfect business sense: instead of letting some third party like Imeem sell advertisements against high-demand music, Sony can sell or display its own ads.
Of course, they couldn't make it too easy--finding the audio on Michael Jackson's site took a few clicks, including one that forced me to identify my country, and the songs were embedded in the Sony-specific MyPlay player, which is an interesting piece of technology but only lets you create playlists with songs from other artists with MyPlay players. More generally, I wonder if it's too late for these label-specific initiatives--I'm sure plenty of hardcore Britney fans have her Web site bookmarked, but most music listeners probably prefer to use services that let you compile lists from multiple artists on multiple labels.
Sony is also adding lyrics to these artists' sites, provided by the company's own Gracenote subsidiary. Excellent move. I can't believe it's taken this long, given the lack of decent lyrics sites out there. In fact, I still don't understand the reluctance to publish lyrics online--what are people going to steal? What money is the artist or copyright owner losing? Kudos for Sony for taking a baby step toward ending this silliness.