Cloud music wars: Google Play gets free song matching

Google (s GOOG) just upped the ante for cloud MP3 lockers with the announcement that free song matching is coming to its music service. Google Play users will soon be able to store up to 20,000 songs on Google’s servers without having to manually upload every single copy. The announcement was made as part of a blog post that also revealed details about Google’s new Nexus devices. It read, in part:

“We’re also launching our new matching feature to streamline the process of uploading your personal music to Google Play. We’ll scan your music collection and any song we match against the Google Play catalog will be automatically added to your online library without needing to upload it, saving you time.”

Song matching is coming to Europe first, where it will be available starting November 13. U.S. users will have access to the feature “soon after,” according to Google. A spokesperson also confirmed that the cloud service will automatically “upgrade” songs to 256kbps MP3s, even if the source file on a user’s hard drive is of lower quality, much in the same way it’s been done as part of Apple’s (s AAPL) and Amazon’s (s AMZN) cloud music lockers.

Apple first introduced a song matching feature called iTunes Match as part of its iCloud integration a year ago, and Amazon followed suit by adding song matching to its cloud locker in July. The big difference is that both of those companies charge their users $25 per year for their cloud music services. Google on the other hand is offering the same functionality for free.

Cloud locker vendors are paying music labels royalties for the use of their music via song matching. This likely means that Google is subsidizing the service in the hope that it will get users to buy more music on Google Play – purchased songs are automatically added to a user’s cloud locker as well. Google may also want to push Android media integration in general, which could benefit its tablet ambitions. The company has specifically been marketing the Nexus 7 as a media consumption device.