Weeks after it looked like "free" could be wiped out of streaming music, one of the biggest companies involved in on-demand streaming music has launched a free tier ahead of Apple Music in the United States. Google Play Music, which has been around since 2013 as a paid subscription service, announced today that it would launch a free, ad-supported tier that streams music based either on songs a user likes or on specific contexts. The service launches on the Web Tuesday, and will be rolling out to mobile users via Google Play and the iTunes Store later this week.

While the paid version of Google Play Music is available in 58 countries, a Google spokesman declined to give a timeline for when the service would roll out in other territories.

The service will be supported by two kinds of ads: video pre-roll and banners. Those ads will be available to advertisers through the Google Display Network, which will enable advertisers to reach users based on keywords, retargeting or affinity audiences.

Joining The Party

The launch of Google Play Music’s free tier, which does not allow users to play specific songs on demand, makes Google the latest on-demand streaming service to try radio-style services as a way to entice people to use these services. Spotify, Rdio and Deezer all offer ad-supported, radio-style mobile experiences of some kind, and a number of other digital platforms, including the messaging service LINE, have launched music offerings recently.

It is difficult to map out how much success Google and YouTube have had in attracting subscribers. Though its subscriptions service has been live for two years, and spokesmen say it has doubled its total number of paying subscribers over the past 12 months, Google has never disclosed how many people are using Google Play Music All Access, or YouTube Music Key, which launched in beta last year.

Wherever it stacks up against competitors like Spotify, Rdio, Deezer and Rhapsody, it must gird itself for the arrival of Apple Music, which will launch in more than 100 countries at the end of this month. Other services have pressed to expand into further markets ahead of Apple Music’s launch.

Good Free vs. Bad Free

The limitations of this free tier are clearly intentional. Labels and artists have complained that ad-supported services do not pay an adequate return. 

In its announcement, Google framed its free tier as a way for users to familiarize themselves with the service before moving to the paid tier. "We hope you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll consider subscribing to Google Play Music to play without ads," Google product manager Elias Roman wrote.