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EMI, Universal ink pacts with free tunes startup

FreeAllMusic (except for the video ads)

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Two major music labels have signed partnerships with a new ad-supported music startup called FreeAllMusic.com, which lets US users download free (and legal) songs in exchange for watching video commercials.

One week after Universal Music Group inked a deal to license its music, FreeAllMusic announced that EMI is on board with the service as well.

The website, which is currently running in private beta, allows registered users to download up to 20 DRM-free tracks per month (five per week, starting every Tuesday) after watching a "brief" video commercial per download.

Music fans then have a permanent copy of the MP3 to use with no DRM or further advertising attached to the file. No special software is required under the service either — although music selections and sponsoring brands are tracked and promoted outside the site via an unnamed digital advertising service. But FreeAllMusic claims that users can opt-out of the external advertising program if they choose.

Before downloading a track, users are given a choice of advertisers to pitch to them. After watching the commercial and downloading the MP3, the website will then display additional banner ads from that sponsor. The company said its taking a "walk before run" approach to building both its customer and advertiser base, but it has brands like Coca-Cola, Warner Bros., Zappos, and LG participating in the initial launch.

Although backing from UMG and EMI gives the service a better chance of surviving the sue-crazy, licensing clusterfuck that is the music world, that doesn't mean success is assured.

Last March, SpiralFrog — a similar ad-funded service that made splashy headlines and inked agreements with UMG and eventually EMI — shut down and surrendered its assets to creditors after unsuccessfully trying to make a profitable business out of free, ad-supported music. But SpiralFrog was often panned for locking down its songs with DRM long after online music stores like iTunes were beating the drum of unrestricted downloads.

FreeAllMusic may win points for choosing a DRM-free strategy for its downloads. But it still has to pay the music labels a royalty for each track and somehow eke out a living on ad revenue. And that's no easy trick. ®

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