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Beta-testing the video ad-supported Free All Music

Free All Music began a private beta test this week, and I'm satisfied with the value proposition, as the ad-viewing and MP3-downloading process is surprisingly painless.

Free All Music, whose unusual business model is to show users a short video advertisement in exchange for letting them download an unrestricted MP3 file, began private beta testing of the service last month.

The process of watching ads, then downloading MP3s, is surprisingly painless. The site will limit you to a certain number of downloads per period (right now, users are permitted 10 downloads to start, plus an additional 5 every week, but those numbers could change before launch). Through a secondary advertising system, Free All Music shows banner ads noting that particular users have downloaded songs "sponsored" by an advertiser.

With the video ads and these secondary banners, Free All Music hopes to convince advertisers to pay higher rates than they have for other ad-supported sites, thus avoiding the fate of failures like SpiralFrog.

Free All Music asks you to choose among these sponsors each time you want to download a song. Screenshot by Matt Rosoff/CNET

First, you choose a song you'd like to download. The site is focusing on new releases and top hits--there's not much of a back catalog--but that's fine, as these are precisely the songs that listeners might be slightly interested in having but for which they are not willing to pay a buck.

Case in point: the new album by Them Crooked Vultures, a supergroup consisting of Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme on vocals and guitar, ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, and ex-Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. A few of its songs struck me as interesting and intricate, but I wasn't quite willing to pay $18 for the vinyl LP I saw at my local record store (mainly because I know from my past Queens album purchases that there are always a few great songs interspersed among a bunch of pretty good songs.)

Instead, I cued up the album on Free All Music. It offers only 30-second streaming samples--a major flaw, as it forced me to open a second window to MySpace Music to figure out which songs I wanted to download. But once I'd figured out what to download, the rest of the process was easy.

Free All Music asks you to choose a sponsor, forces you to watch a 15-second video ad (in theory, you could minimize the window or walk away from your computer, though I'd certainly never endorse such behavior), then lets you click a button to download the MP3 file.

The process repeats for each download, though the site limits the number of times you can watch the same ad--for instance, I was able to pick an H1N1 vaccination public-service announcement only twice before I had to choose a Zappo's ad.

The end result? I've got the seven best songs from an album I wasn't going to buy, and I had to spend only about 2 minutes watching ads to get them. I think that's a fine deal.