Microsoft turns Ignition for music marketing

Initiative is designed to expose new artists to consumers for an entire month via exclusive content on MSN, Xbox Live and Zune.

Microsoft is introducing an initiative on Monday to promote emerging music acts across its digital properties.

Called Ignition, the program is designed to expose new artists and their music to consumers for an entire month by featuring exclusive content through Microsoft's multiple services, including MSN, Xbox Live and Zune.

The first participating act is U.K. band Maximo Park. Microsoft is providing the group's first single as a free exclusive download via the Zune Marketplace, making the music video available as a free download from the Xbox Live Marketplace and streaming the video on MSN.

The company will host online listening parties of the act's current album on MSN Music and provide a custom Web site dedicated to the band and its activities on the site. And Microsoft is working with the band to produce custom content, such as artist-created playlists and "behind-the-album" commentary featuring track-by-track insights and observations by band members, all available via the Zune service.

Microsoft is demanding exclusive content and hands-on participation from the artists involved. "We don't want the same thing that is going out on MTV," Microsoft director of music marketing Christina Calio said.

Ignition is the culmination of several artist promotional efforts that Microsoft has offered during the past year. Following the Zune launch, Microsoft began sponsoring artists' tours. Xbox Live offers an Artist of the Month program that includes free music video downloads, interviews and monthly "Game with Fame" sessions where gamers can compete online with artists. It was an exclusive partnership with Epic Records until March.

The new Ignition program doesn't replace existing initiatives--and in fact some artists may participate in several at the same time--but it is designed to be the flagship offering.

The combined traffic of the MSN, Xbox and Zune properties totals about 30 million regular users, making Ignition the broadest such program available by far.

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