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Music marketing takes center stage at iLike

The social music site plans to unleash a number of new syndication features for artists, from an iPhone app creator to YouTube integration.

Social music start-up iLike has come a long way from its early days as the way to "dedicate a song" to your friends on Facebook.

On Wednesday, the Seattle-based company plans to unveil some fresh new features for the set of tools it offers to artists who want to connect with current and potential fans. It's hooked up the application program interfaces (APIs) of Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace to allow for more extensive content syndication from artists' iLike pages, and has released an iPhone app-creation product to boost their mobile presences.

"Marketing and communication are the primary things that artists are still in need of a third party's help in," CEO Ali Partovi told CNET News. "Music production and distribution, I think, there are pretty successful and well-established services right now that essentially let you do it yourself."

The Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace add-ons are understandable supplements to the existing "artist pages" feature that iLike says more than 300,000 bands and artists now use. With Twitter's API, artists using iLike will be able to embed a Twitter widget on their iLike pages as well as syndicate iLike updates out to their Twitter feeds. They'll also be able to automatically publish a video to YouTube when they publish it to iLike, and vice versa; with the News Corp.-owned MySpace, they can add iLike "RSVP" links to MySpace concert listings and cross-post blogs and videos to both services.

For iLike, which got its start as an iTunes plug-in and now specializes in developer applications for social networks like Facebook, Bebo, and Hi5, this move is another step toward making it a more flexible, distributed alternative to simply running a MySpace band page. iLike, in addition, recently rebranded its Facebook app to simply "Music."

As part of the new feature package, it's also selling artist analytics about where fans are located, how much they interact with iLike pages, and how well individual pieces of content like videos and blog posts perform. That'll cost $99 per year, Partovi said.

But the center of the new iLike offering is the "turnkey system" for creating custom iPhone apps. Basically, this is a relatively quick way for an artist to create an iPhone app that gives fans access to tour dates, iTunes Store purchasing, videos on YouTube, blog entries, and related content.

It's also a new revenue stream for iLike, which will take a cut of the sale of each iPhone app if an artist chooses to charge for it, and will charge an activation fee if the artist chooses to offer the app in the iTunes Store for free. As a launch promotion, that activation fee is currently $99; a formal price will be announced next week.

There might be some advertising down the road, too, though Partovi declined to say when or how. "Our plan in terms of the business model, like everything else we've done, is (to) put it out there and develop adoption, and over time to figure out the best way to monetize it."

Not everyone's going to want to download iPhone apps to keep tabs on every single one of their favorite artists, and while Partovi said that a sort of universal iLike "favorite artists" app isn't yet on the company's iPhone roadmap, he expects there are enough artists with rabid fan bases for the apps to be a success.

"I don't anticipate a whole lot of fans downloading a hundred different apps for their favorite artists," Partovi said, "but for a fan that has a small group of artists that they're really passionate about, there are fans who will want everything that they can get their hands on from that artist."

And what happens if one of the artists pulls a Nine Inch Nails and gets rejected by Apple due to "objectionable" content? iLike is responsible for the submission process, and hence also responsible for what happens in the event of rejection, but Partovi implied that he's keeping his fingers crossed that there won't be an issue. "We're going to take care of the submission," he said. "We can't guarantee approval, per se, but there's common elements from app to app. We're hoping that once we get some traction that it'll be generally easier."