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MusicMatch in tune with labels

The company says it will introduce a new paid music-listening service, powered by fresh agreements with four major recording labels, including BMG and Universal.

MusicMatch on Tuesday said it would introduce a new paid music-listening service, powered by fresh agreements with four major recording labels, including BMG Entertainment and Universal Music Group.

The San Diego, Calif.-based company, which provides software and services for listening to music online, said it signed nonexclusive licensing deals with BMG, EMI Recorded Music, Universal and Warner Music Group. The agreements expand MusicMatch's repertoire of music with more than 8,000 artists, or 20,000 albums--the foundation for a new subscription streaming audio service, called Artist On Demand. MusicMatch plans to launch Artist On Demand in December; the service will cost $6.95 monthly or $59.40 annually.

The new service, and partnerships with the major labels, may give MusicMatch an advantage with consumers in a highly competitive and evolving digital marketplace. Right now, MusicMatch offers a subscription radio service called Radio MX that works hand-in-hand with its jukebox software that lets people catalog and play music on the PC. With the agreements, MusicMatch is branching out into distribution of digital music downloads, yet still within a streaming media environment that is less unstable and open to theft as downloads have historically been.

This could prove an attractive model for recording labels, which have been haunted by online music piracy in file-trading communities such as now-defunct Napster, analysts say.

"It's an important step for MusicMatch and the online music space," said Ryan Jones, an analyst at The Yankee Group, a research firm. "The company is making a logical transition from online radio to streaming artists on demand, which isn't as unstable as music downloads, where people can trade and steal openly."

The announcement comes little more than a week after MusicMatch introduced new online jukebox technology, which lets subscribers easily transfer music files onto portable devices, including Apple Computer's iPod for Windows operating systems. The software, called MusicMatch version 7.5, lets aficionados print stylish labels for CDs, which can be custom mixed and burned using the software, among other features.

MusicMatch's coming subscription service will complement its premium radio service, Radio MX, which costs $4.95 a month. The company said it is part of MusicMatch MX, a new suite of music services, and that it's aimed at bridging a gap between Net radio and MP3 music downloads.

Among other features, the service will catalog recommended artists in order of popularity by genre and let subscribers create playlists on the fly of favorite artists. People can also purchase CDs through the service, view album art, artist biographies or photos. The service will include a catalog of music from the four recording labels, with more than 8,000 artists, or 20,000 albums, and new music tracks will be added weekly, sometimes before they are released in the stores.

"These agreements allow us to broaden the variety and scope of our music catalog, creating new business opportunities for MusicMatch, as well as recording artists, music labels and other copyright owners," MusicMatch CEO Dennis Mudd said in a statement.