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Vivendi, Sony seek conductor for Duet

The media giants are expected to announce the appointment of Andy Schuon to head Duet, the companies' online music subscription service, sources close to the companies say.

Media giants Vivendi Universal and Sony are expected to announce the appointment of Andy Schuon to head Duet, the companies' online music subscription service, sources close to the companies said Thursday.

The appointment, which could come "very soon," according to sources, would shed more light on the direction of Duet, which to date has been more of a concept than a product. Schuon, who led Jimmy and Doug's Farmclub.com, an online music site from Universal Music Group, has been considered the top choice for the Duet position for a few months.

"He's the front-running candidate" for the position, one source familiar with the situation said.

Vivendi Universal and Sony both declined to comment.

Tapping a CEO to run Duet underscores media companies' need for leadership in their online music plans. Despite recent aggressive advancements, the online music initiatives by big media companies are volatile areas built on shaky alliances. Many, including Duet, were created as partnerships between archrivals in the music business.

Duet is not alone in trying to fill its top executive spot. Duet's primary competitor, MusicNet, has also begun searching for a new CEO, and has looked to executives at EMusic and MP3.com as potential candidates, according to sources close to the companies. EMusic CEO Gene Hoffman has been approached by MusicNet interim CEO Rob Glaser as one potential candidate, sources say, but they described the talks as "preliminary" and said no formal offer has been extended.

MusicNet has gathered momentum in the eyes of the music and technology industries, while Duet has been silent on many details of its service. MusicNet is a music subscription service jointly created by streaming media company RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group, EMI Recorded Music and Bertelsmann's BMG Entertainment.

On Wednesday, MusicNet struck an agreement with controversial file-swapping service Napster. The deal could give Napster the right to sell music from MusicNet's label partners depending on whether the company can ease security concerns raised by those partners. The labels' concerns have not been ameliorated, according to statements issued Wednesday by EMI and Warner Music.

In addition, Glaser, also CEO of RealNetworks, has presented the service in front of Congress, showing a system that provides music in streaming and download forms.

Duet, however, has yet to publicly display its service, and executives have stated their caution toward providing downloadable music files before an adequate security feature is in place. Still, the company struck an agreement to distribute its songs on Yahoo. That version of Duet is expected to launch this summer.

Farmclub was originally designed to expose new bands on the Internet, a kind of minor league where unsigned acts could post their material in hopes of being discovered by major-label talent scouts. The site had an associated TV show on the USA Network, where a few artists could get wider exposure.

The unsigned-artist model has proven difficult as a business venture, however. Riffage.com, which operated on a similar principle, went out of business last year. Farmclub itself was folded into GetMusic.com, another label-backed online music site, a few months ago.

Still, Farmclub was the host for Universal Music's original trial subscription service, which could prove to be a prototype for the Duet service. That streaming-based offering almost immediately drew a lawsuit from music publishers, which said Universal Music had launched the subscription service without getting permission from people who owned rights to the songs.

News.com's Paul Festa contributed to this report.