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Will ad-supported music catch on?

More details are emerging about RCRD LBL, an all digital record label that will offer free songs alongside advertisements and editorial content. But if listeners can't take the music with them, the initiative will fail.

Digital Music News posted a short piece yesterday on a forthcoming venture called RCRD LBL.

First reported by the New York Post, RCRD LBL is a planned venture by Engadget founder Peter Rojas and Downtown Recordsfounder Peter Deutsch. High-quality brands, both. The idea is simple: users will get exclusive music for free, and the company (and artists) will earn money by selling advertisements and sponsorships. Rumored artists include Radiohead singer Thom Yorke; Gnarls Barkely, the creators of 2006's catchiest single Gnarls Barkley; and DJ Mark Ronson, who's perhaps best known for his cover versions of popular songs, including a funked up remix of a Radiohead song.

But it's not clear from the stories I've seen whether the songs will be streaming-only or downloads. And herein lies the business problem. If the songs aren't available for download, it'll fail--not enough people are interested in music that can't be played on an iPod or a home stereo system. But if the songs are downloadable, all it takes is for one person to strip off the copy-protection (if they're even protected) and post them to a file-sharing service, and the revenue stream breaks--why watch the advertisements when you can get the same song for free without them?

That's where the editorial content comes in. If Engadget is anything to go by, it'll be pitch-perfectly tailored toward a particular target audience--in this case, I imagine, young music enthusiasts who get their cues from the Internet rather than American Idol. if the written content is engaging enough, people might visit the site to read, and stay to listen.

I still like Prince's approachbetter: give the CD away and make money from the live show and paraphernalia. In the long run, I think that's the way quality artists will make a living.