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VH1 Launches Web Service For Selling CDs

Cable TV’s music channel VH1 Tuesday unveiled a service to sell CDs on the Internet weeks before they hit retail shelves, becoming the latest in a string of announcements to spotlight rapid changes in music.

Former Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks will kick off the service, dubbed “VH1 Hear Music First, on April 16 when she will make her new CD “Trouble in Shangri-La” available to fans at VH1.com before it lands in record stores on May 1.

The service allows computer users to surf their way to www.VH1.com, where they can buy a CD for about the same price as in stores, listen to it on their PC and gain access to cover art, music notes and other material. When the CD is available in stores, a real CD will be mailed to online buyers.

Fred Graver, general manager of VH1 Interactive group, said “Hear Music First” will be the best way for music fans to get songs their friends can’t get in advance of a CD’s release, “unless your friends are smart enough to buy it themselves.”

He said VH1 will be working with major labels to entice artists to debut albums via “Hear Music First.” He added that the music downloads will be heavily encrypted so the songs can’t be “burned,” or written, onto a blank CD or turned into digital music files which could be swapped by other users.

Graver also said the move represents a good way for VH1 to extend its popular brand name into new product areas.

“Everybody in the world is using (the Internet), and our audience is right in there with the rest of them by telling us, ‘we want to get our music digitally,”‘ he said.

The new service from VH1 comes about a week after AOL Time Warner Inc., Bertelsmann AG AND EMI Group Plc formed a joint venture with technology company RealNetworks Inc. to build a subscription-based Web service, called MusicNet, for downloading music.

Also last week, Internet heavyweight Yahoo Inc. unveiled a service called Duet with Sony Music Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp., and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group. Software giant Microsoft Corp.), too, detailed plans for a music service.

The slew of announcements has come as both companies and the federal government have been grappling with ways to distribute music digitally over the Internet without infringing on artists copyrights.

“Trouble in Shangri-La” is Nicks first solo collection since 1994’s “Street Angel,” and it features appearances from artists such as Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray and Sarah McLachlan.

Nicks is VH1’s “artist of the month.” VH1 is a sister channel to MTV. Both music TV channels are owned by entertainment and media giant Viacom Inc..

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