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Music Turns to Tech for a Hit

November 3, 2005

LONDON, England (Reuters) — When Madonna takes the stage in Lisbon this week to perform her new single “Hung Up,” it will be the culmination of weeks of promotion harnessing new technology that is revolutionizing the music industry.

Major artists are increasingly using the Internet, mobile phones and music appliances like Apple Computer’s iPod to generate hype and sales, combining technological advances with the traditional mainstays of live performance and interviews.

Stars including Robbie Williams, Madonna, U2 and Latin American singer Shakira have explored new ways to market their music in the last two years, while lesser-known acts like British band Arctic Monkeys are also getting in on the act.

“This is the future, baby,” Williams announced at the end of his album-launching concert in Berlin last month, which was beamed into 27 cinema and nightclub venues across Europe and watched by more than 100,000 people on their mobile phones.

Williams’ partner in promoting his “Intensive Care” record is T-Mobile, which has signed an 18-month deal with the British singer that is in keeping with a shift towards using mobile phone technology to sell pop music.

“Everyone these days has a mobile phone, so for major artists, this is a perfect tool to stay in touch with the fans,” said Matthias Immel, who is involved in international marketing at T-Mobile, an arm of Germany’s Deutsche Telekom.

“There is a major trend in the music industry from physical to digital formats, and this of course will continue,” he said.

“What will happen is that mobile phones will be the dominant hardware used as digital music players. iPod is successful, but it is still a high-end device.”

The music business is only beginning to come to terms with Internet downloading, much of which has been done illegally, and piracy of physical CDs.

Legal digital music sales tripled in the first half of 2005, partly helped by mobile phone “ringtunes,” but CDs and other physical formats continued their steady decline.

First lady of pop tunes in

Madonna has followed hard on Williams’ heels, making “Hung Up,” the debut single from her eagerly-anticipated new album “Confessions on a Dancefloor,” available first as a ringtone via MTV.com and VH1.com. She takes to the stage in Portugal on Thursday to launch it.

The same Web sites along with LOGOonline.com, which all belong to media group Viacom, will also offer access to the whole album one week prior to the official release date in mid-November.

MTV has also linked up with Colombian-born Shakira, who releases “Oral Fixation Vol 2″ later this month.

Under the deal, the music channel will offer tracks from the album online a week before they go on general release and produce “mobisodes,” or interviews and performances by the artist that will be distributed to mobile phones.

“We’re trying to play into these new methods by which consumers and fans are trying to get their music,” said Brian Celler, vice president of international marketing at Epic Records, Shakira’s label owned by Sony BMG.

Last year U2 tapped the iPod boom to promote its hit album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”

With the recent arrival of “podcasting,” which allows customers to download video segments to portable devices, that kind of cooperation is expected to increase.

It is not only internationally established artists who are getting in on the act.

The relatively obscure Arctic Monkeys grabbed the coveted number one slot in Britain’s weekly charts last month after creating a fan base by allowing music lovers to swap its songs on the Internet for free.

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