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Original music goes mobile

A new service allows emerging musicians to create melodies for cellphone alerts.

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Not surprisingly, Billboard magazine's Ringtone chart - yes, they've tracked the "hottest" cellphone sounds since 2004 - is dominated by the same tarty pop music that fills the airwaves. The Black Eyed Peas's "My Humps," a raunchy rap number that one online magazine called "transcendentally bad," has held a Top 40 slot for 29 weeks. And with nearly a year on the charts, it's possible that fragments of 50 Cent's explicit "Candy Shop" are piercing some darkened movie theater at this moment.

These short bursts of music signaling incoming calls have typically been recycled 20- to 30-second clips of a favorite song, downloaded for a fee. But now the cellphone is being looked to as a medium for original music.

Sometime in the next week, Start Mobile will launch a service that lets customers download what founder John Doffing calls M60s - 60-second original compositions by emerging musicians created specifically for mobile phones. The hundreds of songs at startmobile.net will range in style from hip-hop and reggae to experimental jazz and electronica.

Ringtones continue to be big business in the US. At up to $3 for a 20-second song, they account for 10 percent of the music industry's revenue, according to Roger Entner of Ovum, a consulting company with offices in Boston.

Mr. Doffing hasn't yet settled on a fee structure for the M60s. He says they will be free for the first 60 days following the site's launch. After that, he envisions a monthly subscription service that will buy a set number of songs and let users switch out ringtones to "curate the content" of their phones. It's an apt metaphor for a company originally founded as a way to turn cellphones into mini-mobile art galleries. Start Mobile was formed in December to make original artwork by emerging and underground artists available as phone "wallpaper." The artists earn a percentage of each sale, as will musicians.

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