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Van Halen Join Ringtone Rush

In recent weeks, two of the more high-profile acts that weren't selling their music as ringtones have given in.

And in both cases, AT&T Mobility is involved.

The operator scored exclusive access to a handful of Dave Matthews Band's ringtones made from live recordings, but will later include studio tracks. Van Halen, meanwhile, is making its most popular songs available as ringtones to all wireless operators, but agreed to give AT&T exclusive versions of those same songs for a limited time.

Why now? Industry sources suspect that with such supergroups as Led Zeppelin and even AC/DC finally getting into the ringtone game, those influenced by them see less of a barrier for doing so as well.

AT&T director of music and personalization products Mark Nagel says the Dave Matthews deal was a result of simply communicating the demand.

"It was a case where he was being searched for literally thousands of times a month with no content to give," he says. "We took those figures to the label and the band's management and let them know that people are asking for this. At the end of the day, it's their decision."

In Van Halen's case, the band is on a reunion tour. Capitalizing on that is one reason behind not only making the ringtones available at long last, but for doing so in a nonexclusive fashion.

"They have all kinds of fans using all types of operators," says David Dorn, senior VP of new-media strategy for Rhino, which manages the Van Halen catalog. "We just thought it made the most sense, with the band being on the road, to work with all of our partners."

Until recently, AT&T has been rather quiet on the exclusive-music front as it built its music partnership strategy. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless has been very aggressive, snagging exclusive rights to music from AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and a controversial deal for Bob Marley ringtones that has sparked a legal dispute among the operator, Universal Music Group and the Marley estate.

With partnerships now in place to sell full-song downloads from eMusic and Napster, AT&T seems ready to join the fray. Nagel says to expect more exclusive deals that span not only ringtones, but also full-song downloads and ringback tones in the coming months.

In fact, AT&T is leveraging its ringtone weight and label relationships to help acquire eMusic and Napster exclusives that those two companies may not otherwise have landed if their services had lacked a wireless element.

"We end up talking to labels a lot together," Nagel says. "In some cases we have a lot bigger monetary relationship with the labels than even some of the digital distributors, so we're often walking arm in arm in those discussions."  By Antony Bruno,  DENVER (Billboard)

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