Japanese musicians seek to join iTunes

/ Source: The Associated Press

Japanese musicians under contract with Sony and other labels that haven't joined Apple's iTunes Music Store are starting to defy their recording companies and trying to get their music on the popular download service launched last week in Japan.

At least one artist has already gone against his label to offer his songs on iTunes. And a major agency that manages Japanese musicians said Wednesday it was interested in a possible deal with Apple Computer Inc., regardless of the recording companies' positions.

Online music stores had not taken off in Japan until iTune's arrival last Thursday, which opened with a million songs from 15 Japanese record labels.

In just four days, customers downloaded 1 million songs _ the fastest pace for the service's launch in any of the 20 nations it's become available, including the U.S. Most songs cost 150 yen, or $1.35, to download, and only 10 percent cost 200 yen, or $1.80. The service costs 99 cents in the U.S.

But Sony Corp.'s music division, Sony Music Entertainment, has not signed up to join Apple's service. The companies say they're in talks but there's been no agreement.

Apple and Sony have emerged as major rivals in the portable music player business. Apple's iPod music player, which stores music on a hard drive, has hurt Sony, which is pushing its own Network Walkman, some of which have hard drives.

But wayward artists could just start averting the issue and opt to offer their music to iTunes.

Rock musician Motoharu Sano, who has a recording contract with Sony, is making some of his songs available on iTunes, according to his official Web page.

"It is an individual's freedom where that person chooses to listen to music. I want to deliver my music wherever my listeners are," Sano was quoted as saying by Japan's top business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun Wednesday.

Sony Music spokesman Yasushi Ide said Sano is no longer considered "a Sony artist," although negotiations will decide whether his recordings under the Sony label will be offered at iTunes or not. The outcome will depend on each contract, and talks are continuing, he said.

Amuse Inc., an agent for some of Japan's most popular artists, is also thinking about joining iTunes. The company, which pushes musicians signed not only with Sony but also others, had initially decided against signing with iTunes.

"But we are considering joining in the future," Amuse spokeswoman Kyoko Ijichi said Wednesday. "We want to do what users want."

Eddy Cue, Apple vice president of applications, acknowledged earlier this week that more work is needed to sign additional record companies for the Japanese service.

Tokyo-based recording company Victor Entertainment spokesman Yoshiaki Aoki said Wednesday talks are still continuing with Apple, but stressed he is interested in a deal.

Still, iTunes' popularity in Japan has been stunning. The publicity campaign, including a rare personal appearance by Chief Executive Steve Jobs, has grabbed media attention here.

Before iTunes' arrival, Japan's top music download service, which is backed by Sony and includes Sony recording artists, averaged about 450,000 downloads a month.

Apple has sold 21.8 million iPods worldwide since it went on sale in October 2001, and more than 500 million songs through its iTunes Music Store.