Web site's pitch: Watch an ad, get a free song

It sounds like an intriguing offer: Songs that can be downloaded for free. They can be shared, and it's all legal. The catch? To get a song, you have to watch an ad.

An Atlanta-based venture called FreeAllMusic.com touts itself as a win-win-win in which music lovers get free tunes, advertisers get access to interested viewers, and recording studios get paid.

Richard Nailling, the company's CEO, has been selling the idea to advertisers and music labels, including Universal Music Group, one of the world's biggest music companies. Lionsgate Films, Warner Bros., LG and Zappos have signed up to advertise. So has Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., which intends to evaluate the results after an initial test phase.

FreeAllMusic acts as a broker between advertisers, music labels and fans. Advertisers such as Coca-Cola pay the company for a package that includes placement of their ads. The advertisers agree to buy songs on users' behalf from the studios that have made their songs available. At the end of the month, FreeAllMusic settles the accounts.

To get a song, users must first choose which brand will sponsor the download by, say, clicking on the Coke or LG logo.

"This is a great way to get some brand exposure," said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Susan Stribling. "It's a cool idea."

So far, FreeAllMusic.com has a library of hundreds of thousands of songs, said Nailling. That's fewer than iTunes, which has access to all the main music labels, but not a bad start, he said. FreeAllMusic.com is slowly building its member rolls in its test period by inviting registrants from a backlogged sign-up list.

"We went years and years where networks and local radio stations were our delivery trucks for this kind of content," said Jeremy Lipschultz, director of the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Now, that traffic is moving online. But iTunes proved you could still make money selling music in the digital age.

"If you can get an advertising stream going, and a sales stream going, you stand a chance of surviving the shift," said Lipschultz.

The offer of free downloads from a reputable source might be attractive enough to dissuade many music downloaders from pirating their tunes, Nailling said. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 95 percent of music downloads are illegal.

Nailling now splits his time between New York, L.A. and Atlanta, where the core of his small team is based. FreeAllMusic raised $1 million in initial capital to launch, and is now trying to raise $6 million- $7 million more. "Overall, our approach would be, walk before you run," Nailling said. "We're taking this in a slow manner."