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Posted: July 01, 2011

Cote’s Colorado: Cricket makes its Muve to music

Mike Cote

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When Austin-based rockers White Denim came to Denver in June to perform a late-night set at the Larimer Lounge, they had a chance to warm up at a corporate event that likely paid them better than the club show. And the new service they were promoting should help them get paid for their music in the long run.

Since the arrival of music-sharing services - remember Napster when it was a file-trading renegade and not a subsidiary of Best Buy? - record labels and musicians have struggled to find a way to make money from recordings. Though Steve Jobs finally offered some salvation via iTunes, users can still share the music they buy with friends and thus erode profits.

Cricket's Muve Music aims to keep consumers, record companies and musicians happy by offering unlimited monthly music downloads as part of a $55 monthly calling phone plan that includes unlimited calls, ringtones, text and Web.

The music never leaves the Samsung Suede phone, however, thanks to an encrypted SanDisk memory card. Users can plug the phone into their cars or home stereo systems but have no way to transfer the digital files elsewhere. (Yes, we realize that sounds like a challenge to hackers.)

Cricket debuted Muve Music at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and launched it here in April.

"The music is safeguarded and elegantly downloaded. The labels get paid. The artists get paid," said Greg Lund, a corporate spokesman for San Diego-based Cricket who was in town to promote Muve at Denver's Walnut Room.

Indeed, "elegantly downloaded" is an accurate description. While White Denim, a free-spirited four piece, entertained the crowd, guests were able to try out the phones. Finding and downloading White Denim's newly released sophomore effort, D, was easy and fast. The phone, which holds 3,000 songs, has a dedicated button with a musical note symbol that takes users directly to the Muve application.

A review in May on CNET, which awarded Muve Music four out of five stars, said the system had great promise, but it criticized the software on the Samsung phone as being a bit slow. And Muve changes the relationship between the consumers and their playlists, CNET said.

"There are plenty of ways to describe Muve Music, but we think the best is as a music rental program. We say ‘rental' because the music comes from one source (it's approved by the major U.S. labels), it isn't transferable onto a computer or any other device, and you lose access if you stop paying your monthly bill. At no point do you ever truly ‘own' the songs."

The current Muve menu offers 2 million songs from major labels and a growing list of independents. New music is added each Tuesday, the day labels traditionally release new albums to retail stores and online services.

Chris Matlock, who has been a sales rep for Cricket for five years, said he fills his phone primarily with R&B artists, such as BoysIIMen. That's the kind of musical act record labels hope to be able to boost through Muve. Cricket's users are generally 35 and under, and largely African-American and Hispanic.

"They are voracious in their musical tastes," Lund said. "Our customers use music disproportionately compared to the rest of the country."

Although Cricket's corporate officers are in California, its 500 employees based in the Denver Tech Center make up the company's marketing, information technology and sales operations. Cricket currently covers one-third of the country but will become a national wireless carrier this fall, Lund said.

Up-and-coming Denver rockers Snake Rattle Rattle Snake took the stage to close out the party. The band's Velvet Underground-inspired atmospheric rock ensured that few of the guests and people wearing Cricket shirts were playing with the phones during the band's performance.

Even 3,000 songs on your phone can't compete with the power of live music.
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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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