Surprise, surprise: Qtrax, the free on-demand music service that made big waves in 2008 with its failed attempt to launch a free music service with music from all four major labels, is back, and you can download it today.
A new Microsoft Silverlight version of Qtrax, available at a hidden URL that’s currently making the rounds, lets music fans download as much free music as they can handle from a large catalog of music from three of the four major labels — EMI, Sony Music, and Universal Music Group. All you have to do in return is view a few ads within the Windows desktop app.
Update: Qtrax told us it is launching in 30 countries; Billboard reports that the U.S. may not be among them. The test version is accessible from the U.S. Qtrax spokeswoman Shamin Abas told Evolver.fm that those three major labels have each inked deals with Qtrax to allow their music to be downloaded by Qtrax users for free. We have contacted EMI, Universal Music Group, and Sony Music to confirm that they had signed deals with Qtrax, but our testing backsup what Abas told us: that hundreds of thousands of major label tracks have already been uploaded into the system, and Qtrax is currently uploading millions more in preparation for its official launch next week.
EMI spokesman Dylan Jones confirmed the deal to Evolver.fm, stating, “EMI Music recently completed a short term agreement with Qtrax to enable them to distribute a selection of EMI content as ad-supported streams and conditional downloads.”
This means that so long as you don’t mind playing your downloaded music within the Qtrax app, there’s a massive amount of music there, all free for the downloading. The app saves music as DRM-ed WMA files, which are playable within Qtrax but not in other applications — not even in Microsoft’s own Windows Media Player. They also won’t play on any portable devices and, crucially, cannot be successfully shared on file-sharing networks.
Even without the threat of P2P, Qtrax faces challenges. Ad-supported music has been a notoriously tough nut to crack, as services like the Warner Music Group-funded imeem demonstrated all too clearly. Qtrax, too, had its share of travails back in ‘08, when it failed to secure music distribution licenses. It remains to be seen whether the company can sell enough ads to support free music downloads — and in this beta version at least, Qtrax’s ads aren’t too obtrusive.
After testing this new version of Qtrax, we can confirm that it really works, offering a large catalog with music from EMI, Sony Music and Universal Music Group for free download, but not music from the notoriously ad-supported-music-shy Warner Music Group.
We didn’t encounter any glitches with playback, browsing, or other commonly-accessed features. Each band page, regardless of whether Qtrax has free downloads for it, includes links out to YouTube videos, Ticketmaster ticket searches, Amazon purchase links, and a Wikipedia link, in addition to photos and bios within the Qtrax app itself.
According to Abas, talks with Warner are “going well,” but the deals with EMI, Sony and Universal are global in nature, and the above link is already live in 30 countries. Qtrax’s “Free and Legal Music Downloads” service is scheduled to go live on Qtrax.com next week.