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Live from Apple and Straight to iTunes

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Apple Computer is now hosting artist in-store events at its retail locations.

And in a twist to the age-old practice of having an artist appear and play a handful of songs for the crowd, Apple is selling the performances online through its iTunes Music Store.

Latest case in point: Thursday and Thrice, a pair of new rock acts from Island Records, are hyping an upcoming tour Wednesday (Oct. 15) with Apple in-stores on two coasts.

Thursday will take the stage at the Apple Store SoHo in New York. On the West Coast, Thrice will play at the Apple Store Third Street Promenade, located in Santa Monica, Calif. Each performance will be at 7 p.m. in their respective time zones.

The shows kick off a highly anticipated double bill -- presented by Alternative Press magazine and MTV2 -- which begins Oct. 17 in Pennsylvania.

The music performed at the events will be available exclusively for purchase at the iTunes Music Store.

The move is the latest sign that nontraditional music sellers are playing a larger role in the music promotion machine.

The commerce element, coupled with the fact that Apple -- and not the likes of a Virgin Megastore or Tower Records -- is hosting the event, is expanding the scope and ambition of the in-store concept.

"This is an opportunity to have a promotional event, do marketing and advertising for it, and on top of that, we get the opportunity to monetize the content associated with it," Island Def Jam new-media chief Larry Mattera says.

Sire/Warner Bros. teamed with Apple on a similar initiative for the group Less Than Jake. The band performed an in-store show July 11 at the opening of the Apple Store in Santa Monica.

Apple also has hosted in-store performances by BT, OK Go and the Raveonettes.

The performance was recorded and sold as an exclusive four-song EP, "Less Than Jake -- Live From the Apple Store," through iTunes.

For Apple, such promotions are a way to drive traffic to its stores -- which sell Apple computers and iPods -- and pick up exclusive content for iTunes.

Exclusives are proving to be a main point of differentiation for commercial digital music services as they compete against each other.

They are also a way to compete with the content selection featured on free peer-to-peer networks.

"At this moment in time where we are trying to kick-start this market, these types of exclusives are important," Mattera says.

Mattera observes that the pairing of Thursday and Thrice with Apple was a good fit for all parties, given that the bands have Web-savvy fans.

But Mattera says that Island is as interested in building buzz for the upcoming Thursday/Thrice tour as it is in selling downloads.

To that end, the events will be videotaped, and the content will be streamed in QuickTime and available for free at apple.com/quicktime.

In addition, one fan at each appearance will win an iPod digital music player.

Island is creating a limited-edition poster for each band/event that fans will receive only at the Oct. 15 shows at Apple retail stores.

"Certainly these performances are going to appeal to core fans, but hopefully it also helps spread the audience base by having these events at the Apple stores," Mattera says.

Reuters/Billboard

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