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October 9, 2006 at 12:18 PM

Nokia recommends Fat Beats

NEW YORK — A music fan may scan the Internet for new undiscovered music, or go to an independent music store where the experts know what’s hot, but now Nokia is bringing that vibe to the mobile phone.

In a service called Nokia Recommenders, the world’s largest handset maker has gathered the best independent record shops around the world to write music reviews, with David Bowie as the leading the way as the key recomender. Nokia is launching the service in conjunction with a new music strategy that leans heavily on Seattle-based Loudeye, which it acquired not too long ago.

So far, the mobile music download business has not been as successful as everyone had imagined, but Nokia thinks with this personal approach, where people will be able to discover new songs, it could change. We’ll see.

As far as I can tell, the problems have mostly revolved around the business model — wireless operators want to make money on the sale, but consumers are unlikely to pay much more than the 99 cents, and those pennies are already accounted for.

So, while in New York, I decided to drop in on one of the independent music stores Nokia has designated a recommender — Fat Beats. It officially represents the hip-hop scene in the New York area.


Record albums at Fat Beats store in New York. Fat Beats is a “recommender” in Nokia’s new music service.

The store, in Greenwich Village, would be considered underground by any measure if it weren’t for the fact that it is on the second floor. The stores below it — Bagel Buffet and LifeThyme Natural Market — are no indication of what lies above. The only giveaway is a little sign over the door leading to the stairs.

But the steep staircase gives way to a cave of what could only be a vinyl hip-hop collectors dream come true. The walls are covered from floor-to-ceiling with albums from both undiscovered artists and the classics. Only a small corner is dedicated to CDs.

The three clerks look like they are from the Beastie Boys with bandanas tied around their foreheads and hats tilted to the side. They spend their time shuffling through an iPod of music, listening to their favorites — everything from Eminem to Al Green. For them, this is a part-time job, with most their time spent as MCs and producers. The authenticity bleeds from the low ceiling where glossy photos of well-known artists are signed and hung. From the looks of it, Xzhibit, who hosts the MTV show “Pimp My Ride,” has visited at least twice.

On the door to the back room is a sheet of paper listing the 10 recommendations for October. True to the Nokia service’s nature, they aren’t anything you’d see in the Top 10. Artists include: Visionaries, Akrobatik, AG, Loer Velocity, Jayib, Jedi Mind and 9th Wonder. The instructions on the paper tell the store’s employees to keep reviews positive and clean, and mention any guest appearances, and who the producer and label are because people are unlikely to know anything about them.

Eclipse, the store’s manager and also a radio DJ and member of a group called Non Phixion, said beyond getting money from it, he likes participating in the program for other reasons.

“It’s cool that Fat Beats was chosen to represent New York,” he said.

Also, to have some role in mobile phones could be a good source of new revenue for the store.

“The record business is declining; anything we can do is great,” he said.

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