It may have been a long five-month break between sets, but has finally come out for an encore. Under the ownership of the tech-portal heavies at CNET Networks (NASDAQ:CNET), the venue has changed, too. Rather than keep the same address that eventually grew to house 250,000 musical artists worldwide, the company launched a new home for free MP3 downloads under its subdomain.

Making a clean break makes sense. Music sites for the unheard have typically degenerated to little more than obscure destinations for musicians to bond with their fellow musicians. While that leads to a spirited community, it hasn't produced much in terms of real world opportunities. The key to making a music site for unsigned bands really work is reaching the ears of potential fans.

In speaking to Scott Arpajian, CNET Downloads senior vice president, one senses that the company might be able to pull off the task of monetizing beefy chunks of music file downloads. With tens of millions of users to the company's portfolio of online properties, CNET is hoping to leverage those eyeballs into willing eardrums.

"The key ingredient is the existing audience," Scott said over the telephone from his company's San Francisco base. "The audience loves digital music. They want new things, and we have an audience that's really receptive to change. Most of the software on early on was certainly not brand name."

Hoping to serve up what Scott calls "digital fuel for your devices" the new service will be free for both the artists and the listeners. That's a thrifty alternative to the popular commercial download offerings of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iTunes, Roxio (NASDAQ:ROXI), and RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK) where there are no free lunches.

Catering to what has predominantly been a marketer's dream audience of young male music fans, CNET is looking to make the site work through advertising. It won't be manufacturing one-off CDs the way the original did. Scott notes that CNET has no intention of becoming a record label. The company is also in the process of beefing up its editorial staff to make sure that the more promising tracks don't get lost in the shuffle.

With charts incorporating 700 genres and subgenres and a user-rating interface to tally track popularity, the site may not be breaking the mold in those areas when it comes to music sites. Still, its position within the industry of active Web users may make a surprisingly welcome difference when it comes to results.

CNET is looking to produce an operating profit this year by growing its interactive segment by at least 20%. While may not factor heavily into the equation at this point, scour around long enough and you're bound to find the perfect forward march to score the charge.

CNET's site has been a popular hub for authorized software downloads since 1996. A lot of the traffic comes from folks looking for killer applications. Do you have any popup blockers or spam killers to recommend? What is the best free anti-virus program out there? All this and more -- in the Viruses, hoaxes, & spam, oh my! discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz was one of the original artists, and he is in the process of migrating his band's music over to the new CNET site. More excerpts from his interview with Scott Arpajian can be found at He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.