We got off the phone a bit ago with Michael Downing, former CEO of the now-defunct Musicbank. Downing is making another play in the digital music space, this time with a search engine called GoFish that’s geared toward finding digital music, audio books, ringtones and other media online. It launches officially on Monday, but the site’s been live since Wednesday.

We’ll have a full story in the Merc tomorrow, but here’s the quick-and-dirty.

GoFish works like a comparison shopping site. It fetches feeds from merchants’ media catalogues, indexes them and makes them searchable. The company is getting feeds from iTunes, Napster, Musicmatch, eMusic, Streamwaves and a host of other online merchants, allowing users to search across all the services from one place.

“It’s a way to create the logical link between search and the fast-growing world of legally downloadable digital media,” Downing said.

Downing’s long-term goal is to license the technology to other search engines. He’s been “negotiating at all the search engines for the last six months,” he said, and hopes to announce a deal before Christmas. That partnership is with a second-tier search engine, not one of the top search companies such as Google or Yahoo.

“I think we’re better served to provide this technology to the search guys,” he said. “We’re helping them get into this space.”

GoFish will make money on commissions from merchants — from 9 to 15 percent — for every sale it sends their way. The site will also get commissions when users subscribe to services such as Napster.

As big as digital music has become, it seems hard to imagine that Downing will be alone in this space for long. One search engine in particular, the one whose mission is to organize all the world’s information, would seem a likely candidate to launch a service like this. The question is, would they do it themselves, or with Downing’s help. Downing say his advantage is that he’s already struck deals with all the major music vendors, a headache search engines might want to avoid.

“We feel like we solved a lot of problems that are maybe not so visible,” he said.

GoFish is located in San Francisco in the old Macromedia building South of Market. Downing raised about $700,000 for the eight-person start-up from a small group of angel investors, including Ted Casey, former general manager at Lycos-owned search engine HotBot (Downing sold his music-player software company Sonique to Lycos in 2000), and Martin Tobias, former chief executive of Loudeye Technologies and now a partner with VC firm Ignition Partners. Other investors include SGI co-founder Marc Hannah and long-time entrepreneur Lore McGovern.

Downing’s last venture into the digital music world was a “music-locker” service called Musicbank. Users could upload their music collections to Musicbank’s Web site and then access them from any Internet-connected computer. The concept never took off with consumers, and the company closed its doors in April, 2001.

UPDATE: Gary Price notes that AOL’s SingingFish, another multimedia search site, has a new beta site. SingingFish operates differently from GoFish, spidering the web for multimedia files. GoFish gets content feeds directly from content providers.

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