Large music companies are struggling to do end-runs around Apple’s iTunes+iPod hegemony.

The big problem with their plans is that cool music-playing hardware is where the money is in music sales these days, something these companies don’t have (as Om points out). Meanwhile, profit margins on selling digital music tracks are tiny.

gbox.pnggBox launches, in partnership with Universal, Sony and IODA: Last week, news leaked out from Universal that the label is partnering with Cupertino, Calif.-based music startup gBox to sell some tracks without its usual DRM copy-protection technology. gBox tells us it is also working with Sony and IODA.

We’ve been trying to test gBox since last night but the site has been down. Besides its big-name partners, the company is more than just another music-sharing site. It is trying to drive purchases by allowing you to create wishlists of music you’d like to own, then share those lists with friends so they can buy the music for you. These wishlists can be displayed as embeddable widgets on other sites, and come customized by the company for a number of social networks (not including Facebook). gBox works on Internet Explorer, with Firefox compatibility on the way — as long as you’re on a PC, because the service doesn’t work on Macs.

Tracks will cost $0.99 per download whether or not they are copy-protected. Universal will advertise gBox’s site through an advertising deal with Google: If you search for an artist name, a Universal-gBox ad will appear that directs you to gBox’s site.

gBox says it hopes to offer other digital content in the future.

Wal-Mart will also offer DRM-free music: The world’s largest retail chain says it will offer MP3 tracks from EMI and Universal without DRM software. With individual tracks priced at $0.94, the companies’ intent is to let people play music on any device — not just the ubiquitous iPod.

MTV and Rhapsody merge music web sites: MTV has struggled to figure out its place in the new media world. Last year’s partnership with Microsoft to create Urge, a co-branded music store, has failed: Nobody went to the site because they were already on iTunes. Ditching that partnership, MTV is now merging Urge with RealNetwork’s Rhapsody, a subscription-based digital music service. The Wall Street Journal has more.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Learn more about membership.