Using the dramatic calling card "The Day That Music Was Set Free," SOS Records launched at a New York press conference today, including an endorsement from Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Founded by Canadian businessman Steven Nowack, the new label –- which is not affiliated with the Corona, Calif.-based punk record company of the same name -- intends to sweep away the traditional model of selling music to consumers by offering all free downloads on proprietary Web site, which Tutu launched himself by typing in the URL and then playfully pushing the "return" key.

Nowack claims that a sea change is necessary in the music industry: "A&R reps and radio programmers have controlled this business for far too long as all-powerful gods, deciding which artists get signed, which songs are produced and what will be heard on the radio," he said. " Artists are forced to cross nearly impossible barriers to reach an audience." His model will offer free downloads without requiring user information.

Revenue will be generated from advertising on the Web site and sales of physical CDs from signed artists. Nowack said that songwriters and singers will each receive 10% from Web site revenue, and producers 5%.

Tutu, who is neither an investor in the venture nor paid for his appearance, addressed the audience with a message that music equates unity. He said, "This is a historic day for the world to have access to music for free, to reach a worldwide audience. Let us free music and bring down boundaries; and promote compassion, laughter and sharing among the human family. Music is the language of love, peace and hope. Let's go for it."

Artists, songwriters and producers are invited to contribute music to, which is filtered by SOS Records, then offered to the public to vote upon. Nowack's goal is to provide professional production for the highest-ranking songs and offer one free download a day on the site, starting a month from now. Among producers signed to his label is R&B hitmaker Mario Winans.

Nowack stressed that SOS is not a social networking site-nor a free-for-all for random content-and a far cry from traditional major record labels. The Internet has become the "great equalizer, helping to democratize everything from entertainment to journalism to politics. The major record companies are too bloated and burdened to do what I'm doing."

SOS' slate includes African World Music artist Idissa Diop, Canadian pop singer/songwriter Naomi Striemer, country vocalist Shawn King and Winans.
The idea of free downloads, of course, is not new, despite major resistance from major record companies. RCRD LBL, which launched in 2007, is a network of ad-supported online record labels and blogs offering free music and multimedia content from emerging and established artists. And just a day earlier, on May 5, Trent Reznor made headlines when he released Nine Inch Nail's' new album "The Slip" as a free download available on the band's Web site.