Research in Motion is attempting to bolster its popular BlackBerry Messenger service against a raft of competition from Facebook, Apple, Google and WhatsApp by bolting on a new subscription music service.

BBM Music will offer tracks from all four major music labels which the BlackBerry owners can share on their “profiles”.

BlackBerry devices already have a music store, powered by London’s 7Digital, but BBM Music has a social twist: the more friends you have using the service, the more tracks you can listen to. Each subscriber can store up to 50 songs on their BBM profile, swapping out up to 25 each month, and listen to those plus whatever their friends have in their playlists.

RIM hopes this will help give a viral boost to BBM Music and in the process show the way for other third-party developers to use its platform. The standalone app uses the same programming hooks that RIM made available to independent developers through its “social” upgrade with BBM 6.0, released last month.

A closed beta launches on Thursday in the US, UK and RIM’s native Canada with the full service going live later this year. RIM is working with Omnifone, which also powers cloud-music services from the likes of Sony and Vodafone, to build the service.

More than 45m people use BBM, giving it a strong base to build on, in spite of the competition from Apple’s iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Google Plus’s Huddle and WhatsApp Messenger, which is still riding high in the iPhone’s App Store charts.

Compared with the unlimited listening available through rival services such as Napster, Spotify and Rhapsody for $9.99, BBM Music’s $4.99 monthly fee seems a touch expensive when the selection is limited by your friends’ tastes.

But by making the experience mobile-first and lowering the pricing towards its teenage target market, BBM Music may maintain that network effect which has kept so many kids using BlackBerrys in the UK, Middle East, Malaysia and other regions, even as older demographics switch to touch-screen Android and iPhone devices.

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