MySpace.com will soon enable members of the popular online social networking hub to sell downloads of their original music directly through MySpace Web pages, company executives said.

The initiative, which is still in a test phase, has the potential to turn millions of computer users, many of them independent or aspiring artists already using the site to build a fan following, into online music retailers.

Los Angeles-based MySpace was expected to formally announce the venture and its partnership with San Francisco-based Snocap Inc., which developed the technology, on Tuesday.

Chris DeWolfe, MySpace's chief executive, said the online music venture is a logical progression for the Internet portal, given changing trends in the music industry that have made it more affordable for bands to make quality recordings and make them available online.

"A band in Iowa can now reach out to fans in Los Angeles," DeWolfe said Friday. "Now they have a great way to reach out to 6 million fans. Now they can actually sell their music on MySpace in an area where their fans congregate in a very contextual manner."

MySpace says it hosts Web pages for more than 3 million recording artists, from groups as big as U2 to newly minted garage bands. They often post up to four songs at a time on their MySpace sites that visitors can listen to, but not download or buy without leaving the site, if at all.

The new Snocap-powered feature will enable bands to outfit their MySpace site with an interface through which computer users may browse the bands' songs and buy them in the copy-protection free MP3 format, MySpace said.

The bands will be able to set the price for each track, with MySpace and Snocap taking a cut of the sale. And their fans or friends on MySpace will also be able to place the online music storefront on their pages, potentially widening exposure for the bands.

MySpace and Snocap officials declined to say what percentage of each transaction goes to the companies.

"The distribution fee is small, it's evolving and we're continuing to structure it as we go," said Rusty Rueff, Snocap's chief executive. "What we're trying to do right now is keep the costs as low as we can."

To get their music ready for sale, bands will have to upload their songs to Snocap's online music database. Once cleared by the company — a process to ensure someone isn't trying to sell music to which they don't own the copyrights — the tracks are available for purchase, Snocap said.

The online music feature is expected to be widely available in the United States by the end of the year, DeWolfe said.

Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media, said the marriage of social networking on MySpace with online retail should make a powerful combination for bands.

"There have been bands that have gotten onto MySpace that are not signed to any labels and have created quite a buzz," Leigh said. "This is the next logical step, to start selling."

A handful of bands have been testing the MySpace online music feature for several weeks.

One is The Format, an indie rock band from Phoenix, Ariz., that boasts more than 99,000 "friends" on their MySpace page.

Terry McBride, chief executive of Canadian label Nettwerk Records, which manages the band and handles their marketing and promotion, said having fans help sell the band's music is the wave of the future.

"We have a strong belief the next major retailer in music is the consumer themselves," McBride said. "This is a step in the right direction."

MySpace.com is owned by News Corp., the parent company of FOXNews.com.