Music file-swapping company Napster has closed a deal giving it access to hundreds of thousands of song titles belonging to European independent record companies. The UK's Association of Independent Music (AIM) and the Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) signed an agreement with Napster yesterday, the organizations said. Among the artists whose work will be available for distribution via Napster are Ash, The Avalanches, Badly Drawn Boy, Belle & Sebastian, Tom Jones, Miossec, Moby, Mogwai, Moloko, Muse, Paul Oakenfold, Saint Germain, Slipknot, Stereophonics, Tricky, and Underworld. The deal helps give Napster the "critical mass" of music it needs when it launches its planned subscription-based service by the third quarter of this year, the company said. The independent artists expect the deal will position them well in the burgeoning online music market, said Alison Wenham, chief executive of AIM. "There was a will to find a commercial solution," Wenham said. "This is a question of the independents doing it for themselves." In conventional sales channels, independent artists compete against the reach and marketing dollars of large music labels. While this scenario carries over somewhat to the online music market, AIM claims the Internet provides a more even field for all artists where users can find a wide variety of songs and tell their friends where to find them. "What is great for us about Napster is that it is a modern version of word of mouth," said Martin Mills, chairman of the Beggars Group of Record Labels. Earlier this month Napster signed a licensing agreement with MusicNet, an online music distributor operated by AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI Recorded Music and RealNetworks.