Shazam: Music Recognition

History

Shazam was founded in 1999 via a collaborative effort between Barton and Inghelbrecht (students at U.C. Berkeley), Mukherjee (consultant at London-based internet firm Viant ), and Want (Stanford PhD student). With a present use on 500 million mobile devices, 100 mm active users monthly, and technology already used to identify 15 billion songs, Shazam continues to be a prominent player.

Part of its present success was achieved by partnerships, e.g. with Entertainment UK (part of Woolwarths), Beatport, and others, which allowed digitization of music in some cases in exchange for use of such music to create a proprietary detection database. In 2008, Shazam partnered with Apple to be offered via its App Store. In January 2011, Apple noted Shazam to be the fourth highest downloaded free app.

Inner Workings

With over 10mm songs in its database, Shazam first acts by capturing and then identifying the “acoustic fingerprint” which represents a spectrogram of the particular song. After approximately 10 seconds (and sometimes faster, based upon personal use), the match is compared with the existing library of songs and a title returned. The entire process lasts a few seconds, with unidentifiable songs so stated in a message to the viewer. More recently, Shazam also keeps a more recent “news” section of recently introduced songs – which are brought to the user with a vignette in some cases. Due to its requirement of comparison, Shazam requires internet connectivity to perform, and hence cannot be used when such connectivity does not exist.

Availability of the Shazam now exists for Apple and Android versions, with smartphones as well as some computer speakers affording such functionality.

Future

Shazam has faced some competition already, with apps such as Soundhound and MusiXmatch (with the latter primarily noted for lyrics) available; among these, Soundhound appears to be very close in performance, per www.evolver.fm.

A separate competitor, Gracenote’s MusicID-Stream, claims to have the largest database with over 28mm songs. Meahwhile, Shazam continues to grow by other ways – with provision of lyrics for songs, and access to related music videos. Most recent investments, including from the likes of wealthy Carlos Slim of $40mm, have raised the valuation of Shazam to a purported US$500mm.

 

(Information above has been acquired from numerous sources, including www.slate.com, www.evolver.fm, www.wikipedia.org, and www.shazam.com, among others)

Ravish Patwardhan, MD