The core of Shazam’s system is simple. Say you’re in a bar and you hear a track you like, but don’t know it. Just walk over to the speakers, dial a number (2580 in the UK) on your mobile, hold it up to the speakers, and Shazam’s intelligent software will grab a short sample of the music and close the call. The sample is then analysed and compared to Shazam’s huge music database. When a match is found the service sends you a text message with the name of the track and artist. If it can’t identify the track it will let you know. The process generally takes under 40 seconds, including the call.
Alongside network charges, the service costs 50p for each recognition, but there’s no charge for failures. However, with iTunes downloads costing 79p, this seems a little expensive. In tests, the service works around 90 per cent of the time, and is most effective if you stand a few feet away from the speakers, thus avoiding distortion. It is less effective if there’s lots of nearby background noise.
If you register for a free account Shazam will maintain a list of all songs tagged from your phone, which you can access online. You can explore (and write) music reviews and top-ten lists of the most frequently tagged tracks in every category. It’s also possible to share recommendations and rate tracks, which means the service is slowly becoming a community-led destination for music discovery.
Members can use a dedicated page to purchase tracks they have identified directly through iTunes, access album art, buy CDs from Amazon, and even buy gig tickets through Ticketmaster. If you plan to use the service more frequently than six times a month, there are two subscription plans: £3 per month offers unlimited music recognition, while £4.50 per month offers the same along with two free iTunes or ring tone downloads each month.
If you love music it’s worth using Shazam to identify the next unknown song you hear. Being able to identify every band and song name offers ample opportunity for smugness. The service is pricey, but highly effective, and the capacity to be able to buy tagged tracks when you get home will boost your music collection. We believe services like these will be part of the future of online music.