Friday, May 3, 2013

Shazam Continues Expansion For Better Or For Worse

Since my husband Paul has been a part of the commercial music business forever, we have never muted or skipped over ads in our household.  Each spot brings a lively discussion analyzing choices in underscoring and sound design (often offering more conversation than the TV program we're watching).  With my phone at the ready, the Shazam app is a useful tool for identifying synch music placements, or if there is a error message it usually means the track is an original composition.  Shazam is also a great way for this new music fiend to tag new discoveries, expand my consciousness into other genres or refresh the brain about older tunes.  I admit to using it often in the car while listening to the radio, or holding it up in a retail store if my "name that tune" game isn't going well.

The London-based Shazam company was founded in 1999, but it wasn't until smart phones appeared that it took off.  Using an acoustic fingerprint to match a ten-second sample to a database of over 11 million prerecorded songs and counting, the service now boasts 300 million users in 200 countries. The company is considering an IPO, having announced a new CEO just a few days ago -- a former Yahoo Executive with an appropriately similar comic book sounding name, Rich Riley. 

Shazam has recently expanded into cross promotions with television programs and advertisers themselves, and I've noticed it's taking longer to load with all the extra banner ads and notifications.  Many times I've missed the opportunity to identify a song waiting for it to load. I used to get handy emails with my top tags, but that information is still kept on my phone.  And these emails used to link to interesting lists of top tags across the world or by country, although all this can be found on the Shazam website.  (For example, two of the top three tags in the world are the same for Switzerland! Who knew?) 

Of course, sometimes Shazam just seems confused.  Recently a commercial that we were not sure if it was original or an "inspired by" track gave many answers.  Since it was a video found online, we could use the app over and over again to mixed results.  From electronic musician Azymuth's "Man with No Name," to Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service Ben Gibbard's "Bigger Than Love," or The Ventures's retro "Ram-Bunk-Shush."  An error message showed up in the middle of all this, a hands held high sign of surrender to the complex language of music, universal though it can sometimes be.  I'm still thankful for this handy app, for when it does work, the simple task of identification brings order to my musical chaos.