It is a powerful app. On Friday nights, when your neighbors are blasting intriguing music, you can Shazam through the walls, and learn that they’re stomping to “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO.
For the uninitiated, Shazam is an app for smart phones like the Android, iPhone, and Blackberry. Shazamers, as the company calls its users, find music by touching a button about an inch in diameter that listens, sends, matches, and tags whatever music is playing in the background.
Founded in 2002, the London based company was the first to ever develop a music-tagging app. It has been popular in Europe for several years, and in America for the last couple. The website claims 125 million users in 200 countries. But at UAA, for every Shazam-conscious smart phone user, there are an equal number of people who have never heard of it. So for the uninitiated, without an iPhone or any Shazam knowledge- let the review begin.
Shazam is free for the first five tags. After that, Shazam kindly asks that you pay 3.99 for a year of unlimited tags, or 5.99 for a lifetime of unlimited tags. Paying for upgrades in the free app will give you ‘encore status,’ which, other than the unlimited tags you knew you were paying for already, is a euphemism for ‘nothing’.
If after the free trial you like the app, it’s best to just download Shazam Encore or Shazam Red for 5.99. (The two apps have the same functions, but Shazam Red donates 20 percent of profits to HIV charities serving Africa). You’ll gain two new features, LyricPlay, which syncs lyrics and music, as well as (if you live in Europe) Spotify, which streams virtually any song you search for.
LyricPlay sadly does not fill the void, looking more like a really good PowerPoint presentation than a reason to buy a 5.99 app.
Rivals have developed similar apps, like MusicID and SoundHound (formerly Midomi), but none are as widely known as Shazam, probably because Apple continues to feature Shazam on its apps homepage.
Some reviewers prefer less popular music-tagging apps, because of their quick tagging speeds. But Shazam’s real strength is the amount of information about the song or artist that it conveys after tagging.
Shazam averaged a 16 second tagging speed; MusicID averaged a 12 second tagging speed; SoundHound had an eight second tagging speed. Shazam can’t tag live music, instead relying on a database of 100,000 recorded songs. Unlike SoundHound, humming a beat will not lead you closer to discovering the artist.
For instance, after Shazam heard the song “Rich Kid Blues”, I was able to tag it on Facebook and Twitter, as well as given the option to buy it through the ‘Songs for Japan Benefit’, find the lyrics, tour info, YouTube videos, recommendations, Ringtones and more. Clicking on lyrics shows:
“Saddness is a blessing/ Sadness is a pearl/ Sadness is my boyfriend/ Oh, Sadness I’m your girl.”
Coming from an album titled, “Wounded Rhymes,” the lyrics weren’t too surprising. Barnes and Nobles has favored this song, “Rich Kids Blues” by Lykke Li, for a few week now. And with the sharing possibilities of Shazam, the bands popularity is undoubtedly increasing.
When I tested the app locally, Shazam wasn’t able capture the Hawaiian music at Hula Hands, but it did capture the ambience of Apollo Restaurant in Seward. Mono Ego S’Agapao by Giannis Ploutarxos was playing. Unfortunately, Ploutarxos has no face on Shazam; most tags come with album art. Clicking on their picture allows you to read the artist’s biography, or listen to a 20 second clip of the song. A Google search showed that Giannis Ploutarxos is a very popular Greek Laiko singer (another search showed that Laiko can be translated as “urban folk music”).
A somewhat haunting feature of Shazam, like many apps, is that it remembers the time and place of your last tag. At the Sea Bean, a café two stores down from Apollo Restaurant, the 3G network was too weak to match the music, but not too weak to note my location. And Shazam does a fine job of locating people; it’s not like Google Maps where locations markers stay on the streets. This arrow can follow you into buildings. In this case, Shazam followed me to the restroom.
This map can be useful though, especially in Alaska. Sometimes the respective network is too weak to send the music to satellites. But Shazam can record the music now, then send it with a stronger connection later.
Connecting with friends is a great way to discover even more music. A friend of mine in Italy tagged Piccoli Dettagli by Giusy Ferreri two weeks ago. Ferreri, as her Shazam biography read, was one a runner up in the first “Italy’s Got Talent” and is often compared to Adele.
The contract warns that you use Shazam at your own risk. The company absolves itself of six things, including that “the results that may be obtained from the use of Shazam will be accurate or reliable.” This seems though more protection from a lawsuit. 98 percent of the tags I do are correct, whether in a movie theater, club, bookstore, or through walls.