Where did Shazam come from

10 things you didn't know about Shazam

Photo: XanderSt - Shutterstock.com

Imagine you are sitting with friends in a café or bar. Pleasant music in the background. Suddenly this one song that convinces you immediately. What now? At that moment, over 100 million people would pull out their cell phones and tap the white S. But do you have any idea what is behind this practical music recognition app? Here are the 10 things you didn't know about Shazam.  


1) Shazam is not all about music

Shazam is an app, mainly for music recognition, that has existed since the turn of the millennium. On the basis of a small piece of music, it can give you all the information about a song within a few seconds. Users can also follow artists and thus be kept up to date with their discoveries. Shazam is no longer limited to music. The Shazam logo can now also be found on food, advertisements and books.

Shazam is no longer limited to music recognition


2) Shazam is a veteran

Inconceivable for the smombie generation: it was once common to request services via SMS. To find out the title of a song that was just playing, you simply dialed the 2580 and held the phone up to the music source. After 30 seconds of audio recording, the other end automatically hung up. If found in the database, users then received an SMS with the title of the song and the name of the artist. Shazam is now a smartphone app that provides all recognition services. A useful gimmick for the user, a data gold mine for the company itself.

The Warner Music Group was the first label Shazam signed with in 2014. The recognition app has been part of Apple since September 2018. After initial fears that Apple could gain customer data from rival Spotify through the integration of Shazam, the EU finally gave its blessing for the takeover at the beginning of September 2018.

In the film 'Because They're Young' Duane Eddy performed the song 'Shazam'.


3) Shazam doesn't care about the lyrics

If you want the app to recognize a song for you, it converts the music sample into a kind of digital fingerprint. This is done with the help of a spectogram, i.e. a graphic representation of the frequency spectrum. You can see at what time what frequency (pitch) with what amplitude (volume) was recorded.

Did you know that with the help of frequencies beautiful mandalas can also be created?

Because Shazam is designed to work in noisy environments, only the loudest sounds are used. This spectogram is then simplified again so that it can be quickly compared with the songs from the Shazam database. With the help of HashFunction, a technique for identifying objects in a group of identical objects, the song counterpart to the recorded music snippet is now searched for.

Shazam explains for computer nerds


4) Shazam is magic 

In the 1940s the made-up word became Shazam mainly used by magicians to emphasize extraordinary tricks. In colloquial language, it then became common to use the word for the occurrence of an unexpected event. For the app's founders, Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang and Dhiraj Mukheriee, there was something so magical about the automatic music recognition that the magic word came in handy for them.

Barton stated on the 2013 Pioneer’s Festival: “Shazam is actually in the dictionary. The word is an exclamation and means 'when you conjure up magical things'. For example, if I teleported from San Francisco to Vienna here and just appeared on stage, I could say, 'Shazam! Here I am in Vienna now! ' We really thought it would be a great word for something that magically identifies music. And interestingly, all these years later, the concept of magical experience is still at the core of Shazam's product strategy. "

Comics fans will not only think of the app when they hear the word Shazam, but also of Captain Marvel. A fan explains that the magic word consists of the six characters from Greek mythology, from whom the main character draws his superpowers: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

5) Shazam is useful for artists too

The app is a practical tool not only for music recipients, but also for producers. Shazam promises a number of services when registering: Artists get an insight into when, how often and where (down to the district) their songs have been Shazamed. You can check your position in the Shazam Charts. In addition, the musicians have the opportunity to share content or even shazamte songs with their fans.

Sometimes, however, a chunk of money is enough to get into the charts.

The American pop singer Demi Lovato already used Shazam streams in 2014 to help them decide which European cities would give concerts.

6) The Shazam Effect

This knowledge that Shazam brings to artists has an impact on their music. One speaks of Shazam effect. The music industry knows exactly what kind of music is currently being listened to and where and can produce and market it appropriately for target groups. Critics speak of a standardization of music, supporters of a greater variety.

The Australians 'Spiderbait' were also inspired to write a song


7) Shazam sees the future

Once upon a time, when record companies couldn't analyze Shazam data in Excel spreadsheets, hits had to be predicted - or selected - in a different way. What label bosses liked got on the radio. It was in the interest of the industry to produce new chart songs as regularly as possible in order to be able to constantly sell hits. Lars Jensen from brandeins explains that until 1991 the charts were apparently based on souped-up dealer surveys. It was only after the actual sales began to flow into the charts in 1991 that directions suddenly emerged that were previously barely represented. Since Billboard also evaluated streams and downloads, this trend has intensified even further.

Norbert Rudnitzky, A&R at Warner Music, tells in the podcast how to recognize a hit.

In this regard, Shazam is only part of a complex that aims to provide the music industry with information about our listening preferences. So never before have consumers had such a great influence on the production of new music. All of the streaming, downloading and searching for music answers the music industry's primal question about the next big thing. Hit song Science is called the attempt to be able to calculate the hit potential of a song with large data sets and algorithms.

Nowhere else can you make such reliable statements about the development of songs as with Shazam. Derek Thompson, journalist at The Atlantic, calls the app an "early detection system for hits". The best example is Lorde from New Zealand. Shazam employees were able to follow the Shazams of her song with her Royals spread from New Zealand to Nashville and North America to the rest of the world.

Lorde owes her success, among other things, to Shazam


8) Shazam changes the music

The precise knowledge of the recipients' musical tastes enables the producers to present the listeners with precisely tailored acts and songs. This leads to an increasingly uniform and repetitive sound. Scientific studies show that people prefer to listen to familiar or similar music. More and more labels are now mixing different influences, such as hip-hop or country, into pop music. New dishes are created with the familiar ingredients.

To be shazamed, songs have to sound vaguely familiar, but have that certain something that makes the listener curious. The more advantages artists expect from Shazam, the more willing they are to adapt music accordingly.

9) Shazam holds up the mirror to us

Shazam shows us the things we wanted that we didn't know we wanted. According to Thompson, the music created after the data analysis would become increasingly monotonous - and the listeners would be satisfied with it. At Columbia University in 20006 it was found that the popularity of music has an impact on people's judgment. The study asked people to listen to music and download their favorite songs. Listeners who were also shown the chart position of the songs tended to prefer high-ranked songs.

So are we caught in a vicious circle of always the same music? If you tune in to the major radio stations, you will agree. Still: if you want other music, you can get it. With a little initiative, the whole wonderland of sounds is open to you. However, working your way through the rummaging table of the music on offer is time-consuming and expensive. David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that we are already familiar with at least 90 percent of the music we listen to. Because familiar music is easier to record. The less effort we have to put into processing it, the more likely we are to like it.

Read here how you can easily discover cool music.

Todd Moscowitz, co-founder of the US independent label 300 entertainmentis still optimistic. He tells Lars Jensen that the musical diversity is getting bigger and bigger because a few A&R people are no longer being listened to. Instead, virtually the whole world would be used as A&R.

Who is to blame for the uniformity of pop music?


10) Shazam is not alone

It's not just Shazam that is feeding the music industry with data. Next big sound is a music analysis company that searches the web for Spotify streams, Instagram tags and other digital tracks in order to track down potential newcomers. iHeartMedia conducts weekly surveys to determine when listeners get tired of certain songs. Nielsen Audio uses so-called Portable People Meters to analyze which radio stations are being listened to. HitPredictor plays short pieces from songs to listeners and, based on their reaction, calculates the probability of whether the respective songs will become hits.

The app too WhoSampled? now use music recognition.

Shazam has even made a name for itself far away from the music industry. Anyone who thinks about themselves as recognition software prides themselves on being the Shazam for (your product could be here). We cannot save ourselves from Shazam: The Shazam for films, the Shazam for paintings, the Shazam for birdsong or even the Shazam for mosquitoes.


Even though a lot of the work is done by computers for us: in the end, people are still responsible for the release of music. Follow this checklist if you want to be well received by the A&R manager.