How Does Shazam Work?


ShazamAfter the recent announcement that five radio groups — iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Entercom, Cox and Sun Broadcast Group — are collaborating with Shazam on a new mobile audio measurement service, we wanted to know more. Here’s what we found.

Shazam started as a company in 2002; users dialed “2580” on their phone, held that up to music they heard and received an SMS message telling them name and artist. It was one of the first apps in the Apple store by 2008.

In 2011, the app expanded to recognize television programs. Now it helps consumers discover and interact with and share video, audio, or printed content on TV, radio, movie screens, magazines, newspapers, packaged goods and retails stores.

Here’s how it works: the user downloads the app onto their smartphone. When they hear a song they like, they tap the “Shazam” button. A digital audio “fingerprint” is created. That is matched against a Shazam database.

The name of the track and artist information is sent to the user’s phone. That can include lyrics, video, concert tickets and recommendations.

The consumer can then buy or listen to the song using one of Shazam’s partner services.

Founder and Chief Scientist Avery Wang has 20+ years of industry experience designing high-performance multimedia signal processing systems for the consumer market and is the principal inventor of Shazam’s recognition algorithms and other key technologies.

Though Shazam is based in the UK, it has offices here in New York, Chicago, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Of course, whether the announced service comes to fruition is a question, given that many of the groups in the announcement are currently negotiating new Nielsen contracts.

Also unclear is who is the typical Shazam user, whether the service would be representative of the U.S. population and what methodology would be employed. Shazam declined to speak with us.