Covent Garden, London, September.

Covent Garden, London, September.

I wrote this for the NYT's business section: Name That Tune, From Your Cellphone. It's about a little company called Shazam that I checked out when I was in London last month. One of their ads is pictured above. (In case you don't know it from your elbow, Ash is a band.)

As the headline indicates, Shazam offers a nifty name-that-tune service for cell phones. If you hear a song in a bar or on television and want to know what it is, you dial a four-digit number and stick your phone near the speaker. Shazam then zaps you a text message identifying the song and artist. The service has 1.6 million tracks in its database, several times more than your local megastore.

So how well does it work? In Shazam's offices it identified MOP's "Cold as Ice" on the radio, but later in a car it failed to get Roxy Music's "Avalon," although the music might not have been loud enough. I also asked a few other people to try it out. Graham (who helped out with EUROTRASH) gave it a shot and posted a mostly positive report on his site. (The Vines' live cover of "Miss Jackson" is not out on CD, which probably explains that failure.) And my friend Garth sent this less glowing analysis:

Tried Shazam in the excellent Coal Hole bar on Strand, good volume and clarity and low crowd noise but Shazam failed to identify both Timo Maas, "To Get Down" and Stereophonics, "Handbags and Gladrags." A message came back in 15 minutes saying that Shazam needed the music to be even louder.

Then went to The Castle pub at Smithfield, a staging post for people lining up for Fabric, a big techno emporium. The Castle was busy and lary (good english word for you) but Shazam miraculously picked off Carl Douglas and "Kung Fu Fighting" at first try. Big cheers all round, even though it's probably the least useful musical identification ever. However, Shazam is a tease. We tried assorted Abba and Robbie Williams but no joy. Shazam said the music wasn't loud enough or simply didn't respond.

Later evening saw a little party action back in the loft and I stuck the cell phone right next to the speaker for Röyksopp's "Higher Place." No problem at all. A second later it zipped back the details.

Basically we get the impression it works fine where the sound is really good. But it's all a bit rickety in raucous bars which is exactly where you could use it i guess. Might be better in a club though I wonder how it pulls apart overlaid mixes.

I would use it again for a laugh. It's vaguely fun when you have a bunch of people round a table and a few beers. But primarily in a "wow look what technology can do" kind of way rather than a serious query as to the music. I guess it might improve though the core issue seems to be the accoustics rather than their database.

. . .

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