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SoundHound music app: Generating hits by identifying songs

October 24, 2011 |  9:00 pm

SoundHound LogoSoundHound, whose music app can identify songs playing on the radio or hummed by its users, reports that it is processing about 4 million name-that-tune requests a day. 

The statistic, released Monday night by the San Jose company, is interesting because it gives a glimpse of how popular music "searches" have become in the age of computers that can recognize both voice and sound. 

Apple iPhone 4S users may be enthralled with the device's Siri application, whose cheeky answers have become a viral staple on about 77,500 videos on YouTube. But the technology behind Siri is something that SoundHound has been developing for the last five years, starting from a dorm room at Stanford University.

Actually, it's two layers of technology. The first is the ability to recognize the words and the musical notes. The second parses the words for meaning, said Keyvan Mohajer, co-founder and chief executive of SoundHound.

Intelligent parsing understands, for example, that "Call me an ambulance" means "Send an ambulance," not "Please address me as 'An Ambulance'." (Siri currently does not get this distinction and will reply, "OK. I will call you 'An Ambulance' from now on.")

Geekery aside, SoundHound's numbers are notable because its users don't stop with the initial search to find a song title. They end up clicking six to nine additional times after each search, leading to between 25 million and 35 million "hits" a day.

What are SoundHound's users clicking on? All sorts of things: song lyrics, artist biographies, photos and greatest hits lists.

Some even click over to iTunes or Amazon.com's MP3 store to buy the songs. And in a partnership with Slacker, an online radio and on-demand streaming music service, SoundHound's users in the U.S. can hear the songs on Slacker. In Europe, SoundHound sends users to Spotify.

It's not the only company able to identify songs, with Shazam being the most well-known competitor. Such apps are taking off because they are hitting the right notes with people, even if they're not music fans.

In an age where there are tens of millions of songs online, finding the tune that your grandmother hummed to you as a child may be like searching for a needle in a digital haystack. Google's power, and its $193-billion valuation, is in connecting users with what they want on the Web. SoundHound is aiming to do the same, but for songs.


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-- Alex Pham

Twitter/ @AlexPham