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Shazam looks for ways to get more people to share music [UPDATED]

March 4, 2009 |  4:51 pm

If you've seen an iPhone commercial on TV, you've probably also seen Shazam. If you hold your handset in the air while music is playing, the application tries to identify the song for you.

Although it's featured in a commercial for the Apple device, Shazam is agnostic: It works on 75 carriers in 60 countries. And it's determined not to be a one-trick iPhone pony. The British company says it's trying to figure out ways to get people to use it even more often, helping the music industry at the same time.

When it launched in 2002, Shazam required people to send a text message to initiate a phone call so the service could identify the song. It then texted the song's name to the requester.

Now, in the "brave new world" of app stores, it's more accessible as an application on Apple and Android phones, Shazam Chief Executive Andrew Fisher said in an interview today.  Since September 2008, the service has attracted 16 million new users, he said, and 5 million have downloaded the application on the iPhone.

It's still available on non-smartphones, he said, through a short code. In the U.S., it's preloaded on most AT&T devices and available on Verizon phones.

But there's a limited number of times people need to find out ...

... the name of a song, Fisher said, so Shazam is trying to figure out a way to get people to use the service more often.

"We want to find stimulants to get people to use it on a daily basis," he said. "Relying on someone finding the name of a song and buying it isn't going to do it."

That means potentially enabling users to buy concert tickets after they hear a song or giving them the ability to tag the music on Facebook and other social networking sites so they can share it with friends.

The influx of smartphones will help, he said: Shazam users with unlimited data plans and fast Internet service won't get bill shock for downloading a song to their phones. Shazam will be a part of both the RIM and Nokia app store launches.

As Shazam reaches more smartphones, Fisher said, the company is looking into changing its billing system, potentially going to a subscription model. Users will be able to use limited parts of the app, but they'll have to pay for content and other premium services. Some parts of the music recognition service will be free to users. Others will be ad-supported, and others will be behind a wall.

Don't want to pay? Think of it as a way to help sustain the music industry.

"The challenge for the music industry in terms of recorded music is to get people to consume licensed content," he said. "Here, they can purchase at the point of inspiration, and they're prepared to pay."

-- Alana Semuels

Corrected, 11:30 a.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly said that Shazam launched two years ago and that it is on 75 devices. In fact, it launched in 2002 and is on 75 carriers.

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