Can’t remember that song name? Just Shazam it

Shazam has utilised its sophisticated search engine model and attention economy devices in order to make it the global powerhouse it is today. However they don't want to stop there, the next step is making the world 'Shazam-able'

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The Shazam app icon. Amazon. All Rights Reserved.

The Shazam application has monopolised the music identification market, with 150 million active users per month (Ghosh, 2018), through providing people with a user-friendly platform that allows them to identify any audio snippet in seconds. Comparatively, their most notable competitor SoundHound has only 300 million downloads (Yeung, 2016).

In this essay I will perform a critical analysis on how Shazam has led the music identification software market; with a focus on how its search engine platform and use of attention economy devices have aided its rise.

Shazam and its history

Shazam is a music identification software developed by Shazam Entertainment Limited. The application allows users to discern the title of music, TV shows, adverts and movies through recording an audio snippet on their device’s microphone (Jarvey, 2014).

This is done through their unique identification process, in which it creates a digital fingerprint off the back of the audio, and then matches this fingerprint against their database (Shazam, 2018).

Unbeknown to most people, Shazam has been around since 2002, however it was available only in the UK (Giles, 2015). In this version users could dial 2580 and record the music in order to ‘Shazam’ a song, after this recording users were sent a text informing them of the song and artist’s title (Shazam, 2018).

In 2004 the app was introduced to the US, where it was known as ‘dial-that-tune’ (Charny, 2004). It was available as a joint promotion with the AT & T wireless network and the now discontinued Musicphone (Charny, 2004). The US platform operated similarly to the UK version, in that users would dial #ID and then record the audio. After which they would receive a text informing them of the song and artists title (Charny, 2004).

Although it was previously popular, the platform only became prominent in 2008 after the launch of the Apple app store (Shazam, 2018). Shazam was one of the first apps available on the platform. It was similarly made available to android users in 2008, aligning with Amazon’s app store (Reisinger, 2008).

The launch onto the app store propelled Shazam into prominence as it provided users accessibility and simplification, allowing people to open iTunes through the app and purchase songs instantly (Rosoff, 2009).

Although the service hasn’t altered substantially over the years, Shazam has had numerous updates in order to increase functionality. These include social media integration, through providing Twitter and Facebook share buttons (Lee, 2009), as well as partnering with Snapchat to allow users to ‘Shazam’ songs whilst in the app (Conditt, 2016) by holding down on the camera screen, as displayed in the below video.

Other updates include partnering with Spotify (Schroeder, 2011) and incorporating Shazam into Apple’s personal assistant Siri, allowing users to identify a song hands free (Ferlazzo, 2014).

Who owns Shazam and what is its business model?

The Shazam app was initially owned and developed by Shazam Entertainment Limited, but Apple purchased the platform in December 2017 for US $400 million (BBC, 2017).

This deal came under scrutiny from the European Commission, who announced they would be investigating the purchase to ascertain whether Apple Music’s rivals would be affected due to Shazam not referring songs to their competitors.

The European Commission subsequently cleared Apple of any wrongdoing, and the purchase was ratified on September 24th 2018 (Apple, 2018).

Shazam executive chairman Andrew Fisher says the company “zigzagged through business models” in their early days (Fisher in Jacobs, 2014), but this isn’t irregular for technology start-ups as they are constantly cycling through a process of seeking brand recognition and then figuring out how to make money off that (Jacobs, 2014).

This ‘zigzagging’ entailed Shazam initially being a free application, however they then shifted to the ‘freemium’ business model (Fisher in Jacobs, 2014). Singh (2014) details the freemium model to have become prominent amongst smartphone app developers. It provides users with basic features at not cost, however they can access additional enhanced features for a fee (Singh, 2014).

In the case of Shazam, users could record five songs a month but any excess would result in a cost (Jacobs, 2014).

In conjunction with the app store release, they shifted back to a free model. This means that the app provides their service to users for free. However this doesn’t mean they had no revenue streams. Shazam CEO Rich Riley describes their profitability to be due to referral fees (for Apple, Google and Spotify purchases), advertising and investors (Riley in Fortt, 2014). Shazam also sells almost 10% of downloaded music, of which they take a revenue share (Riley in Fortt, 2014).

As the influence of technology increases in our daily lives, this allows for smartphone start-ups to have greater reach to the general public. For apps like Shazam, this means their growth will continue, as will their income streams.

Shazam’s in its industry

In terms of music identification start-ups and software’s, Shazam is a market leader in regards to innovation, partnership and usability. This is evident as per figure 2, in that Shazam had been downloaded over 1 billion times (Richter, 2017). Where as their closest competitor SoundHound had 300 million downloads at the same time (Yeung, 2016).

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Figure 2. The number of Shazam users worldwide. Statista. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam has numerous partnerships globally, that have been instigated in order to best reach certain target markets across different areas. In order to cater to European and Australasian countries Shazam has agreements with Spotify, Apple, android and Snapchat.

Similarly, in order to adapt to the subcontinent market, they have an agreement with Saavn, an Indian language online music app (Phillips, 2013).

Shazam also has partnerships with TV broadcasters and online streaming services, including National CineMedia (Ha, 2014), AMC, A & E and Fuse (Jarvey, 2014). They also have a contract with radio streamer Sun Broadcast Group, to present Shazam for Radio in which they provide interactive content for listeners according to their preferences (Lopez, 2014).

Although Shazam has monopolised the market of music identification software, it still has significant competitors that operate on a similar premise. The most notable being SoundHound, MusicID, Tunatic and ACRCLOUD.

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Figure 3. SoundHound platform. Engadget. All Rights Reserved

The reason that Shazam has a far greater market share than their aforementioned competitors is down to usability and more relevant partnerships with higher quality companies. The other apps also have various shortcomings as opposed to Shazam, for example SoundHound has advertisements (unless you pay for SoundHound Infinity) and MusicID is of no use unless you have data connection.

In terms of who provides Shazam with the services, prior to the 2017 sale to Apple, their entire coding, signal processing and general app maintenance was done in house under Shazam Entertainment Limited (in which they employed 120 scientists & engineers [Riley in Fortt, 2014]). However Apple’s programming department now handle that since the sale.

Shazam also utilises the Internet and mobile network coverage as suppliers in order to deliver their service. As without data connection your device isn’t able to send through and match the created digital fingerprint.

There is no single regulatory body in regards to smartphone apps, however Apple places heavy scrutiny on their app developers through emphasis and evaluation of the content, development and payments (Sithigh, 2013). An app cannot be available on the app store unless they pass the vetting process. This combined with the App Store Review Guidelines allows them to “provide a safe experience for users to get apps and a great opportunity for all developers to be successful” (Apple, 2018).

In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) monitors all market activity in order to ensure fair trade for consumers and businesses (ACCC, 2018), including the regulation of smartphone technology. They also have a particular focus on unauthorised in-app purchases (ACCC, 2018).

The app is available to all Apple platform users (Iphone, Mac computer, Apple watch and Apple TV), android mobile users and Microsoft Windows users.

Displayed below is a diagram of Shazam’s internet ecology and relevant industry partners:


How has Shazam applied attention economy devices and search?

To put it simplistically, Shazam is a search engine. As it identifies key patterns, and then searches their database for a match. Havalais (2013) details a search engine to be an information retrieval system that utilises key word or pattern searches of distributed digital text in order to index webpages, multimedia, restricted intranets and individual computers.

Havalais (2013) believes search engines have become prominent due to a concept known as the attention economy. Mathew Crawford (2015) describes this to be an economic management system that believes human attention to be scarce.

Although search engines increase accessibility to information, it doesn’t increase our desire to consume it (Havalais, 2013). We as humans tend to use the least amount of attention in order to obtain information (Havalais, 2013).

This stark reality has forced modern start-ups like Shazam to innovate, and become technologies of attention in order to quickly identify and aggregate data (Havalais, 2013). For Shazam this notion of limited time and attention is particularly poignant, as they have to capture an audio snippet in limited time otherwise their app won’t perform its purpose.

Their business model has been moulded to cater for this limited attention. Which is evident through their simplistic platform (displayed in figure 4) that has three options:

. Shazam

. My Shazam (which has previous recorded songs)

. Discover

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Figure 4. The Shazam platform. Apple. All Rights Reserved

They present their main function instantly after opening; with the option to Shazam a song taking up most of the screen in order to immediately serve its purpose.

However the discover function (as displayed in figure 5) has been deployed as an attention economy device in order to get us to attend to other music commodities. This links users with content including top songs and emerging artists, presented by their partners (such as Spotify). This link allows users greater access to potentially previously un-seen or of interest content, which increases publicity for their partners.

Figure 5. The Shazam discover platform. Apple. All Rights Reserved

Making the world ‘Shazam-able’. The transformative effect on the market

Although Shazam began as a music identification app, it’s now branched out into different industries to make it the billion-dollar powerhouse we now know.

It’s no longer just an app; it’s a common verb amongst social groups. The words “I’ll just Shazam it” has been uttered in my own house more times than I can count.

Shazam has a stranglehold on the music identification market due to its usability, quality partnerships and marketing potential. In terms of usability, it provides people with a quick service (most Shazam’s occur in under 4 seconds [Riley in Fortt, 2014]), as well as immediate referral to a streaming/purchasing platform. Its partnerships with social media, TV, radio; music streaming and advertising companies provide users with un-paralleled exclusive deals. The marketability of Shazam has also helped them obtain these superior extras, as companies seek to be associated with this powerful brand.

Although their foundations are in music, they don’t intend on stopping there, which is what separates them from their competitors. CEO Rich Riley displayed this desire to branch out when he said he wanted to make “as much of the world Shazam-able as we can” (Riley in Fortt, 2014).

Riley detailed that they plan on doing this by engaging in partnerships with TV, cinema and retail. Theoretically their plan in retail is: if you see some shoes in store you like but require more details, you could simply take a photo and Shazam could give you extra information including different styles, pricing and sizes (Van Paris, 2018). They also plan on utilising watermarks in the background music of stores to identify your location (Riley in Fortt, 2014).

Although Shazam is ahead of its competitors in its foundational market, what truly separates them is their willingness and desire to enter different markets and provide users with a platform that allows other consumer companies to engage their customers through Shazam. For example they’ve recently deployed over 500 TV ad campaigns in which users can Shazam to get more content as well as special offers on items (Riley in Fortt, 2014).


Shazam has displayed that it’s a trailblazing Internet transformation figure and market leader. This was done through establishing a sophisticated and accommodating search engine that utilises attention economy devices in order to get users to attend to desired commodities. This combined with their digital fingerprint identification software; usability, partnerships and ability to re-invent and adjust their business model when appropriate has also separated them from their competitors.

Additionally, the company’s desire to branch out and make the world “Shazam-able” (Riley in Fortt, 2014) has established them on the global stage as a highly marketable brand, allowing them to further explore the potential of the platform.


Reference List


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About Angus Simpson 5 Articles
I'm a 2nd year Liberal Arts and Science student majoring in digital cultures. I take a particular interest in sports media stemming from a combination of excelling at English essays and years of competitive sport, particularly rugby. My hobbies include riding my motorbike, swimming at Clovelly beach and going back to the family farm in the upper Hunter Valley.

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