How to Identify Music With Your Phone

Have you ever been in a bar, coffee shop, lift, supermarket or anywhere else that plays music and been bewildered at the currently playing track? Well, no longer. Two apps are available on the Android marketplace, with both free and paid versions, that aim to abolish that irritating moment forever.

Shazam is the popular iPhone and iPad app, which made its way onto Android, that listens to a short clip of a song and “tags” it. The tag reveals the song name, artist, album and several options such as purchasing it (from iTunes on iOS or AmazonMP3 on Android). It comes free on Android with a five song limit per month, while a paid “Encore” version is also available with extra features, including unlimited tagging.

SoundHound is a rival app which is also available on both iOS and Android. It too matches your recorded music clip from its database whether it’s a real song playing or something you’re singing yourself! They claim to be the first app in the world to recognize human-generated humming or singing for tagging purposes.


Shazam’s offering is very easy to use. Whilst the song is playing (as long as, in this case, it’s an official studio copy, and not someone singing), simply hit the Shazam “S” logo in the center of the screen and allow it to record around 15 seconds of the song. There’s no deviation from that 15 seconds, even if it could recognize the song earlier.

Shazam needs around 15 seconds to identify a song. Also, it seems to want to try to convert you to BlackBerry.

Once your song has been identified (or not), one of two screens will appear. If a message of apology appears, unfortunately your song has not been matched because either the song is either not in their database, or the recording was too bad (it was someone singing, there was too much background noise, the song ended half way through etc.).

If your song is matched, you will be shown the title, artist and some other information such as album, genre, label and date of tag. Below that there are several options you can choose from:

  • Buy on AmazonMP3 – This will launch the AmazonMP3 app (if installed) and allow you to purchase the DRM-free MP3
  • Tour Info – Slowly loads tour information, if the song is from a currently-touring artist
  • YouTube Video – Launches a list of YouTube videos that match the song, effectively allowing you to stream the song for free
  • Recommendations – In Shazam Encore, offers recommendations of similar songs
  • Lyrics – Display’s the song’s lyrics in a browser on Shazam’s site
  • Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and SMS – Allows you to inform your followers or friends of your Shazam discovery
  • Biography and Discography – Shows history info of the artist themselves and a list of their titles

Shazam offers basic info and you can scroll down to access more.

The other tabs on the homescreen are Chart, My Tags, and Blog. The Chart shows your local top ten and allows you to access the same options for each song as if you had just freshly tagged it. My Tags acts in exactly the same way as the Chart, but shows you a list of songs that you have tagged previously. Blog is self-explanatory.

Shazam Encore

Encore is a paid version costing £2.99 that lifts the five-tracks-per-month restriction to offer unlimited tagging. You can also view the recommendations we discussed earlier, launch a custom Pandora or station with your tags, or dock your phone in your car and tag what’s playing on the radio.

Whether it’s worth the extra price is up to you. SoundHound, which we’ll discuss in just a second, offers many of the same features… for free.


SoundHound does pretty much the same thing as Shazam: it identifies music based on a short clip you record. Again, wherever you are, hit the large SoundHound logo to allow it to record a short clip. You just let it record, but this time, as soon as SoundHound recognizes it will stop — so you don’t have to record the full length.

Once again, tap that app to record the song.

You again get the standard information such as title, artist, and album, but this time the buy and share mechanisms are located under a trio of buttons. There’s a selection of the same options but this time recommendations appear for free, and lyrics are integrated into the app without the need to launch the browser.

Advantages over Shazam include the ability to hum or sing a song to tag, or just find a song by speaking the title.

A nice additional view is the ability to view a list of albums this track is in; again, this is completely integrated into the app.

SoundHound is more about integration in the app rather than jumping around in the browser.

SoundHound ∞

SoundHound ∞ is the premium offering from SoundHound. Even though you get unlimited tagging in the free app, the paid one (at a £3.12 price) removes ads and introduces several new features.

The Tag Wars

Which one would you choose? SoundHound is my favorite choice. It offers a wider feature set at the free price point and I love the ability to hum or sing a song. Shazam is a great choice on iOS but the free version’s limit on Android is disappointing.

Overall, both apps perform the same functions and they do both well if you’re trying to lookup a mid- to very-popular song. Some songs and tunes, such as, say, the Angry Birds theme, do not appear in their database — but that is to be expected. These two are certainly the best of the best when looking to ID your music.