Shazam: The Hall of Fame Music Tagging App

Think back to when you got your first iPhone. What were initial 10 apps you downloaded? I bet most of you downloaded Twitter, Angry Birds, Pandora, Doodle Jump and/or Evernote. What do each of these apps have in common? They were initial inductees into Apple’s App Store Hall of Fame in 2010.

Another app you probably downloaded, and was also an initial Hall of Fame inductee, is Shazam. Since its release in July 2008, Shazam has been a must-have app, granting users the ability to easily identify songs and artists. Shazam recently released version 5.0, which included some new features that are sure to delight its millions of users. Join me after the jump as I take a closer look at these new features (and more).

How Shazam Works

If you’re unfamiliar with Shazam, let me give you a brief overview on how the apps works. Say you’re out somewhere (a store, restaurant, movie theater, etc.) and you hear a song that catches your ear. Shazam will listen to and identify the song (known as “tagging”) and provide you the name of the song and artist. Once you’ve tagged a song, Shazam offers links to buy the song in iTunes, or share the song via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Tag it. Buy it. Share it.

Tag it. Buy it. Share it.

Lightning Fast Tagging

Arguably the biggest update in version 5.0 is lightning fast tagging, which Shazam says will let you “tag results … in as little as one second!” That’s a mighty big claim, so I took it upon myself to test just how fast songs can be tagged. For this test I chose 10 songs ranging in popularity from a few popular songs to a few obscure songs (I’ll provide a list of the songs in the comments section if you’re interested). On average, all 10 songs were tagged in just over five seconds, which is quite amazing considering it used to take a full 30 seconds to tag a song.

A tag is process.

A tag is process.

While these results are great, tagging can be a much different experience when you’re out in public and not using Wi-Fi, or when the volume of the music isn’t very audible. Luckily, I had a few occasions to test Shazam in a few real world experiences. On the first occasion, I was at retail store and tagged a song that was at a low volume and being played through speakers that were 20+ feet in the air, and on the second occasion I was at a restaurant that habitually decreases phone reception to one bar or less. In both experiences I found that Shazam’s ability to tag the each song was successful on the first attempt and was done so quickly (10 seconds or less).

Fast Start-Up and Instant Listening

Two additional features in version 5.0 include a faster start-up time (over a second faster, as proclaimed by Shazam) and instant listening upon start-up. After starting-up, killing and restarting Shazam several times, I found that the app was up and ready to tag in two seconds or less, which is great if the song you want to tag is about to finish.

Instant listening upon start-up may sounds as if Shazam will start the tagging process for you immediately after opening the app, but it’s not. Instead, instant listening is a background process that makes Shazam listen automatically every few seconds so that it can begin the tagging process before you actually hit the big Shazam button. I tried tagging songs instantly upon start-up and after letting the app sit open for a few seconds, and found that the instant listening feature cut tagging time in half.

A red ring around the Shazam icon indicates that app is listening in the background.

A red ring around the Shazam icon indicates that app is listening in the background.


While not an update in version 5.0, LyricPlay is a feature (added late last year) that displays the lyrics to the song you’ve tagged in time with the music (you can watch a demonstration on Shazam’s website). Unfortunately, this feature is not available for every song (only two of my test songs included LyricPlay), but when the feature is available it will be noted by a LyricPlay banner just below the album title and song information. To activate LyricPlay, simply turn your phone over to portrait mode. I really love this feature, mainly because of the different variations of displaying the lyrics.

When the LyricsPlay banner appear, simply turn your phone to landscape mode.

When the LyricsPlay banner appear, simply turn your phone to landscape mode.

The Competition

Shazam may be the most well known music tagging app, but SoundHound has been a major competitor since 2010. In fact, SoundHound also features fast tagging and a LyricsPlay like service called LiveLyrics. During my testing, I decided to pit Shazam and SoundHound against each other to determine which app tagged faster, was more accurate and provided lyrics that play in time with music.

Out of the 10 test songs Shazam tagged all 10, but SoundHound was only able to tag eight. On average, Shazam tagged each song in just over five seconds and SoundHound tagged each song in roughly eight seconds. However, SoundHound did provide lyrics for four songs, while Shazam only offered lyrics for two songs. While the findings of this test are interesting, they are in no way substantial evidence that clearly identifies which app is better.

Closing Comments

Shazam is a great app and provides a truly amazing service. While music tagging isn’t as revolutionary as it was back in Shazam’s initial release, it’s hard to imagine not having it at your disposal. I feel it’s important to note that Shazam is available for free, but I’d highly recommend buying Shazam Encore ($5.99) if you’re the type of person that cannot stand to see ads (they’re quite prominent). But, if ads are of no concern to you, version 5.0 solidifies Shazam as a must-have app for your iPhone.


While already a must have app, version 5.0 of Shazam continues to impress with lightning fast tagging and other great features.