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How Shazam Uses Its 5 Billion Tags To Predict Your Summer Hits

Shazam’s massive flow of data makes the app the true musical discovery vox populi—and resurrects the old-time feeling of "crate digging."

This week Shazam announced an eye-popping stat: the music recognition app had hit five billion tags. That is, people used the app to identify songs and interact with TV content five billion times.

All that data has made Shazam a reliable gauge of what music is popular—not just with your friends, but with the world at large.

According to the company, 85% of the songs that reach the top spot in Shazam’s tag charts—which list the songs that are identified most often via the app—go on to break into the national top 10 charts as well.

This past May, Shazam made a prediction of the 10 most popular songs during the Summer of 2012. Assuming for the moment that "popular" means each song on the list would at least chart, the app performed well.

From Shazam’s Sounds of Summer Top Ten list, three songs, including "Payphone" by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa, are still in the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the U.S. Two songs, including "Feel the Love" by Rudimental featuring John Newman, are still on the Billboard Top 10 in the U.K. And, three songs broke the Top 40 on various Billboard charts including Alternative and R&B/Rap. The final two songs charted in various countries around the world.

According to Will Mills, Director of Music and Content at Shazam, the ability to see the future is not necessarily by design, but the benefit of the huge amount of song requests, or tags, pouring into Shazam daily—10 million of them. It’s a happy accident of data, and lots of it.

"It’s not an algorithm, it’s just the scale of Shazam." Mills says. "There’s over 10 million tags a day on Shazam." he says. "There is a bit of filtering we do in Europe and to a lesser degree the U.S., where we filter out the new releases from the general traffic." Mills explains in detail: "When you take the new tracks out and look at the tag counts compared to those, it’s very easy to see which tracks are resonating with hundreds of thousands or sometimes millions of users. Essentially, it’s just user demand. It shows real consumer interest in a song."

And, as the past few years show, the business of sharing information on such a grand scale has been leading Shazam into new territory, as interesting ways to utilize the audio recognition app come to the fore.

For the 2012 London Olympic Games Shazam is providing second-screen information for the television broadcast, as it did for the Super Bowl and the Grammy Awards broadcasts. Users can watch the Olympic broadcast with a smartphone or tablet at the ready. When there is something they’re interested in knowing more about, they can hit the tag button on the Shazam app allowing it to record the song or audio dialogue. It will record a small snippet. In the case of a song, it will provide information on that song, whether it’s during the broadcast or a commercial. When the app is used to record audio during the broadcast of the Olympics, it will give users detailed specifics such as athlete bios, photographs, real-time updates, stats and medal counts. "Shazam TV is more about the second-screen experience." says Mills. And, the interactive information aspects are just the beginning. The social element has been enhanced as well. Android users of the Shazam app will enjoy a bit of extra functionality. Explains Mills: "We have our own social feed called Shazam Friends…which enables you to see your friends and what they’re tagging as well. In terms of cool stuff around that, we have another Android only function, where you Shazam a song, or spoken audio on the TV, and you get a pin map of people in your vicinity."

As for Shazam’s core music recognition function, that virtual database of music functions in ways not always apparent at first. Mills elaborates: "I think it allows people a much more democratized music experience," he says, "rather than having to look at what a critic thinks of it, or a blogger. Now if you hear something and you like it, within two or three clicks, you can own it, basically."

And while Shazam is a product of the digital age, it also harks back to a very analog music lovers’ routine in the form of Shazam’s real-time stream, where users can see and hear what others are listening to and tag and choose what they like. "Usher (the R&B artist) mentioned in an interview recently that he thought Shazam was the new crate digging," laughs Mills. "Like we used to do back in the day, in secondhand record stores, looking for vinyl."

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