Now With 175M+ Users, SoundHound Launches Its iOS 7 App, As Company Struggles To Exit Shazam’s Shadow

SoundHound’s music identification app has the unfortunate position of having to live in Shazam’s shadow, but that may not be the case for much longer. Though both apps currently allow users to push a button to identify a song they’re hearing, SoundHound has been steadily nipping at its older competitor’s heels, with a growing user base and innovative feature set which lets you do different things, like view live lyrics synced to the music, identify songs by humming a melody, or search for music by entering snippets of lyrics.

Today the app is finally getting its iOS 7 makeover and is expanding its “Music Map” feature (another that it beat Shazam to launch) to include now not just the songs users are tagging around the world, but a personalized map where you can also view only your own tags filtered by day, week, month or all-time. Nifty? Sure. Practical? Hard to say.

3_SoundHound_MyMusic_LocalThe company envisions this map being a catalog of moments – a way to associate places with the music you heard there. For regular concert goers, that makes sense. But the company’s real business involves tapping into the much larger group of everyday music listeners – you know, those out there who are still turning on the radio during their commutes.

While its competitor Shazam may have a bigger user base, SoundHound hopes to top them through technological innovations. One area where SoundHound has forged ahead recently is in live radio broadcast recognitions – not just songs, but stations and programming.

Explains Katie McMahon, VP of Sales & Marketing, “SoundHound has deployed the ability to recognize radio stations. We’ve done this in partnership with Westwood One…it’s old school, terrestrial radio.” McMahon, who previously spent six years at Shazam before being recruited away by its scrappier competitor SoundHound, points out that radio still has a significant audience. “248 million Americans each week actively listen to radio. It’s almost this forgotten thing since Pandora came out,” she notes.

The SoundHound app is capable of taking a radio stream and making it identifiable – whether that’s a talk show, a sports broadcast or an NPR program. This capability, live for roughly a year, is important because it allows radio marketers to connect to mobile users.

For example, if you were to “tag” an audio program from the radio, those marketers could reach you through mobile ads, even if you switched on the radio after the on-air commercials had ended. The advertisers may have even first missed you through live radio, but could still reach you through your smartphone.

But the app isn’t pushing its users to “tag” the ads themselves – it’s just working to pick up the other audio around the music – DJ chatter, commercials, and other spots – to identify the station and programming, then show the relevant promotions. “We didn’t want to suddenly pivot and change the entire use case and alienate our users,” says McMahon of the radio identification technology.

That’s different from Shazam which has become very focused on TV, and specifically making television commercials “taggable” through calls to action to users. (You may have seen the Shazam logo on some TV ads in the past.) SoundHound doesn’t want to change its core use case. For now, it’s more immediately focused on “music events” – that is, any live broadcasts, including radio or even TV events like the Grammy awards, for example.

McMahon says that SoundHound already has the technical capabilities to tag TV – or any audio, really – in similar ways to Shazam. “Can SoundHound do what Shazam is doing on television? The answer is overwhelming ‘yes.’ And moreover, we have done it – last Superbowl we had it live.”

But the question is will Shazam beginning running its app in the background, to pick up the airwaves and sounds around you wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing? That is, listening to radio, watching TV, at a live event, etc.? McMahon couldn’t – or wouldn’t – say. For now, the company isn’t moving into the more general TV/television commercial recognition space. At least not how Shazam is doing it. “SoundHound is doing live broadcast recognition, and we’ve started in the space of radio,” is how McMahon puts it.

SoundHound says it has now grown its user base to 175+ million, up from 100 million just a year ago. This is not the number of downloads, to be clear, but only those that have launched and used the app. Shazam, however, is still larger, citing now over 375 million users worldwide. But those numbers aren’t surprising, given Shazam’s age. The company was founded in 1999 and has been on the iPhone since 2008, while SoundHound was founded in 2005, then launched a year later. That growth is impressive, especially if SoundHound’s claims are true when it says that most of that growth is organic.

Now the challenge for SoundHound is to be seen as something different from Shazam, rather than just a “better” Shazam. McMahon hints that moves toward that larger goal are in the works now.

“In 12 months’ time, the association of Shazam and SoundHound will be much wider apart – they’ll be seen as very different companies,” she says.