Shazam: The Story of How an App Made for Convenience Has Changed the Entire Music Industry by David Layton

   Hello everyone and welcome to another recording of Inquiry. Please remember, for further information on today's topic, or to listen to other recordings in our series, be sure to visit our website. In today's episode, we will continue to look at the growing field of information communication technologies, exploring how an app made for convenience has influenced an entire industry.

   Imagine if you will, you're at the movie theater. You have just taken your seat and as you begin to eat your popcorn, the lights dim and the advertisements start to play. You have seen most of them before so you're barely paying attention, that is until a new advertisement ( projects onto the screen and out of the surround sound speakers the song playing catches your attention. You have never heard the song before, and you don’t recognize the artist, but you enjoy it none the less. A few weeks later, to your surprise, you hear the same song being played on the radio, independent of the advertisement. A week after that it is on all your favorite radio stations, being played multiple times a day. How does something like this happen? How does an unknown song played before a movie in an advertisement end up on the radio being played all the time only a little while later? This perplexing question piqued my interest, so I decided to investigate.

    I discovered in the following weeks that phenomenon was a result of the popular application Shazam. Shazam, for those of you who don’t know, is a music identification app which identifies the artist and song title by simply listening to the same audio you hear and comparing it to its database to find your results. The song which I had heard played in the theater in the advertisement I later learned was called Renegades (, by a band named X Ambassadors, so I decided to search for it on Shazam. After looking on the official Shazam website (  for further information, I discovered that not only was it listed there, but it was number 23 in Canada's top 100 with over 3,471,047 people looking it up using Shazam's app. It became clear that the ability Shazam offered, to identify the song in the advertisement, made it easy for people to discover the band which resulted in the fast inflation of their success to audiences that had previously not known of them. If this app had this much affect on one song played for 30 seconds in a advertisement, I wondered what other kinds of effects it might have, in a world where internet communication technologies have exponential amounts of power and influence. In order to get the answers I sought, I began to research Shazam, and what I discovered was beyond what I ever imagined.

   Shazam,(|/blog-season1/0559af6e-84ae-4c24-8e38-547cb4c2eb7f) an app designed simply to help users identify music by its audio, has now been "downloaded more than 750 million times worldwide." (This Is Money) With such a large amount of users and a dedicated fan base Shazam has seen a huge increase in power and influence since its conception in 1999. Ironically, the app, which was designed to help users identify songs in the music industry, now influences nearly every facet of it. Radio, record deals, tour locations, popularity, success. In this episode we will explore how all of these things have been influenced heavily by Shazam, and answer some of the important questions that must be asked, given the rise of this influence.

   In the past, a musician's success or the success of a song was determined by word of mouth. Your friend would hear a song on the radio and if they liked it they would have to buy an album from the record store. The record then might be played for a friend or family who would in turn share it with someone else, eventually resulting in popularity. With the introduction of TV stations like MTV and reality television, music popularity could be determined by its play time on the show and what pop culture icons and T.V personalities said about it. Today however, a song's popularity and success can be decided before it ever makes it to the charts all based on its success on Shazam. BBC reporter, Sinead Garvan, recently wrote an article on "how Shazam is shaping the music industry," in which he discusses this radical change. Talking with Shazam's chief product officer he reports, "People don't Shazam things they don't like. They do it to the music they like but don't recognize." "There is no denying how important the data Shazam collects is to the music industry; in recent years it has become almost an A&R tool for record labels and radio stations." "It can help predict songs that will be future hits from how many "Shazams" a particular track is getting." (Garvan, 2015) In fact, I later learned that Shazam has begun to challenge charts and radio in terms of its influence on an artist success.

   Experts at the Technical University Darmstadt have conducted several studies to find the answer themselves and have concluded that Shazam is now actually more influential on an artist's success and a faster indication of how successful that artist will be. In their article titled, "How Smartphone Apps Can Help Predict Music Sales", they conduct a study where they compare "Shazam charts and song sales using data from the UK over a period from September 2010 to May 2011." In their results they found that consistently "Shazam charts precede sales charts by about two weeks"(Nikolaeva, 2012) thereby serving as better predictor for album sales and artist popularity. This has had a far reaching effect on the music industry, changing how record labels operate. The fact that Shazam is a faster indication of possible sales has caused record labels to begin to partner with Shazam, in order to use their data in place of talent scouts, to decide who to give record deals to. In fact, "Warner Music Group became the first label to sign an official deal with the music app last year." "This means it can see the data Shazam has on any of its artists and the label has also created a smaller division just for artists found through Shazam."(Garvin, 2015) In fact, just recently we saw this new Shazam method of signing in play. Rachel Platten who became famous almost overnight for her solo track, "Fight Song" owes her success to Shazam. "After the song was played on one American radio station it was shazamed so much she had a record deal within 72 hours." (Garvin, 2015)

    The amount of influence on the music industry Shazam has is beyond what I ever expected. An app created with the purpose of finding out a song's title and the artist who created it, now also affects whether or not those artists get record deals, have radio play, and find success on the charts. More that that, Shazam is now being used in ways I'm sure even they never planned on, affecting further areas of the music industry, like where an artist goes on tour, a decision which affects millions of their fans. Recently, popular singer Demi Lovato, used the Shazam app "to determine where she would go on tour in Europe by asking her fans to Shazam wherever they were." "She chose her tour locations based on the places she was Shazamed the most," getting "over two million Shazams in a matter of 24 hours." (Garvin, 2015)

   Once I saw that the artists themselves were replacing traditional music industry methods with Shazam, it became clear that Shazam is not just a passing fad. It has become synonymous with looking up a song and as we have seen, influences major recording companies, the radio, tours and the artist. I had all the research I wanted but I still wasn’t satisfied. Simply knowing all the ways Shazam was affecting an industry I felt invested in wasn’t enough; there were still to many unanswered questions about what these changes might mean. I also wanted to know how other people would feel after learning about Shazam; would they care? Would they be surprised and did they have any concerns themselves.

   To find out the answers to these new questions I began by talking with an arts and music reporter for the university newspaper about Shazam. After finding out that she was a fan of the app I asked if she knew about all the ways Shazam influenced the music industry? She replied saying she did not and was genuinely curious in what way I could possibly mean. After explaining what I have discussed here already, I asked her a question that I had raised myself after concluding my research, curious for how her answer would compare with my own. I asked if she saw any issues with Shazam having this influence. She thought about it for a second then answered "no, not really, if not them, then somebody else."

   This is an interesting idea as it seem the common opinion now that there will always be someone who hold a great amount of control and, if not them then it will be someone else. However, it is important at least to be informed of what you may be accepting when you accept companies like Shazam, who control large pieces of data and influence entire industries. While some of the following issues are theoretical, they are all possible and, some believe they could be happening now.

    For instance when you use Shazam's app you get the songs title, the artist, and a link to their YouTube, iTunes, or Spotify, but what does Shazam get in return. We already know that Shazam gets your location as artists, are now using it to decide where they go on tour, which in itself may be troubling enough to most people. However, that is not all Shazam has access to. When you go to install the app it informs you that it will have access to your identity, your photos, and can use your devices camera and microphone. The app if hacked or in an immoral CEO's control, has the ability to know where you are, listen to you, and see you. This is a truly disturbing thought and, rather more than most would be willing to trade in exchange for getting a song title faster.

    However, in this new world of apps and ICTs you will be hard pressed to find an app that doesn’t ask these permission. These days if you use the internet or any other communication technology you do so having to accept that if someone wanted to they could watch and listen to you or access all your information.

   There are other issues that should be considered as well in regards to the possible consequences of Shazam in the music industry. For instance in the report by the experts at the University Darmstadt they discovered "that the rock, pop, and hip hop genre, artists popularity positively affect song sales" (Nikolaeva, 2012). This may result in a scenario where artists are pressured to be "Shazamable", and where producers change the music of the artist to fit this mold. This will only feed the lack of artistic freedom and creativity already present in the music industry. In fact on the topic of conforming and standardizing what is deemed successful music; an article by experts at the university of Milan believe that Shazam and other apps like it have begun to "automate our tastes" changing what is socially defined as tasteful or good (Barile, Sugiyama, 2015). If this is indeed the case then Shazam can further shape the music industry by influencing what people like and don’t like, handing out success and taking it away as they see fit.

   The other possible issue that could arise is the issue of neutrality, Shazam has a database of over 11 million songs and in general you can find any song regardless of the artist's affiliation. However, as Shazam begins to enter into partnerships with major record companies like Warner music there may be clauses included in the contract where Shazam will only include partnered companies' songs in their database. If this is the case this will mean every company will have to sign a deal with Shazam to have their songs included in the database and those smaller labels that can't afford to will be severely inhibited in their potential reach and sales.

   In order to get a diverse opinion on these issues we handed out a survey (|/blog-season1/9c7ef06a-6197-41d7-adcc-f21271f10a2e) asking participants about their feelings on Shazam and the issues that could be associated with it. One young lady, an art student from Sheridan, was kind enough to come in and be interviewed on these questions in person. David Layton

David Layton, (Interviewer): Hello miss Wiedemann, thank you for doing this interview with us today.

Charlotte Wiedemann: oh no problem.

David: Have you heard of the Shazam app?

Charlotte: Ya I have the Shazam app on my phone.

David: If you don’t mind my asking, how many times a week would you say you use the app?

Charlotte: Umm I use it about 2 to 4 times a week, depending on whether or not I need to.

David: In what sort of situations do you find yourself using the app?

Charlotte: I watch alot of t.v shows and movies so the music from that I usually need shazam to find out what it is. Also I listen to the radio a lot at work so I use Shazam.

David: How much do you know about Shazam as a company?

Charlotte: I don’t really know anything about Shazam as a company but I hope they make another app because I really enjoy this one.

David: Really? What other types of apps would you like to see from Shazam?

Charlotte: I think they could make an app where you try to find out where a clip from a video is from, that would be pretty great.

David: That’s actually an interesting idea they've recently started getting into video, maybe they will have an app like that in the future. Now for some of the more serious questions. Did you know that Shazam affects who gets record deals, who gets radio play, and even where artist go on tour. In fact its becoming one of the most influential things in the music industry?

Charlotte: No I didn’t know.

David: Did you know that it affects who gets record deals who gets radio play and even where artist go on tour?

Charlotte Wiedemann: No I had no idea.

David: Do you think that’s to much power for one app to hold over an entire industry?

Charlotte: Any one thing holding that much power can be dangerous for sure, if they ever decide to change things in a way we don’t like we'll have really no alternative but I'm still gonna use the app and hope it stays the way it is.

David: Thank you for your time and have a wonderful day.

Charlotte: Thanks, you to.

   I now ask that question to you, the listener. Do you think in light of what you have learned that Shazam is it too powerful or is it just a useful tool. The experts believe it "seems hard now to see another company being able to come along and challenge Shazam. The company name has now become the verb for finding out what a song is called and who it is by." What is your opinion on this? I invite you all once again to explore the rest of our website for further podcasts in our ICT series. This is David Layton recording for Inquiry, as always have a wonderful day and make it even better by learning something new.


Anonymous. (2015 October 13) Boss of Music App Shazam Joins the Board Of Marks & Spencer. This is Money. Retrieved from

Barile, N., & Sugiyama, S. (2015) The Automation of Taste: A Theoretical Exploration of Mobile ICTs and Social Robots in the Context of Music Consumption International Journal of Social Robotics, 7 (3) 407-416 Retrieved from

Casey, M.A., Veltkamp, R. Goto, M., Leman, M. Rhodes, C. & Slaney M. (2008) Content- Based Music Information Retrieval: Current Directions and Future Challenges. Proceedings of the IEEE, 96 (4) 668-696. Retrieved from

Garvan, S. (2015, September 21) This Is How Shazam Is Shaping the Music Industry. BBC. Retrieved from  

Irina, N., & Oliver, H. (2012) How Smartphone Apps Can Help Predicting Music Sales. ECIS Proceedings. 102. Retrieved From  

Spangler T. (2015, October 15) Bravo to Stream ‘Apres Ski’ Premiere Episode on Shazam App. Veriety. Retrieved from

Shazam Official Website