SoundHound’s Pet Project: A Music Search Engine

Music is a language that’s woefully underrepresented in the science of Internet search. You can Google (s goog) a song title or some lyrics and get good results, but the language of melody and rhythm remains elusive for most search engines. As a lifelong musician, I’ve wanted a tool that translates musical input into useful search results for years, but while Shazam has received the most attention — especially after being featured in an iPhone (s aapl) ad — Midomi’s more powerful paid app has won over fans by adding a sing-to-identify function. Because indeed, you can’t Google a melody.
As of today, Midomi has rebranded itself as SoundHound and introduced a new freemium model aimed at challenging Shazam on both free and paid music app charts. The company has also hired away Shazam’s former VP of business development, Katie McMahon, in an effort to execute on a partnership strategy to incorporate its sound-matching search tool into other sites and applications. Its ambitions could also make SoundHound a target for acquisition, since it does something Google and its rivals cannot.
Although SoundHound’s search is imperfect –- it doesn’t really work for strummed chords or harmonized vocals, and it relies on a crowdsourced website for its somewhat limited sing-to-identify database -– it outclasses by far any of the available melody search engines I’ve seen on the web. I’ve used it to identify wordless jazz standards I heard as a child and carried around in my head for decades; it picked them out in a matter of seconds. And it’s faster than Shazam when it comes to identifying recorded music, too.
Its first order of business is taking on its better-known rival by offering more functionality at the same price, with voice search, lyrics and videos built into the app — users can identify five songs per month for free, while a $5 premium app will provide unlimited IDs.
Over the longer term, SoundHound can branch out into other arenas, which I discussed with WaldenVC’s Larry Marcus, an investor in SoundHound parent company Melodis Corp. as well as an early Pandora stakeholder. (Melodis has raised $16 million from WaldenVC, Global Catalyst Partners, TransLink Capital and JAIC America.) The app currently makes money through mobile ads and affiliate sales of songs, but Marcus said SoundHound is exploring deals with carriers and device makers seeking to incorporate search into music apps, as well as extending its search functionality into existing music subscription services. Furthermore, the company is using sound matching to develop an advanced voice search technology that uses the sound of words rather than converting them to text – what Marcus called a “natural misspelling engine” that can also correct mispronunciations. Might Google be knocking on SoundHound’s door next?