There are only a few times in business life when you can genuinely say that you were there at – or about – the beginning of a global phenomenon.
In 2000/01 together with a group of colleagues with various depths of experience in media investments I founded a group called the “Music Business Angels” (MBA) -indeed we joked that our MBA business cards would be as near as we’d ever get to putting the initials “MBA” on our business cards!
We had a number of detailed connections in the entertainments and technology sectors and I cannot remember how the meeting came about but we were contacted by the enterprising, Shazam Entertainment Limited, which had been founded in 1999 by Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang, and Dhiraj Mukherjee.
I cannot precisely remember but I think it was either Chris Barton or current CEO, Rich Riley, who came in to see us seeking our assistance to direct them towards various sources geared to making media/technology investments.
The unique points of the Shazam system were explained to us and a rough test demonstrated the underlying science of the solution that Shazam was proposing to the frustrating problem of hearing a track played in a club, not knowing anything about the song and wanting more information. It was recognised buy these far sighted engineers/entrepreneurs that a phone contained the ability to use its handset to “listen” to a track played through a loud speaker.
Remember this is long before we all become overly familiar with apps and at its inception Shazam was a technology that “listened” to the digital form of a recording, analysing the captured sound and matching it with an acoustic fingerprint – called a “spectrogram” – held in its audio database.
The Shazam service launched in 2002 in the UK only was known as a “2580” phone service, being the short-code that users were required to dial into their phones to get the music recognised. After 30 second of “listening” to the track with the handset being held up to the sound source, the phone would hang up and a text would be received containing the song title and artist name.
In July 2008, Shazam for iPhone 2.0 was launched as a free app that connected with iTunes allowing tracks to be purchased.
It is possible for Shazam to identify pre-recorded music being broadcast from any source provided always that the background noise level is not too high so as to corrupt the signal being assessed. Once a match is identified it sends back to the user’s smart phone information such as the artist, song title and album title from which the song comes.
The “listening” recognition app is the basic version – with limited monthly free uses. Other iterations have included a premium service allowing unlimited use for a monthly fee and the ability for the Shazam system to sit on the users Mac to detect – without being prompted – and report on screen what is playing in the soundbed of a TV show or commercial.
Staggeringly by October 2016, Shazam announced that its mobile apps had been downloaded more than 1 bn times, and that over 30 bn “Shazams” have been downloaded since launch. Its audio database now contains more than 11 m songs.
My MBA colleagues and I were hugely impressed by the commercial opportunity presented by Shazam. However, stimulating potential funders to commit to this newly developed software proved more difficult. 20/20 hindsight is, of course, a marvellous thing, but the road paved by the likes of the Shazam founding team have made media and tech funding more accessible for today’s entrepreneurs.
Image from Shazam