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How Auto Shazam Will Find New Music Superstars Faster Than Ever Before

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Shazam, the popular music-identification app, got easier for iPhone users with the introduction of Auto Shazam last week. Users can now let Shazam automatically tag songs in the background at work, at the movies, and while watching TV. Shazam was easy enough to use before, but the new autopilot feature means it can tag even when the phone is locked.

More Shazam tags, more sales potential

Automatic tagging takes the hassle out of identifying songs—no more grabbing for your phone's Shazam button when you're on the dance floor or in the car. The combination of effort-free tagging and Shazam's growing user base—about 10 million new users each month—should translate into more music sales. Shazam users can browse their Auto Shazam playlists and buy the songs they like from (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iTunes Store.

Besides boosting Shazam users' $300 million in annual digital purchases, the new feature could also strengthen Shazam's position as a hit-predicting genie and point the way toward potentially lucrative sponsorships deals with up-and-coming artists.

Shazam's data-filled crystal ball

Shazam has gotten good at predicting which new acts will do well based on the number of user tags they get. The company's oft-cited statement—85% of the songs that top Shazam's most-tagged list will end up in a national top 10—is based on a little bit of filtering and a whole lot of data. Shazam's 2013 acts-to-watch roster included British electronic dance music duo AlunaGeorge and American rapper Angel Haze, who made headlines this month with the leak of her album ahead of her labels' delayed release date.

This immediate access to what people like makes Shazam's predictions very different from old-school record-label executive taste-making, and different as well from recent scientific attempts to analyze what makes a hit by building algorithms based on the structure of popular songs. Shazam's predictions are built on big data taken from the ground up, rather than on business decisions made by a few people from the top down. And Shazam's not about algorithms, but about observation of what people are actually listening to.

Shazam's worldwide music scene

While Shazam focuses on what's popular in the U.S. and Europe, the app is available in 200 countries and casts a much wider net than the typical pop, country, and rock playlists. Lebanese jazz, Russian orchestral dances, vintage Pakistani film music, and the latest Egyptian shaabi tunes may never top the charts in the West, but Shazam recognizes them all, which means any Shazam user can find them, too.

The richness of its data set means that Shazam appeals to users around the world, not just in the West. It means more potential for new hybrid genres as artists and audiences get a taste for a variety of sounds. And it's an easy way for marketers to take the pulse of communities around the world.

Shazam's Explore map shows what's topping the charts each day in Rio de Janeiro, St. Petersburg, Mumbai,  Chengdu, and hundreds of other cities. True, Pitbull leads the pack almost everywhere right now, but curious users can discover local music heroes around the globe, too.

Shazam and the commodification of sound

With Auto Shazam, iOS phone and tablet users are fast approaching a point where every music experience everywhere in the world is annotated and connected to the marketplace in real time. This is good news for artists looking to find their audience and great for novelty-seeking music lovers. It will almost certainly bring iTunes and Amazon more sales. And it makes Shazam a more valuable tool for companies looking to partner with performers to reach a young global audience.

Shazam's 2013 numbers roundup

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