There was a time, not too long ago, that if one heard a song on the radio, or in a restaurant, and they didn’t know the song, they had no way of discovering what the song was, aside from asking someone else if they knew what it was.
When the earliest smartphones emerged, there was suddenly an option: Phone users could open Google, perform a Google search for the lyrics, and find the song that way. This was an imperfect solution, but one that was successful in some cases.
Verizon, back in the era of V Cast, introduced something called “Song ID” in 2007. “You can now hear a song, hold the phone toward the music so it can identify the music, and purchase a full-track song, Ringtone or Ringback tone—all right over-the-air from your phone,” Verizon said of the feature.
But the real game changer was Shazam, an app that traced its development back to the 1990s, but really gained ground when Apple added the App Store and third party apps to the iPhone in 2008. Shazam allowed users to press a button and recognize any song, in a way that seemed to solve the “what’s that song?” problem definitively. Shazam was widely seen as one of the first breakthrough apps to emerge from the early App Store, the kind of app that easily solved an everyday problem.
Apple ended up buying Shazam, for a reported $400 million, in 2017.
But great as Shazam is, it only works when the actual song is playing. If you remember how a song goes, but don’t know what it is, or even any of the words, then Shazam can’t help you.
But into the breach has stepped Google, with the arrival of a new feature called “Hum to Search.”
“Do you know that song that goes, “da daaaa da da daaaa na naa naa ooohh yeah”? Or the one that starts with the guitar chords going, “da na na naa”? We all know how frustrating it is when you can’t remember the name of a song or any of the words but the tune is stuck in your head,” Krishna Kumar, the senior product manager for the Google Search division, said in a blog post Friday.
That’s why Google has introduced Hum to Search, which can be used on any mobile device with a Google widget or Google app.
“On your mobile device, open the latest version of the Google app or find your Google Search widget, tap the mic icon and say “what's this song?” or click the “Search a song” button. Then start humming for 10-15 seconds,” the blog post says. “On Google Assistant, it’s just as simple. Say “Hey Google, what’s this song?” and then hum the tune.”
The functionality works through machine learning models, Google’s post says.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.