Gadgets

Published on September 12th, 2017 | by Alan Cross

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Can You Fool Shazam? These Songs Can.

Shazam is pretty magical when it comes to identifying songs. By listening to audio and comparing the waveform signatures against a database, it can identify hundreds of thousands of songs in just seconds. It’s pretty good–but it’s not perfect.

Eric noticed that when he asked Shazam to identify Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” it kept saying that the song was “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. Interesting, considering that a jury ruled that Thicke plagiarized the feel of “Got” and owed Gaye’s estate millions of dollars.

This got us thinking: What other songs give Shazam trouble? For example, Eric found this playlist on 8Tracks entitled “Songs That Confuse Shazam.” Have you found others? This Reddit thread discusses some of them.

Going a little deeper, there are reasons for mismatches. This is from CDM.link:

Shazam starts to hear things it thinks are actual songs, when they aren’t. As near as I can figure, it’s confused by the dominance of drum machines like the 808 and 909.

The mismatches themselves, though, can be fascinating. I’ve watched with my own music. Now, first, of course it gets the bpm right, and of course there’s somecommon element, though even that (beyond an 808 kick) is tough to find. I also find that the false matches don’t happen when I’d expect – using preset sounds and unaltered 808s, for instance – but at rather unexpected times, when the rhythm is identifiable but the timbre isn’t. It is clear it knows it’s hearing four of … something … on the floor, and gets muddled from there.

As with other algorithmic “intelligence,” though, it doesn’t make mistakes in the way we make mistakes. So sometimes I’m playing some experimental techno and I get … massive, horrible EDM, stuff that doesn’t sound anything like what I’m playing. (In some cases, it seems poor production quality in the matched track – like overly aggressive compression – is actually what confused the algorithm.) In others, I get just random matches that happened to feature a bass drum – hello, arbitrary tech house.

Keep reading.




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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