Free-of-charge music collecting is the bane of musicians who see the more lucrative CD era gradually fading. Labels and publishers don’t love it, either. Music identification apps Shazam and Soundound, both of which enjoy rampaging popularity, give users a new way to bypass music buying at an impulse-purchase moment. In this context, those apps resemble updated versions of streamripping, a once-popular (and still practiced) way of pulling songs out of an Internet radio stream and saving them as MP3 files.
Streamripping enjoyed its height when Winamp was at its pinnacle. ShoutCast music stations were bundled into the Winamp application, and a plug-in called Streamripper gave industrious users an integrated tool for turning entire Internet radio playlists into large MP3 collections — the tracks auto-separated in most cases, with metadata intact. Bulk collectors would let it rip (so to speak) for hours or days at a time. See the previous paragraph about musicians and labels not loving this.
(By the way, AOL-owned Winamp, and possibly ShoutCast, are reportedly shutting down on Friday.)
Shazam has been downloaded over 100-million times; SoundHound has been pulled over 50-million times. (Those are Android numbers.) In the description of Shazam’s Apple app, the first marketing bullet point says: “Connect with Rdio to listen to your Shazam tracks as an Rdio playlist.” That sounds like streamripping, if you consider the entire world of audio as a stream. One obvious application is to point Shazam or SoundHound at the radio, and transfer recognized songs onto a music service for future listening.
Shazam and SoundHound are similar to each other, and offer the same collection tools. You can identify a song and move it into Rdio or Spotify. Your ability to listen after that depends on your membership level in either service, and whether you’re using a computer or mobile device.
Rhapsody, the grandfather of subscription music services, embeds this usage scenario directly into its service with the recently introduced Track Match. As our review indicated, Track Match doesn’t seem to work quite as well as Shazam and SoundHound, but the convenience is compelling — and definitely reminds us of Winamp/Streamripper bundling.
There’s nothing illegal about all this, and that’s part of the point. Technology companies have found ways to legalize consumer demand for low-cost, “feels free” music. P2P file-sharing is outright infringement. Apple‘s original iTunes Music Store was intended as an antidote. Labels gratefully jumped into it, though they didn’t like cannibalizing the album product with per-track sales.
Online music services also countered P2P file-sharing … and also remedied iTunes. Rhapsody was in the first flock of “celestial jukeboxes” which offered access to music rather than ownership of songs. Most consumers (if they even heard of Rhapsody) were uncomfortable with the concept of subscribing to music. But Spotify was a hit in Sweden, and when it expanded to the U.S. with its ad-supported no-charge platform, the access model got off the ground. Pandora helped with a different, radio-like experience.
In giving consumers all they can eat, either free or cheap, tech companies have solved music industry problems while eating the industry’s lunch. Shazam and SoundHound bring free-or-cheap music acquisition to the user’s encounter with music anywhere. Life is a stream, and Shazam rips it.