Wednesday, 21 December 2011

SoundTracking: identifies songs like Shazam and SoundHound do

What's playing?

Hear a strange song and want to know what's playing? There's Shazam, there's SoundHound, and there's SoundTracking.

All these apps do the same thing. The record about ten seconds of music, turn it into a digital fingerprint, and check for a match in their database.

Three is a crowd

Shazam and SoundHound have been around for ages, SoundTracking is the new kid on the block. It uses the Gracenote database to identify music, so SoundTracking taps into the largest database of the three.

Which of the three apps is the better one? That's hard to tell, because all of them sometimes fail to identify a track and then you'll want to use one of the others. All three have their problems. For example, Shazam started to misbehave after a recent update and it's not fixed yet.

Scratched record

SoundTracking has a couple of very annoying flaws.

You need to enter your Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare account details to use SoundTracking, because its song identification is added as an afterthought. It first and foremost wants to publish the music you listen to on your social networks. You probably don't want to do that everytime you play a song, but the "create a post" button is the biggest button on its startup screen. If you're not on Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare, you have to make an account there anyway or else SoundTracking won't let you in.

To tag a song you have to tap a tiny little button in the corner of the screen, and then tap once more on the "Music ID" link. Open app, wait for it to log in, tap small button in the corner, then again on the Music ID button... by the time SoundTracking starts recording the song is probably over. The next version of the app should have a "tag now" button on the start screen that starts recording right away without waiting for anything. A "record now" widget would be a welcome feature too.

While SoundTracking is recording and matching you better not look at it, because it pollutes your phone with a really ugly and annoying screen of flickering bright squares. Whoever designed that must have a financial interest in a company that sells anti-epileptic drugs.

The settings have a problem remembering things. When you switch off all the email notification options, the entry that sends you mail when someone "follows" you gets reactivated all by itself. The push notifications when someone "loves" your post refuses to stay unchecked too, but when you switch off everything in the push settings screen that's just a cosmetic error.

When you exit the app with the back or home button it keeps sending data in the background, but not as bad as the totally messed up Shazam version.

As for the quality of its song identification service, it usually works. Sometimes it can't figure out what's playing or it returns the wrong song, especially when the music gets more obscure. SoundTracking managed to get my Monobloco and Baaba Maal tracks right, but it didn't recognise Marabi by Mafikizolo. Strange bug: when you record silence SoundTracking sometimes spits out a random song.

SoundHound and Shazam don't always get it right either, but at least they make it a lot easier to tag what's playing without unnecessary clicks and waits. SoundTracking has potential, but its social networking options get in the way of music identification.

Erase your tracks

If you had enough of SoundTracking and you want to delete your account, you're in for a nasty surprise. You can't. Maybe they'll let you escape in the future, but they've been working on it for a year and you still can't delete your SoundTracking account.

But you can make SoundTracking forget about you by feeding them some fake data:

1) Make a temporary email address like and use it to make a temporary Twitter or Facebook account.

2) Go to your SoundTracking profile page and link SoundTracking to your temporary Facebook or Twitter account.

3) Unlink your normal Twitter/Facebook/whatever accounts from SoundTracking. Delete your name and other private data from your SoundTracking profile, and feed it your soon-to-be-abandoned temporary email address.

4) Deactivate or delete your temporary Twitter/Facebook account and kill your temporary email address, or just abandon your bogus accounts until they expire by themselves.

Now you're still caught in SoundTrackings web, but all info they'll have on you will be useless. For all practical purposes SoundTracking lost track of you.


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