The music recognition app sector is big business, with market leader Shazam this month stating that it had more than 350 million users.

But others are making an impact too, with SoundHound doing particularly well. The app has clocked up a very respectable 140 million downloads across iOS, Android and BlackBerry.

As well as allowing users to identify and discover new music and find out about artists, SoundHound offers functionality that is unique in the market, helping it to stand out from competitors.

soundhound-mcmahonKatie McMahon, the company’s VP of sales and marketing (pictured), spoke to Mobile World Live about how it has been able to become a major player in the sector, and its plans for future growth.

Building an audience

SoundHound was rebranded (from Midomi) at the beginning of early 2010, when it had a relatively modest 2 million users.

Making an impact against a dominant player in the shape of Shazam is never easy, but McMahon said the user experience offered by SoundHound was central in helping it make progress.

Differentiating features include song recognition from users humming a tune and the recently-added LiveLyrics tool, which displays song lyrics as music plays.

Users can also use the SoundHound apps to receive recommendations based on their recent searches, view videos and discover which tracks have been tweeted most often.

The company has always aimed to provide users with the “best immersive music experience in a mobile environment”, according to McMahon, and is constantly adding new features to provide more opportunities for people to discover and share music.

Recently-added features such as Live Lyrics and the New Artist Series have seen users spend more time in the app and use it more frequently for activities other than identifying songs.

The other major element that has helped SoundHound grow is its built-in social features, which keep users engaged and bring in new users. “Our users are incredibly social and our growth has been driven almost exclusively through viral efforts,” McMahon said.

The importance of innovation

Keeping users engaged with apps is one of the biggest challenges in the sound search market. “We so often see mobile apps, both within and outside the music space, gain tremendous traction very quickly and then, almost just as quickly, plateau and lose popularity,” McMahon said.

In contrast, SoundHound is a rare example of a service able to sustain its “hit status”, with increasing number of users and continued usage where other apps have plateaued in popularity with activity tailing off. “Innovation is the key to averting the plateau and keeping your user base,” she said.

McMahon said that the “wow” moment produced by innovation is particularly important in mobile due to the speed that new technologies evolve and the fierceness of competition.

And with mobile apps, you need a ‘wow’ moment within the first 10 seconds of a user’s introduction to your service,” she said, adding that SoundHound “nails that” with its fast and accurate recognition and the ability to recognise music from user’s humming or singing.

An example of SoundHound’s innovation is the availability of a new song each week that users can download from iTunes for free. This approach has seen users spend longer using the app on each visit.

The fragmentation of the app ecosystem means keeping apps fresh across all platforms is tricky. “It presents a development challenge for sure, particularly as it relates to keeping the app fresh with new features as we strive to provide a very similar user experience across all platforms,” McMahon said.

SoundHound is available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone and recently arrived on BlackBerry 10.

The fragmentation provides the opportunity to stand out on each platform, making use of guidelines and tools that are unique to each operator system. “This means always thinking creatively and introducing new and compelling features and keeping content as current as possible,” McMahon noted.

The recent Android update, for instance, featured a new and unique design for tablet devices.

The future of sound search

McMahon said the practice of using a mobile device to identify a song using your voice to control your mobile device is still “very much in its early days” but is clearly gaining momentum and popularity.

SoundHound believes users want to “identify sound quickly and in a useful way” and the company is working to make sure it delivers the best sound and music experience to meet what is becoming “a more commonplace behavior”.

McMahon said the company will “always be working to enhance that experience with new features that enable the identification and sharing of music and sound”.

With 200,000 new users added each day, SoundHound also has a “great opportunity” to grow revenue in several ways, she said.

One approach that the company is looking at is to work with brands and other partners to develop creative in-app advertising campaigns that incorporate the unique elements of its technology. It recently partnered with ticket-selling marketplace StubHub to allow users to browse and purchase tickets for gigs by their favourite artists within the app.

SoundHound already has Twitter and Facebook integration as well as music streaming services Rdio, Spotify and Pandora. “Working with these other developers enables a richer feature set within the SoundHound music search and discovery experience,” McMahon said.

It is also looking at “the under-valued arena” of audio-marketing, such as the radio, through its radio advertising platform, SoundHound for Radio, which allows users to access content and offers related to radio advertising.

It is working with US radio network Dial Global to make its radio content suitable for use with SoundHound, which could provide marketing opportunities for brands and open the way for SoundHound to monetise the service through in-app experiences and advertising.