The Best Apps and Services to Identify That Unknown Song

Got lyrics? You can identify the song you can't name

It can happen at any moment. You're going about your business when a snippet of music catches your ear. Maybe you've heard it before; maybe you haven't. One thing's for certain: You have no idea who sings it or what the title is.

You try humming the melody to your friends, reciting some misremembered lyrics to your co-workers, and at the end of the day,​ you're still left wondering: What song is this?

Don't despair. You can determine song name, artist, and even song lyrics by using your smartphone, tablet, computer, or another connected device. Try one of these media recognition and song lookup services, and you'll have the song's name in minutes.

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Shazam: Screenshot From iOS

Shazam's simple interface combined with its keen listening ability and massive database all but ensures that you'll find an answer to your question. With well over 100 million active users, Shazam served as the inspiration behind a TV game show hosted by actor Jamie Foxx on which contestants try to name a set number of songs before the app does.

For most titles, in addition to the name and artist, Shazam also provides the option to listen to a sample or even purchase the song from Apple Music, YouTube Music, or another vendor. You can add the song to your Shazam playlist, or if you have an Amazon Music, Deezer, or Spotify account, you can launch the tune from within the app.

When a song is playing within earshot, all you have to do is open the app, tap on the Shazam logo, and wait until the title and artist details are returned. You can also choose to long-press the logo to activate Auto Shazam, a feature that automatically looks up and stores information about any song that it hears — even while the app isn't running.

Each song found is saved as one of your personal Shazams, a compendium that you can access by signing up for a free account through Facebook or with a verified email address.

The Shazam app can be upgraded to remove advertisements for a low one-time fee.

Shazam offers a lot more beyond finding songs, however, including visual recognition using your device's camera and QR codes along with enhanced social interaction that allows you to discover and share songs through a variety of media, including Snapchat. The Shazam Connect service even lets up-and-coming and established artists reach out and learn more about their fan base.

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Musixmatch: Screenshot From iOS

Using an app to listen to a song isn't the only way to find out its title or who sings it. Musixmatch attacks the problem from a different angle, using its lyrics catalog and easy-to-use search engine to get the answer that you seek.

Download the app or visit the website in your favorite web browser and enter any lyrics you happen to know. Suggested results begin to display immediately as you type, allowing you to eventually locate what you need even if your recollection of the lyrics isn't exact. You can also use Musixmatch to search by artist, displaying a list of selectable tracks that provide each respective song's lyrics when clicked.

Thanks to an active user community, many lyrics are translated into different languages, and dozens of dialects are available for popular songs.

If you're not searching for a particular song but rather looking for some inspiration or just feel like browsing, thumbnails of the most-talked-about lyrics taken from top songs, as rated by other users, are shown on the home page or main app screen.

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SoundHound provides a robust feature set including some unique functionality. While not as popular as its main competitor, Shazam, SoundHound boasts a significantly large user base with many people claiming SoundHound is the better of the two services when it comes to discovering more obscure titles.

It has also been known to outperform Shazam in busier, louder environments such as sporting events, where the song in question may be drowned out by other noise. Where SoundHound really stands out, though, is its ability to recognize a song that is not playing—but rather by you humming or singing whatever portion that you know.

SoundHouse partners with Apple Music and Spotify to allow users of those services to play the full song or watch its corresponding video for free on YouTube. In some instances, you can also listen to a 30-second sample.

Below the song's main options are links and buttons to listen on Google Play Music, buy on Google Play, play on iHeartRadio (account required), or open in Pandora. Top songs from the same or similar artists are provided, along with thumbnails to YouTube videos that play right within the app.

Another area where SoundHound distinguishes itself is its activation method, which can be hands-free should you choose. Rather than having to tap on a button or logo, you can say the words "OK, Hound" to get started.

Your favorite song discoveries can be accessed at a later time across multiple devices with a free SoundHound account.

If you're not in the market for a particular tune and want to browse around, the app allows you to view and play popular songs categorized by genre and ranked by the number of searches and plays. Another neat feature shows all artists born on the current day, along with links to their bios and song lists.

There's even a global map that contains "music moments," which lets you see songs and artists being discovered by other SoundHound users throughout the world. Although the app is free to use, a version called SoundHound Infinity is available for a fee that offers added features and an ad-free experience.

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Watching TV With Headphones

Schedivy Pictures Inc. / Getty Images

SongKong isn't exactly a song-discovery application, but it does provide a similar service when working with your existing music library. A self-titled intelligent music tagger, this software's main goal is to organize all your songs by figuring out title and artist and then labeling and categorizing them accordingly, even adding album art where applicable.

The app employs a combination of intelligent acoustic matching along with comprehensive databases to identify each one of your digital tunes across multiple file formats, deleting duplicates along the way.

SongKong is not free, and its cost varies depending on the level of license you select. There is a trial version, however, so you can get a feel for the software and see if it's a good fit for your music collection.

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Virtual Assistants

Woman singing with smartphone

 Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images

Many devices, including desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets, now come with their own integrated virtual assistant to whom you can speak or type a wide array of commands and questions.

Whether it's Siri on Apple's operating systems, Google Assistant on a litany of Android platforms, or Microsoft's Cortana on Windows, identifying songs is just one of the many things these sound-activated helpers can do.

With Shazam integration, you can use Siri to figure out a song's title and artist by saying, "Siri, what song is playing?" The same goes for Google Assistant and Cortana in terms of tune recognition, assuming that your device has a working microphone enabled.

While you may not get all the bells and whistles that some of the other apps and services offer, this talking technology gets the job done in a pinch.

Additional Options for Naming Unknown Songs

Song discovery has become so popular that companies like Facebook have gotten in on the act. Facebook's Music Identification, available only in the U.S. via its popular social media app, allows you to toggle the feature on and off with a simple button tap. Since it's Facebook, you can choose to post what you're listening to for all of your friends to see.

The Google search engine can be used to perform a lyrics search, and it does a pretty good job of it, too. If you have a mic, ask, "Okay, Google, what song is this?"

Many voice-enabled services are also smart enough to conduct a lyrics-based search. For example, looking for a song on an Amazon Echo is as simple as speaking the words, "Alexa, play the song that goes [lyrics here]." You may need an active Amazon Music account for this particular feature to work correctly, however.