For decades, the question, "What song is playing?" plagued music fans. If a DJ failed to announce an artist's name or the song's title, fans were left to their own devices to figure it out (usually singing, humming and/or reciting misremembered lyrics to bemused friends or annoyed record-store clerks). Often, people accepted the music playing through the speakers in TV shows, movies, and bars as background ambience, because they lacked a means to identify a song and discover the artist behind it.
Today, of course, fans can get that info and lots more immediately: They can pull out their smartphones and use music-ID apps like Shazam and SoundHound to instantly name a song and gain a wealth of information about the music-artist bio, video, buy links, lyrics, tour dates, and much more. "And, in turn, [a fan's] senses are heightened," says Keyvan Mohajer, the CEO of SoundHound, "because music they hear around them is in fact 'capturable' and therefore interactive."
What's significant about this "interactivity" is that music-ID apps empower fans to turn any passive listening session into an active one, where they lean forward and learn more about an artist.
But that's not all fans can do. Shazam and SoundHound have partnered with the subscription music service Spotify, enabling users to play identified songs and add them to their library.
Shazam rolled this feature out to premium users in January, months before Spotify launched stateside, and soon offered it to free users too. SoundHound, on the other hand, enabled their "Play Now In Spotify" option in August, but only European users have the option now. While this feature might seem minor, it marks a critical turn in the way fans collect and discover music.
Traditionally, we think of music collecting as the act of acquiring music through a purchase, but that's quickly changing. With Spotify integrating with music-ID apps, it gives fans a new option: capturing. When a Shazam or SoundHound user tags a song playing on the radio, they can now bring it into Spotify and listen to it there. If they so choose, they can also add it to their music library, making it easy for fans to capture and collect songs.
As the long-heralded shift from owning music to accessing it takes place, we're also slowly moving from collecting music to capturing it. Music service MOG, for instance, recently launched an app feature called "Moggles." Users can hold their phone up to any picture of album art and "we identify and add it to your collection or let you start playing it," says MOG CEO David Hyman. "You can go to a record shop or be at a friend's house and see a CD cover or vinyl, and snap a picture." It even works when you "hold it up to little images of album art on your computer screen," he added.
Welcome to capture culture: Where music is not solely bought from a store and collected in our home, but captured from our environment through mobile apps and instantly stored in the cloud. This shift is also emerging online. "Soon, we should see the 'add-music' button adjacent to songs and videos on sites around the web," says technology entrepreneur and consultant Bruce Warila.
The add-music button "will enable music fans to collect songs for subsequent streaming to any connected and capable device." Connecting the button to search results and blog entries would make it easy "for fans to add songs to their music libraries," Warila continued.
Currently, neither Google nor Microsoft's Bing have an "add-music" button in search results, but this may change. Google's new music blog, Magnifier, enables readers to add free music downloads to Music Beta, its locker service that lets fans upload music to the cloud and listen to it on the web or Android device.
The potential for converting the web into a music library, however, has not gone unnoticed. Exfm, which launched back in 2010, provides fans with this service. Once installed, the Google Chrome extension operates in the background and alerts users when music on a site is available to be played.
If you visit Pitchfork.com, for example, Exfm finds songs on the website and organizes them into a playlist, in the order they appear on the page, ready to be listened to. If a song is found and the extension is opened, users can play, bookmark, and share it. In time, Exfm may offer a "Play in Spotify" button too, transforming the service from a browser extension to an extension of music collections themselves.
Eventually, this could change the entire process of experiencing music. "It makes the collecting of MP3s seem unwieldy. It makes file-sharing seem so Oldsmobile," says Warila. "It displaces today's music widgets. It opens up a world of possibilities for discovery and recommendation. And, it makes the notion of a distribution middleman a thing of the past."
The concept behind Exfm, of course, goes far beyond the web. Several geosocial music services let fans to assign music to places and discover songs in their smartphone app.
Raditaz enables users to link music stations to locations. A local concert venue or coffee shop could, perhaps, create programming that highlights area acts and designate it to their building, giving fans a way to sample music from upcoming shows.
Similarly, Herd.fm gives users the ability to tag locations with songs. When they open the app, it locates their position and places them on a map, showing the music available in the area.
Once these services or others like them take off, an app that identifies geosocial media links and pulls them into a player, like Exfm, may emerge, alerting fans when music is ready to be discovered in their area. And with a button click, these songs will be captured, opening up the potential for the world itself to be turned into a music library.
All of this has vast implications. "Collections will become a short-term phenomenon on the web, captured to share with friends across multiple services and will be indicative of a moment in time, as opposed to a library built up based on a lifetime of listening and curating music for yourself," says Charles Smith, the founder and COO at Exfm. "Unlimited access to almost all the music available puts the focus on discovering what to listen to now, as opposed to what to keep." And ultimately, fans will discover what to listen to next by checking out what their friends are capturing in real time, through in-app activity feeds, as well as by tuning in to what people around them are listening to.
"Music collectors will not become extinct; they will become increasingly rare, like professional photographers whose collections have special value," SoundHound CEO Mohajer adds. "Meanwhile, everyone will become 'music and sound capturers,' and the bulk of those songs captured will be enjoyed for immediacy or bookmarked for later enjoyment."
As fans move from owning music to accessing it, from collecting songs to capturing them, it represents a major development in the digital music revolution, as significant as the MP3 and file-sharing. In a way, the rise of capture culture also signals a wistful return to the cassette era, wherein fans captured their favorite songs off radio and shared them with all their friends, bringing everything full circle.
Every radio station listened to, TV show watched, website visited, and event attended now presents fans with an opportunity to grab songs and sync them to their library, as well as, Smith continues, "be a part of a crowd that's sharing music without any other relationship other than great music."
The scope of capture culture, though, is much wider than music. Any passion that a community of people shares-from reading books to watching movies to going shopping-is a moment that's open to being captured and shared through Facebook and Twitter with friends, family, and fellow enthusiasts.
Media and products are the leading currencies in capture culture, but the real product is storytelling.
SoundTracking, another app, combines elements of both music-ID and geosocial. When a user captures a song, they're encouraged to add context to their experience and tell a story about where they were when heard it and what they were doing. In other words, capture culture isn't solely about sharing musical moments, it's about sharing life moments, and music is just one part of a larger story.