Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Music search: Yahoo audio search; search by singing?

Yahoo Audio Search - free music samples to play

Do a text search on Yahoo! Audio Search for your favorite band, singer or song, and next to many search results you'll now get a cool "Play sample" link (actually it's a Flash music player, like the Del.icio.us Playtagger) which lets you play a 30-second sample extract of the song or music in question. For example try searching Frank Zappa. (Via Yahoo! Search blog.) UPDATE: search link wasn't working, fixed now and as I've worked out the syntax to do that, scroll down for a live search form!

It's nice and simple: click it to play, and click again to stop - and there's even a little progress bar as it plays (see the 3rd result in the pic above). But you can't play more than one song at once, if you try it'll just stop whatever's currently playing and then play the new song. UPDATE: try the Yahoo! audio search yourself here (results open in new window) -

Searches don't seem to be slowed down by this feature at all, though admittedly I'm on broadband. See that "Select your preferred audio services" link at the top right of the screenshot above? You can set or change your favourite music website from there:

Good for Yahoo!, good for search engine users, good for the music websites from whom people will want to buy tunes they've sampled - a fabulous idea, everyone wins.

The only niggles I've noticed are:
  • Not all search results have a Play link (see the first result in the pic above). I don't know why some do and some don't. At first I thought it depended on whether Yahoo! had done a deal with the music website or not. But I've no idea. I've even deliberately set my preferred audio service to match a service (e.g. eMusic or iTunes) listed for a particular search result which had no Play link but which had that store listed as a download location, saved the preference and repeated the search just to see whether I could "force" a sample from that audio source, but there was still no Play link for that search result. Perhaps it depends on whether the music website has produced a sample of that particular song, but surely something like iTunes should have samples of all their tracks? And the first song in the pic above is one of the most popular Flying Lizards songs, why isn't there a sample? Who knows...
  • Samples are meant to be 30 seconds long but some are shorter - e.g. try the Michael Bolton version of Nessun Dorma from this Puccini search (scroll down a bit), which is actually less than 5 seconds long; just as well, some might say...! But those are really just niggles. Some relative unknowns do have proper play links, e.g. Yma Sumac the amazing Peruvian singer with a 4-octave voice, still going strong even though her heyday was the early 20th century - you gotta listen to the song Gopher in that results list. And Mambo and More: Remastered - classic album! But I digress. It's kinda fun searching for relatively obscure songs or singers just to see what results you get.

No prizes for predicting that Yahoo!'s new music clips feature will be a No. 1 hit. Google had better watch out...

And while we're on the subject of searching for music, the Yahoo Audio Search short audio clips feature may be a great way to find music, but there are signs of even more exciting innovations to come.

Search for music just by singing?

In Australia, RMIT University’s Dr Sandra Uitdenbogerd is a singer / musician as well as computer scientist specialising in music information retrieval. She's working on technology to enable online searches for songs just by singing the melody into a microphone plugged into a Net-connected computer running the music retrieval software. So even if you can't remember the exact lyrics (and I often can't!), as long as you know how the tune goes you should be able to track down that song or earworm that you just can't get out of your head.

While she thinks commercial availability is 3 or 4 years away, there are already working prototypes allowing users to search for music in basic MIDI format. Matching the sung voice waveform to MP3s is the next challenge, she says.

Of course, the more in tune you can sing, the better the results will be. But there's always the possibility of using autotune to pre-process the sung tune before trying to match it with the database of stored songs, isn't there?

Music is so important to so many people, and perhaps more significantly it's one area where people are more willing to spend their hard-earned money (given the right business model and price point of course), so the commercial potential of something like this is absolutely vast. I suspect it won't be long before Google or indeed Yahoo or other search engines beat a path to Dr Uitdenbogerd's door to throw wads of cash at her team. I'd love to try it out myself, there are lots of tunes I vaguely know where I just can't recall the name of the song or piece!


kirk said...

Kinda cool. I particularly like the Frank Zappa sample link...the poodle bites!

Improbulus said...

Hey Kirk, yeah thought you'd like the Zappa link! Clips short enough even for dialup?