You're innocently going about your day when it happens: You hear a song you've never heard before. It rules. You need to know what it is.
Before the age of smartphones, this would probably require writing down a few lyrics to try searching Google later. Before computers, you'd probably have to come to terms with never ever hearing that song again in your life, or perhaps singing the half-remembered chorus to a snide record store employee. Nowadays, a plethora of apps can help you track down any stray tune that drifts into your ear.
I have gone through these apps and compiled the best of the best so that you don't have to. And, yes, we realise you probably have one of these installed already, but maybe you've forgotten to use it, which would be a shame. Besides, some of these take a different approach, so you might want to install more than one. There's a world of music all around you — don't let it slip away.
1. Shazam (Free, iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry)
With unlimited tagging and loads of features, the original music ID app is still the best. Shazam identifies songs quickly and accurately, and the app is fully integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Pandora. It has also scrapped most of the limitations they used to have on the software, meaning you can now tag as many songs as you want.
2. Soundhound (Free, iOS, Android)
Have a song stuck in your head, but can't think of the name? Soundhound can help you with those songs that are on the tip of your tongue. This app can identify a song for you just by humming the melody or singing a few lyrics, in addition to providing Shazam-style tagging. You have to be pretty accurate with your humming for it to guess the song, because it can't read minds (yet). Tagging a song as it's playing lets you see the lyrics as they're sung, just like karaoke. You can also check out what's hot to see what other people are tagging.
3. Hound (Free, iOS, Android)
This younger sibling of Soundhound is a music search tool that skips the typing and tapping to give you information Apple Siri-style. Say the name of a song or artist and you'll get tour dates, biographies, top songs and more instantly. The app shows the artists latest tweets, Facebook updates, as well as similar artists. You'll spend less time typing and more time exploring.
4. musiXmatch (Free, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
MusiXmatch has powerful lyric recognition and a large catalogue of lyrics to accurately find what you're looking for based on song lyrics. You can tag and save lyrics, share them, and even browse lyrics while offline. The app is compatible with many third-party music players to give you lyrics as you're listening.
5. Spotsearch (Free, Android)
Spotsearch is heavily integrated with Spotify, hence the name. Type in any lyrics you know to a song you're looking for, and Spotsearch will identify it and link you to it on Spotify. If you don't have Spotify Premium (the only way to get on-demand playback with Spotify on a smartphone), it will link you to YouTube so you can listen there instead. Image: Flickr/Dalboz17
Evolver.fm observes, tracks and analyses the music apps scene, with the belief that it's crucial to how humans experience music, and how that experience is evolving.