Larry Marcus, from the VC firm Walden Venture Capital, has previously put money in music companies Pandora and Snocap. He came by recently to talk about his latest music investment, Melodis. Melodis makes a cool service called Midomi that recognizes music it hears (over speakers, or just when you hum it), so you can identify a song you want to know more about, or buy it. (See also: Shazam.)
The business model of Midomi is straightforward and attractive, especially now that there's an iPhone version of it. The free app can sell music tracks and generate revenues from affiliate fees. But Marcus wanted to tell me that there's untapped potential in both Midomi's technology and business model that he hopes to see the company exploit soon.
The key to Midomi is Melodis' sound matching technology, called Sound2Sound. It's what lets a poorly-hummed rendition of a song get matched up to a recorded professional version of it (see my video review from 2007), but it's useful for more than just music identification. Midomi has created sound fingerprints not just of songs, but of titles and artists. So on the iPhone app, you can just speak the name of a song, and it will pull up a page where you can play a clip of it, watch a YouTube video of it, or buy it via the iTunes store.
The company has created another Sound2Sound app, the Melodis Dialer, a voice-dialing app for the iPhone. Marcus says it's better than the voice dialer on the iPhone 3GS. In a quick and unscientific test, I compared the Melodis Dialer on my iPhone 3G to the built-in voice dialer on a friend's 3GS. The Melodis Dialer was much more accurate, but slow. The 3GS' native voice dialer, in contrast, was very fast and had a voice synthesizer for feedback, but it got a lot of names wrong. Melodis also doesn't control other iPhone functions, like the music player. However, if you have an older 3G iPhone, it's a no-brainer app to install.
In the future, Marcus told me, the Melodis technology will be expanded to control the iPhone's music player, and possibly even as input for Pandora's iPhone app, so you could just hum a song you like to get a Pandora station that fits your mood.
The phoneme-matching Sound2Sound technology could possibly be used for other voice search products, although on the iPhone it may be hard to compete with the Google search app, which is spooky good.
The Midomi music app will be standard software on a few Windows Mobile phones from Samsung, which is a nice arrangement for all concerned: Melodis gets a licensing fee, and the mobile phone companies involved get revenues from selling music tracks.