From the June 2012 issue of Entrepreneur

100 Brilliant Companies

We've all been there, desperately racking our brains for that forgotten song title or lyric. It's on the tip of my tongue ...

Keyvan Mohajer, founder and CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based SoundHound, is capitalizing on that frustrating feeling and on the red-hot strength of the music and art tech scene. His app allows even the utterly tone deaf to search for tunes simply by humming or singing into a smartphone.

"We put magic in the palms of people's hands," Mohajer says. "Our users experience music on a whole new level."

SoundHound, which utilizes proprietary Sound2Sound technology, claims to be the world's fastest music-recognition service. In addition to IDing songs that are hummed or sung, it recognizes spoken searches, providing access to song previews, tour dates, artist bios, lyrics, videos and other information, as well as sharing over social networks--all straight from the app.

SoundHound has seen explosive growth. Last year the user base swelled from 10 million to 50 million; the company expects to pass 100 million by the end of the summer. And with $16 million in venture funding, it's showing no signs of slowing down.

"Our starting point to consider an investment is a demonstration of the product or technology--we want to see a demo generate real excitement," says Larry Marcus, managing director at Walden Venture Capital, one of SoundHound's lead investors. "We then want to see a highly adaptive and capital-efficient management team with a clear vision of what they want to be." He adds, "SoundHound's music and voice search demos rendered me speechless."

In addition to the tech music sector, VCs are pouring cash into the art category. For instance, Art.sy (another of our 100 Brilliant Companies) last year was showered with funds from wealthy backers including Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, venture capital powerhouse Jim Breyer and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

A music or art startup is a good prospect for venture capital if it has potential to be a mass-market hit, Marcus says. Users should be excited about what the company has to offer and want to tell their friends about it because it's creating joy or providing an indisputable benefit.

But why are VCs so eager to jump in now? "All people love art and music, it's just a question of to what extent," Marcus says. "With the advent of connected smartphones equipped with sound, a mic and camera, creation, discovery, sharing and commerce are empowered to a new dimension." 

The boom in the mobile space has created opportunities for many new companies. What will differentiate the good ones is their ability to innovate, Mohajer says, adding, "We at SoundHound are determined to be a company of consequence in the mobile era." 

 

More Music/Art Brilliance

Society6: A marketplace where indie artists sell their work as prints, iPhone cases and T-shirts--without giving up control to the rights.

Miso Media: The company's Plectrum app uses note-recognition software to teach iPhone and iPad users how to play the guitar, ukulele, bass, banjo or mandolin. Jam on a real instrument or tap the screen of an iOS device.

Chromatik: This digital platform allows musicians to teach, practice and learn music online and via iPad, with features like touchscreen notation and digital recording.

Sandalista: Users can upload their own images or choose an existing design from a slew of indie artists to create one-of-a-kind flip-flops.

Pop Market: A flash-sale site for music fans to get exclusive merchandise, albums, vinyl and DVDs.

Walls 360: Twitter "fail whale" designer Yiying Lu's vision for wall graphics: printed on high-quality fabric stickers (reusable hundreds of times), with on-demand designs ranging from big digital marketing campaigns to
tangrams for kids' walls.

Art.sy: This Pandora for art features works from leading galleries, museums and private collections.

OneGood Earphones: This earphone from Far End Gear mixes both channels of sound from a stereo audio device into a single ear, allowing exercisers to stay alert to their environment while enjoying their tunes. 

Khu.sh: Maker of popular apps such as Songify, which turns speech into song.

Corrections & Amplifications: An earlier version of this article listed the previous company name of Far End Gear, which was One Good Earbud. This article has been updated to reflect the name change.