How to Identify Music Overheard in Movies, Shows, and Ads

A TV remote control pointing at a screen

Music is all around us, and if you happen to hear a tune you like – in an advert, a movie, or a TV show you watch – you’ll want to know what it is. Or maybe you have something in mind that you need a title for. Thanks to the magic of the digital devices at our disposal, getting an answer shouldn’t be too difficult.

Apps to find out what song you just heard

There are plenty of apps to choose from when you need to identify a piece of music, and they can often find a match in just a few seconds – even when dialogue or other sounds are being overplayed. You might want to have a few options on hand if you need this type of service.

Google Pixel Phones are very good at this thanks to the Now Playing lock screen widget that they come with. Select in settings sound and vibration and Running now. Do that… on Identify songs playing nearby Toggle switches and the lock screen will show matches for songs your phone can hear. Enable Show search button on lock screen to also get a manual search option, and Now gameplay to keep a log of identified songs.

The Now Playing history on Pixel phones

The Now Playing history on Pixel phones.
screenshot: Running now

On iOS, Shazam is built in now that Apple owns it: open Control Center with a swipe down from the top-right corner of the screen, then tap the Shazam button when you need song recognition. If you can’t see the button, choose control center from settings and add music recognition. Shazam is also available as a separate app for Android.

Another powerful song identification app is sound houndwhich is free to download and install Android and iOS: To find a song’s name and artist, just tap the big button on the Search tab, and you can even sing or hum the tune if you like. You can also get help from Google Assistant or Siri just by saying, “What’s the name of this song?” while it’s running in the background.

Search for a song in a database

Apps don’t always work and can’t always be used — like when you’re at the theater — but there are other ways to identify music. For example, there are some very comprehensive databases on the internet that dutifully log music heard in commercials, movies, shows, and pretty much everywhere else.

Take the appropriately named one TV commercial music, which contains information on a variety of different ads, with the most recent ads listed first on the home page. If you don’t see what you’re looking for right away, try searching for a brand. And then there’s adjustmentswhich is more community-driven: you can post requests for help or identify a song someone asked about, and it includes TV shows and movies, as well as commercials.

A photo from the Tunefind website

Tunefind is an option for finding songs.
screenshot: tunefind

tunefind is another good bet, and the site covers TV shows, movies, and video games. The database is huge and you have the option to browse what people have been searching for lately or do your own search. TV shows are broken down into individual episodes to help you, and listen links are included so you can quickly jump to YouTube or Spotify to make sure you’re on the right track.

We would also like to mention Which song, which allows you to create and customize a personalized list of music you are interested in. Tunes are grouped by the movie or TV show they appeared in, and by subscribing to individual show updates, you can get lists of songs before you even know what to look for. As with Tunefind, listening links are embedded in the database so you can start your streaming service of choice with one click.

Find the audio track

There are even more ways to track down a specific piece of music based on where you heard it or what it sounded like. For example, try searching your favorite music streaming service for the soundtrack to the relevant TV show or movie: this can be a useful way to find an alternative version of a song or a more obscure tune that isn’t from an app is recorded or listed in a database.

Of course, if it’s a movie or series episode, it’ll be listed somewhere on the page Internet Movie Database, and it is likely that you can find several references to the music used on these listing pages. Each page should have its own soundtrack section, and you may find more details about the tunes featured in the film or show in the trivia or user rating sections.

A screenshot from IMDb

IMDb can shed some light on soundtracks.
screenshot: IMDB

Wikipedia is always a useful resource for almost anything and has detailed pages for many movies and TV shows. Most of the time you will find specific sections on music that was featured and there may even be background information on why certain tunes were chosen or how they were recorded. It’s definitely worth a look if your other avenues of investigation lead nowhere.

Finally, if you can take it, there’s still the social media option. Twitter is perhaps the best option here: you could make a request for help identifying a specific title, although success will likely depend on the size of your following. Running a Twitter search can yield some results when people with more followers than you are also asking about a specific song that just aired on a specific TV episode – the more popular the show, the more likely people are to know about it speak.

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