Gracenote's Growth

If you've ever hunted for a song title or a performer's name on the Internet, you've probably used CDDB, the Compact Disc Database.

Operated by Berkeley, CA–based Gracenote, CDDB is the world's largest online database of CD album information, enabling music fans to access information about recordings by album or song titles, genre, or artist. The company's continually updated server computers contain information on 1.4 million albums encompassing 18 million songs, and are accessed each month by approximately 30 million users.

On June 17, Gracenote announced a plan to expand its database into consumer electronics products, to make it easier for music fans to access needed information. Using Gracenote's waveform-analysis technology and embedded databases, new generations of consumer electronics could display essential information—song title, artist, label—without the need for an Internet connection. Already incorporated in some computer audio players such as RealPlayer and Winamp, and in some hard disk–based "megachangers," Gracenote's database will be expanded next to automotive audio products, according to CEO David Hyman.

The "embedded solution" eliminates the need for an Internet connection, he said, although some sort of connection will be needed for periodic data uploads—much in the way satellite receivers and TiVo-type hard-disk recorders have telephone lines connected for weekly updates. Always-on connections, such as high-speed digital subscriber lines (DSL), are more efficient, but impractical for most audio devices.

Gracenote envisions weekly updates via temporary hookups, said marketing director Ross Blanchard, who noted that the essential information for each song amounts to only about 2KB of data. Pioneer Electronics has already begun marketing a hard-drive head unit with embedded CDDB database, he noted. The head unit can be updated by inserting a flash memory card like those used in digital cameras. Coming versions of hard-disk players will be updateable with CD-ROMs, with the database occupying only about 350MB, with most of the drives' 10–30GB storage capacity devoted to music. Gracenote's database covers CDs only; DVD-Audio discs and SACDs have insufficient market penetration at present to include them, Hyman said.

As part of its expansion, Gracenote has acquired Cantametrix, a music waveform analysis and identification company. Under terms of the agreement announced June 17, Gracenote will assume ownership of Cantametrix' intellectual property portfolio, including its MusicDNA waveform recognition technology and other assets. Gracenote intends to incorporate Cantametrix technology into its existing suite of recognition products, which include CD, MP3 and DVD recognition.

"When combined with Gracenote's comprehensive database of music information, [Cantamentrix'] waveform recognition will enable Gracenote to recognize audio signals from any source, including terrestrial radio and other analog sources. Potential uses include portable MP3 players, car stereos, and peer-to-peer networks, among others," a company press release stated. "Adding Cantametrix' technology and patent portfolio to our family of recognition products secures our central role in the music experience of the future," said David Hyman. "This extremely flexible technology will also allow us to expand our core service and extend our offering to new products and new markets."

Gracenote's music recognition technology is licensed to more than 4000 software developers worldwide, as well as to many electronics manufacturers.