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


A tv remote pointing at a screen

Music is all around us, and if you happen to hear a tune that you like—in an advert, a film, or a prestige television show—then you’re going to want to know what it is. Or perhaps you’ve got something stuck in your head that you need a title for. Thanks to the magic of the digital devices at our fingertips, getting an answer shouldn’t be too difficult.

Apps to find out what song you just heard

There are numerous apps to choose from if you need to identify a piece of music, and they can often get a match in just a few seconds—even if there’s some dialog or other sounds playing over the top. You might want to have a couple of options on hand for those times when you need this kind of service.

Google Pixel phones are very good at this, thanks to the Now Playing lock screen widget that they come with. From Settings, pick Sound and vibration and Now Playing. Turn on the Identify songs playing nearby toggle switch and the lock screen will show matches for songs that your phone can hear. Enable Show search button on the lock screen to get a manual search option too, and Now Playing history to keep a log of identified songs.

The Now Playing history on Pixel phones

The Now Playing history on Pixel phones.
Screenshot: Now Playing

Over on iOS, Shazam is now built in, as Apple owns it: Open the Control Center with a drag 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 capable song identification app is SoundHoundwhich is free to download and install for Android and iOS: Finding the name and artist for a song is as simple as tapping 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, simply by saying “ what’s this song?” while it’s playing in the background.

Check for a song on a database

Apps don’t always work, and can’t always be used—like when you’re in the theater, say—but you’ve still got other options for identifying music. There are some very comprehensive databases on the web, for example , that dutifully log music that shows up in advertising, movies, shows, and just about anywhere else it might be heard.

Take the appropriately named TV Advert Musicwhich has information on a host of different ads, with the newest ones listed first on the homepage. If you don’t immediately see what you’re looking for, try running a search for a brand. Then there’s Adtuneswhich is more community driven: You can post requests for help or identify a song someone else has asked about, and it covers TV shows and films as well as ads.

A photo of the Tunefind website

Tunefind is one option for tracking down songs.
Screenshot: Tunefind

Tunefind is another good bet, and the site covers TV shows, movies and video games. The database is a massive one, and you have the option to browse through what people have been looking for recently, or run a search of your own. Television shows are helpfully split up into individual episodes for you, and there are listening links included so you can quickly jump to YouTube or Spotify to make sure you’re got the right track.

We’d also like to mention Whatsongwhich lets you create and customize a personalized list of music that you’re interested in. Tunes are split up by the movie or the TV show that they appeared in, and by subscribing to updates for individual shows, you can get lists of songs before you even know what it is you want to look for. As with Tunefind, listening links are embedded in the database so you can launch your streaming service of choice with a click.

Find the soundtrack

There are yet more ways of tracking down a particular piece of music based on where you heard it or what it sounded like. Maybe try searching your favorite music streaming service for the soundtrack accompanying the relevant television show or movie, for example: This can be a useful way of finding an alternative version of a song or a more obscure tune that isn’t picked up by an app or listed on a database.

If you’re dealing with a film or show episode, then it will of course be listed somewhere on the Internet Movie Databaseand it’s likely that you’ll be able to find several clues about the music used from these listing pages. There should be a dedicated Soundtracks section on each page, and other details about tunes included in the film or show might be found in the Trivia or user review sections.

A screenshot of IMDb

IMDb can shed some light on soundtracks.
Screenshot: IMDb

Wikipedia is always a useful resource for just about anything, and it has detailed pages for a lot of movies and television shows. A lot of the time, you’ll find dedicated sections on music that’s been featured, and there might even be some background on why particular tunes were chosen or how they were recorded. It’s definitely worth a look if your other avenues of inquiry aren’t going anywhere.

Lastly, if you can bear it, there’s always the social media option. Twitter is perhaps the best option here: You could put out a request for help with identifying a particular track, though how successful it will be is likely to depend on the size of your following. Running a Twitter search might bring up some results, if people with more followers than you are also asking about a particular song that just featured in a particular TV episode—the more popular the show, the higher the chance that people are talking about it.


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