How Google Pixel’s ‘Now Playing’ Music Feature Works to Silently Identify Music Around You

Google Music Now Playing
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Google Music Now Playing
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Photo Credit: Ashley King

Google Pixel 2 and newer model phones can automatically identify the music you hear around you. Here’s how to set it up.

Have you ever heard a song playing while you’re out and don’t have time to ask your phone to tell you what’s playing? For many music fans, that can be a frustrating experience, but Google’s Pixel phones offer a workaround that feels almost seamless once setup.

Google Pixel 2 and later models can automatically identify the music you hear around you for you to reference later, and you can also ask it to identify music for you on the fly. Here’s how it works.

Getting Started

    1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
    2. Tap Sound & Vibration > Now Playing.
    3. Turn on Identify songs playing nearby — you may need to ensure your phone is charged and connected to WiFi.
    4. Wait a few minutes while your phone downloads the song database.
    5. Once the download is complete, songs playing around you will automatically be identified and shown on your phone’s lock screen.

To learn more about a song, tap the song name while your phone is locked, or if you’re using your phone, expand notifications at the top of your screen and tap the notification for the song playing.

How to Tell Google to Identify a Song

On Google Pixel 4 and later, you can tell your phone to identify the music you hear that isn’t already in its database. To enable the feature:

    1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
    2. Tap Sound & Vibration > Now Playing.
    3. Turn on Show search button on lock screen.
    4. Tap the music search icon on your lock screen to search for a song while it’s playing around you.

How to View Songs Recently Heard

    1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
    2. Tap Sound & Vibration > Now Playing.
    3. Make sure that “Show songs on lock screen” is on.
    4. Tap Now Playing History.

Any songs you’ve heard will appear in a list. To share a song or listen to it in the music app of your choice, tap the song. On Pixel 3 and later, you can choose multiple songs to listen to, share, or delete from your list. 

You can also add a song playing nearby to your Now Playing favorites list from your lock screen by simply tapping the music note next to the song title from your lock screen. Then a heart will appear. Tap the music note again to remove the song from your favorites list.

How to Review Your Favorites

    1. Open your phone’s Settings app.
    2. Tap Sound & Vibration > Now Playing.
    3. Tap Now Playing HistoryFavorites.
    4. Tap the heart to remove a song from the favorites list.

If you don’t want to get song notifications at the top of your screen, you can also turn those off under Sound & Vibration > Now Playing. Under Notifications, turn off Recognized Music Notifications. Song info will still display on your lock screen.

How It Works

When music is playing nearby, your Pixel phone compares a few seconds of the song to its on-device library to recognize what’s playing. The processing happens on your phone and is private to you.

Now Playing collects some info, like the percentage of times it correctly identifies music to recognize songs better. Now Playing only collects this info if you have shared usage and diagnostics with Google.

On Pixel 4 and later models, the use of the feature and the counts of songs recognized are aggregated using federated analytics, a so-called privacy-preserving technology. That data is used to improve the Now Playing feature and its song database so it will correctly identify what’s playing more often. 

Notably, Google can never see what songs you listen to — only the most popular songs in different regions. If your settings are enabled to share usage and diagnostics, counts of recognized songs are shared with Google.

If you’re using Pixel 4 or later and have enabled “Show search button on lock screen,” each time you tap to search, Google gets a short, digital audio fingerprint to identify what’s playing.

Only Pixel 2 and later models can make use of the Now Playing feature; the original model Pixel (2016) can’t identify songs. Additionally, some features only work on Android 10 and up. 

You might also notice that your phone struggles to hear songs playing around you if it’s in your pocket or bag — pull out your phone so it can listen to the music clearly if you’re having trouble.