I've been slacking on this article for a few weeks mostly because I had no idea how to write the introduction. While I've used TikTok for some time now and have been following the platform for years, I feel out of place here... But, hey - it's nice being out of your comfort zone. Before I begin, I want to share my first experience with this whole thing.
Besides doing Stereofox, I work in the field of marketing and product management. My first encounter with the whole lip-syncing video trend was back in 2016 at one of the app marketing conferences in Berlin and I remember back then I thought it just sounds silly. I met with the head of marketing at Musical.ly. and little did I know - this product would eventually merge with TikTok and become the fastest growing social platform in 2020.
What is TikTok (TLDR version)
TikTok is a social media network revolving around the consumption of a variety of short-form videos (15-30 seconds mostly) in the field of comedy, dancing, education, or other random topics. It allows users to edit and be super creative with their visuals, hence create some pretty cool content. I will be honest - there are some top-notch content creators on the platform, but on the flip side - I find 95% of the stuff on there meh. Also, expect to see a lot of hot people dancing around.
The thing I appreciate about this platform is the ease of blending videos and sound. You would think that's easy, but good luck doing it on Instagram. The focus of using sounds and the ease of editing on the platform itself turned TikTok into the champion of short, bite-sized content it is today.
Now that we got this out of the way, one may ask - so what's TikTok's true connection to the music industry? The idea of writing this started when I read the opening paragraph of their first Year on TikTok: Music in 2020 report from December 2020.
Stay up to date.
Music is TikTok's universal language, each song representing a flourishing web of emotions, in-jokes, and dances. As the spaces where people normally enjoy music were impacted by the pandemic, TikTok helped fill the need for communal musical experience in the US. Powered by its community, TikTok became America's go-to platform for music discovery, as well as a launching pad for smash hits by artists of all genres.
The Impact of TikTok On The Music Industry in 2021
Just like any other industry, the music one is in a state of constant change. This is mainly driven by the advancements of technology and the progressively shrinking life cycles of products and content. That correlates to users' reduced attention spans and the overabundance of content out there.
If you compare how we listened to music 10-15 years ago to today, you'll know what I mean. I remember downloading an mp3 file (which took about 30 minutes on my first dial-up modem) or praying to see the music video of my favorite song at least once a day. Then, streaming came along and things became arguably easier. Today, however, streaming isn't fast enough - we consume music in a bite-sized matter which I'll call snippeting for the sake of this article. Why? Well, most importantly - it's faster. Applications like Instagram, Snapchat and most importantly - the protagonist of this text TikTok are the driving force behind building this habit. People have less and less patience and increasing eagerness to see just one more thing hiding behind that next swipe. In addition, the whole music discovery is paired with (sometimes) awesome visual enhancement.
That whole habit change, my dear Internet friends, is for me the true impact of this platform on the music industry. Full disclosure, at first I thought it's pretty wild that artists can blow up based on a 15-second snippet, but as someone who has reviewed music for years, I quickly realized that you can fall in love with a song for a lot less than that. From a pure user behaviour point of view, I find this fascinating. But of course, as a data nerd, I will share some actual numbers.
If you dig into the report I shared above, you'll find that over 176 songs surpassed 1 billion video views as TikTok sounds in 2020 alone. In addition, 90 of those songs climbed onto the Top 100 charts in the U.S., with 15 of those reaching #1 on Billboard. I am far from popular music, but this is pretty impressive. Lastly, the team shares that over 70 artists which have broken on the platform have received major label deals, and dozens more have charted on Rolling Stone's Breakthrough 25.
Not all heroes wear capes♬ Wishful Drinking - Tessa Violet
Open Questions & Concerns When it Comes to TikTok
After all those glamorous and inspiring examples, I do want to put my pessimist hat on for a bit and just throw out a few questions:
How do you fit a 3+ minute song into a 15 seconds hook? As an artist, how can you control what listeners extract from those 15 seconds and whether the visual created by the community actually correlates with your message? Also, how do you make sure these 15 seconds are enough to make people venture out into other major platforms and consume the full thing AND not disappoint them with the rest of the song? One could argue that a lot of these songs are…not really songs. They are catchy hooks that ended up blowing up on the platform, but that's really far from the notion that the actual full song is good.
There's one more thing I always think about. Given that sometimes, a track piggybacks on the virality of a video, or trend, and other times vice versa, I am having a hard time to figure out the actual impact of each on the overall success.
How Does a Song Become Popular on Tik Tok
If you're chasing that success on TikTok, your goal is a song that inspires a TikTok trend. It may sound simple, but I reckon is pretty damn hard. I wish I could share more about that, but with a mere 100s of views on our 2 Stereofox TikTok videos, I'll stay quiet.
What I can do though is try and explain the mechanism behind it. Basically, a sound can be uploaded on TikTok or users can use what's available on the platform already. If someone uses your sound and creates a really funny dance or something then there's a chance others follow up. Yadda, yadda, virality, yadda, yadda. Then before you know it there are 100s of videos using your 15 seconds music to replicate that original video. If you think of this as a funnel, the next logical step is that the percentage of the people who consume this catchy video trend/sound should move into exploring the full thing elsewhere.
So, if a snippet is catchy enough and it does become viral on TikTok, artists can expect a spill-over effect - streaming spikes or popularity peaks on other major platforms due to those trends. That is why often artists and labels reach out and pay to TikTok influencers who then create content with their music. All with the hope to hit that much-desired viral effect.
We (as a label) have done some experimenting with reaching out to influencers, but I will share results in the upcoming months. Platforms like SubmitHub (which we're also part of) allow you to micro-target such people and find the right people for your genre.
It is that spill-over effect that is both the power and weakness of the platform. If TikTok aims to become a true music discovery platform, they need to make the transition to other platforms smoother OR plan a user journey on their platform post that music discovery. One thing I could think of is a way for user-generated mini playlists, for example.
( dc @gooseyj23 ) THANK YOU SO MUCHHH FOR 14M!!! I LOVE YOU AND I APPRECIATE YOU ALL ??♬ BILLIE JEAN X BOO X F IT UP VMESHBEATS MASHUP - Varoon Ramesh
What's worse is when artists start tailoring their sound and composing music that is specifically meant for Tik Tok. That, however, is not new. I personally know artists who create their music entirely driven by the sound of specific Editorial playlists on Spotify or Apple Music. To each their own, but let's not forget - we live in a fast-paced society and while I do believe Tik Tok is a must-try platform, we have no idea where this thing will be 6 months from now.
How to reach influencers on TikTok
As mentioned before, platforms like SubmitHub make matching with influencers. The benefit is that you can see both of the niches an influencer is active in, as well as their reach and creative style. Also, you can choose both free (standard) and paid credits and the whole system was recently revamped by the team, so feel free to explore their process in their latest blog post.
Besides interests, the platform provides other data like performance numbers and examples of their work. I really recommend doing your research before submitting and always the the same for people who submit to our blog - make sure you send us music that actually fits our curation.
You can also go and do your research when exploring the platforms, finding sounds that are similar to yours and look for users who have created videos using them. What I would also do is post on other social platforms where you can reach your fans and ask if they use TikTok. Reaching out to your community (regardless how big it is) is never a bad idea.
In that line of thought, I had the pleasure of shortly chatting to Jason Grishkoff on his 2 cents about the topic.
It's good to see a new player gain some prominence in the ecosystem. I think it's easy for us to get stuck in the idea that a platforms like Spotify and Facebook are too big to challenge, but I think TikTok has done a great job demonstrating this to be untrue. I do worry about the A.D.D. nature of music consumption, but I reckon the spillover into actual listening behaviors will be positive — and we've definitely seen that a number of times now.
As to how he sees the future of influencer marketing on TikTok, the Indie Shuffle / SubmitHub founder shares,
There's an underlying part of our human nature that makes us curious about the lives that others lead. I have a feeling that's got something to do with the popularity of influencers in general. And if that's where internet users are flocking — particularly in the younger generation — then there's a huge market for promotion in the space. And music is an important part of that, especially on TikTok.
What Kind of Music "works" on TikTok
I don't want to discourage people, but I feel more commercial and dance-able music has a better chance of picking up on the platform. There are, however, some exceptions (check out the TikTok Music Success Stories section of this article). According to TikTok themselves, "the community gravitates to songs that are confident, empowering, sonically unique, and danceable."
If you're curious about the genre breakdown on the platform in 2020, here's a nice pie chart for you.
Why and How Do Music Industry People Use TikTok
Why? Because of the data. How? TikTok's Music Partnerships team provides labels, artists, and A&Rs with reports and insights which aim to help them discover the best emerging talent as soon as data indicates so.
Tools like Chartmetrics allow easy access to the most popular tracks on the platform and serve as a powerful discovery tool for bigger labels who can quickly scout rising talent early on while they're gaining traction. In the Weekly Top Tracks on TikTok chart, you can break down what tracks are performing well this week based on the number of videos being shared that have added those tracks. The feature is available for Pro accounts only though.
While I am a firm believer in the human element in A&R, data is crucial in the age we currently live in.
Should you be on TikTok?
Not on any of us to answer this question for you BUT... why not? At the end of the day, it is yet another way to showcase your art and/or personality as an artist. Also, I guess just like any platform, it has a core audience (read age group) and if you want to reach those people - TikTok might be a good place to be. In general, I would like to believe that you don't necessarily need to do dance videos in order to do well on the platform. Take the platform's capabilities and channel them through your own prism.
I personally still struggle when it comes to how to use it for Stereofox, but as a listener, I would love to see more casual everyday videos from artists, short live performances, or behind-the-scenes and production tips content.
For those who are just getting started with the platform - look beyond the main commercial trendy videos and the BS. I was quite put off initially, but once you cut through the fluff, there is some awesome content on the platform.
As always - never put all your eggs in 1 basket, so if you feel like it - give it a go. Take the platform with its pros and cons and use it primarily as a place to share content and reach a new audience rather than a way to feed the numbers machine. Do not try to fabricate success. If it's meant - it will happen, if not - just have fun. You never know *shrug emoji*
The Future of TikTok
Is the app here to stay? I believe so. What makes me be optimistic about the future of the product is a quote from Ole Obermann, Global Head of Music at TikTok.
"We at TikTok share our community’s passion for music and we’re dedicated to providing a platform where artists and fans can interact and thrive. It has been inspiring to watch our community bring new talent to the forefront, help send songs up the charts, and use music to create an oasis of joy during a trying time. We will continue to work hard to make TikTok a platform that supports artists and encourages musical engagement and discovery.”
There are rumors about a potential dedicated music streaming platform being developed by TikTok's parent company (ByteDace), but I haven't found more solid information to validate that theory. If I am to spitball here, I think it would make perfect sense as the 2 could exist in perfect synergy.
When it comes to the future of TikTok, its effect on the industry, and how we consume content, there's a quote by Will Schube who wrote an awesome article on The Ringer which I really want to share with you.
It’s not hard to imagine a future in which artists stop making full songs altogether, instead creating slivers of moments for young adults to dance to. As our collective attention spans continue to decline, this seems like a logical conclusion. Songs longer than three minutes might one day just be a radical act.
And while this makes an awful lot sense, it made me a little sad.
Fun fact - just as I wrote the article, Kaytranada dropped the news of releasing a TikTok exclusive drop. Whether that's to transfer some audience from some platforms onto there or a way to try and see if this can sparkle a trend - we're yet to see.
But, going back onto the future of the product. A few other signals in the industry let me believe we're in for some ride here. At the end of 2020 the app announced deals with Sony Music and Warner Music Group and last week they managed to strike the same deal with Universal (just as they pulled their whole catalog from TikTok's rival Triller). The new global agreement “delivers equitable compensation for recording artists and songwriters and significantly expands and enhances the companies’ existing relationship”. That's a huge deal for both of them and a clear signal TikTok is trying to play by the rules, making it even more attractive for artists and labels across the globe.
Does TikTok pay artists for their music?
The million-dollar question. Does TikTok actually pay out royalties to artists and labels (like ours)? After years of allowing billions of streams without paying artists anything, as of August 2020, the platform has licensing deals in place with most music distributors and labels. We're using DistroKid and all of our catalogs are available on TikTok.
Payouts are significantly lower than other major platforms, but let's also not forget the fact that users consume something like 15 seconds of the actual composition. Oh, one important thing to note here - you will receive royalties on the snippet delivered to TikTok by your distributor only. If you upload the sound manually ... sorry pals - that's not going to work.
How to Upload Music on TikTok?
That felt like the logical next question. Also, an easy to answer question.
Basically, the distributor you choose needs to have a deal with the platform. Don't quote me on this one, but by now most of them should support this feature - DistroKid, TuneCore, CDBaby, and the most boutique and invite-only ones like The Orchard, Platoon, to name a few.
TikTok Music Success Stories
The only artist I personally know who has achieved success via Tik Tok is Charlie, who we released in the summer of 2020 (super cool dude, check his music). At the time of writing this, his track "Pretending" has been used in 65k videos on the platform. There isn't a particular trend, as I've seen it being used in laid-back breakfast-making videos or personal confessions of the sort. Definitely, a good example that mellow / indie music can gain traction too.
Charlie (AKA Duumu) shared a tweet about the impact of this on the track's performance on Spotify.
I spoke with him briefly on the whole story on Discord and when it comes to how it actually happened, he was pretty frank, "no idea! this guy reuploaded my song and it started popping off, i had nothing to do with it and the song is over 3 years old so i never expected it."
I really loved his thoughts on trying to replicate the success of "Pretending".
I feel like it would be really difficult seeing as i have no idea what caused it in the first place. I'm a believer in the philosophy that we don't know what people want, and neither do they until they get their hands on it. The album that song is on has 9 tracks that are all a very similar style so how come none of those blew up too? I can't answer that, and I think that's for the better.
My personal favorite (and you probably have seen this) more commercial story is the one of Nathan Apodaca aka doggface208 blew the Internets up after posting a video of him longboarding to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” while drinking a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. The video has 12.6 million views on the platform and while it's not the typical story where up-and-coming band wins at life thanks to TikTok, according to sources the track (which I've absolutely loved since I was a kid) saw a 374% jump in sales, an 89% jump in streams, and on top of that it got into Billboard's top charts for the first time since its 1977 release.
At the end of this article, I still feel that any 16-year-old would have written it better. It was really fun, though. I love exploring new stuff, digging into data and success stories, and I feel I just scratched the surface so far.
I'll talk about all of this and actually try to put it into work, but to sum things up - while I often laugh at people using TikTok, the product is absolutely fascinating and I am sure everyone can find its place in there. It is equally important for artists and labels, but only if you... vibe with it. It is not the end of the world if you don't jump on that trend because let's face it - another one will come down the line.