You’re either on TikTok, or you’re actively avoiding it. Whatever your preference, you’re probably aware that its impact on the music industry has been incredibly significant. It’s turned unknown talent into superstars overnight (sometimes quite literally), has reprised the love for classic songs, and is forcing big labels to look differently at the formula of a hit song.
The diverse list of stars discovered on TikTok is constantly growing. Lil Nas X is the go-to example, after “Old Town Road” exploded from TikTok onto number one in the Billboard chart for 17 weeks. Then there’s Ashnikko, whose second single, “Stupid”, went viral on the platform and ended up at number one in the charts. And then there's the L.Dre song that went viral and has now been used in 9.4 million videos across the platform. A Nura collaborator, we should mention he has a new album coming at the end of this month. Check out the video he made for us over on our TikTok or Instagram.
Also, remember that “Sea Shanty” meme that went viral around at the start of 2021? That started on TikTok by postal worker Nathan Evans, who has now - you guessed it – kick-started his singing career.
TikTok is a playground for music fans and creators. 60 seconds of audio and video might not seem like enough time to fall in love with a song, but if you hear it enough and connect with it on some level, it’s plenty.
When high calibre acts like Dua Lipa, John Mayer, and David Guetta invite their fans to help them create their new music video or participate in a challenge, people tend to rise to the occasion; It’s a fantastic way for fans to connect with their idols and vice versa. Even if it is just to perform an obnoxiously loud duet with Ed Sheeran:
These TikTok challenges tend to be what skyrockets a song's popularity, too, even if it’s not a new song. French producer Vantage released his future funk track “50//50“ in 2015 but didn’t see mainstream success until 2020. The opening 10 seconds of the track became the basis of a TikTok challenge where users would play the snippet to their parents to see if they’ll dance along. He went on to sign a major label deal, rerelease “50//50” and remix Dua Lipa’s “Fever”.
If it’s not a challenge that makes a song explode, it’s an unforgettable moment caught on camera. Like that time that DoggFace208 posted a clip of him longboarding down an LA freeway to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams“. 20 million views later, and the track is back in the charts, with sales rising by 184 per cent in the first three days of the original video being uploaded, and streaming figures seeing a 242 per cent increase in first-time listeners.
You can’t force these moments of magic to happen, though. Speaking to the BBC, TikTok’s UK head of music operations, Paul Hourican, said that trying to predict the success of a song on the platform is “a million pound question”. But the impact of success on TikTok is profound, thanks to “encouraging users to go off and find out more about the artists they’ve heard and listen to their music in full…I think it’s pretty undeniable that it drives music discovery”.
In response to these viral TikTok moments, three major labels – Warner Music, Sony and Universal Music Group – signed licensing deals with the platform. This may not just be so that the labels can have their music scattered about the app, though; the collaboration has the potential to give more revenue to artists and give labels the tools to discover new talent. Currently, artists can receive royalties when their music is used on the platform, although it’s not as much as one would earn on Spotify or Apple Music.
How does this quickfire approach to music listening affect the songs themselves, though? In a YouTube comment, Trevor Daniel – whose track “Falling” flew up to the top 10 after a TikTok challenge went viral – says: “you don’t know how many times I’ve been in the studio after having success on TikTok that I’ve heard ‘THIS WILL BLOW UP ON TIKTOK!‘. It’s sad, man. I love TikTok and I’m thankful for what it’s done for me. But it’s weird what it’s doing to the quality of music and what people think people will find ‘catchy for TikTok’”.
The effect isn’t yet obvious. We might see an influx of artists creating short loops and snippets exclusively for TikTok. Maybe producers and labels will only look for artists capable of creating music destined to go viral. It could be that new singles will arrive with a TikTok challenge as a standard.
Right now, the positives outweigh the negatives. Young, talented artists without big funding or label backing are breaking through due to their skill alone, and the platform can play host to engaging virtual concerts. For example, Justin Bieber held a TikTok livestream on Valentine’s Day and attracted more than four million viewers. One thing is for sure: it’s important to keep an eye on TikTok, whether you’re on it or not, because it’s here to stay.
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