How TikTok Is Changing the Music Industry
Ever since it launched Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ to the top of the Billboard charts, TikTok has been known as a music discovery platform. But the rise of Drake’s new single, ‘Toosie Slide’, shows that even more clearly as TikTok matures.
The song, the Canadian rapper’s latest, was unique for the multi-time chart-topper: it was released on TikTok before it was available on streaming services.
The reasoning is obvious: TikTok has become a place where people interact with and enjoy music. A hangover of the app’s history as the product of a merger between two different apps, including lip-synching product Musical.ly, the platform has always had music at its core. The looping nature of the short videos also allows popular, well-used tracks to worm their way into your brain, making it more likely that you’ll load up the song on other platforms – or buy it outright.
And the userbase of TikTok, which generally skews younger, with a high proportion of those the types who will devotedly visit concerts and buy the music of their favourite artists, works in their favour too.
TikTok has become a stepping stone to chart stardom. Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ and Arizona Zervas’s ‘Roxanne’ would likely have lingered in the ether of the many songs released every year without fanfare had they not been picked up by users on TikTok and propelled into superstardom. Drake’s latest single has been used in 1.3 million videos on TikTok since social media dancer Toosie first used it in a video as a premiere for the song; ‘Say So’ has been used in nearly 20 million videos.
Some songs have leaked out onto the platform before they’re officially released – though the jury is out about whether they were intentionally placed on TikTok or have been secreted away without the artist knowing. Regardless, it’s a guerrilla marketing tool whose power isn’t to be sniffed at.
TikTok know it, too: in the last few months, they’ve significantly staffed out their music and artist relations side of the business to capitalise on the new music ecosystem they’ve managed to develop. In December the company hired Tracy Gardner, a veteran of Warner Music Group, to deal with licensing tracks on the app, following it up a month later with former Microsoft attorney Erich Andersen as TikTok’s global general counsel. Andersen had focused on intellectual property rights at Microsoft – indicating what his role and importance is to TikTok today.
But it’s not simply a case of a musician publishing their latest release to TikTok a few days early. Some of the idiosyncrasies of music publishing need to be ironed out if you’re using a discovery platform like TikTok. Surf Mesa’s ‘ily’ has become a huge hit on TikTok – but it’s not without some support from the artist’s label. They had to rename ‘ily’ to ‘ily (i love you baby)’ to capture the traffic of search users looking for the song on the app after it needling its way into their eardrums.
That’s the way that any digital search works: literally. Ask 100 people what the name of a song is, and they’ll likely repeat the main line of the chorus. And yet musicians have traditionally tried to be clever with their song titles, making it difficult to discover online. Take the renegade, one of the biggest trends on TikTok in the last year, where people dance along to a track made popular by TikTok’s biggest creator, Charli D’Amelio – though the original was by a teenager called Jalaiah Harmon. Search TikTok for ‘renegade’ and you’ll now find it, but the track the dance is based on is actually called ‘Lottery’ by K Camp.
So the message is clear: if you want to take advantage of the popularity of TikTok’s userbase, then release your track early, plug it often – and whatever you do, name it literally.
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