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TikTok has had a hand in changing the way many industries operate. The app seems to have the Midas touch when promoting almost any product in any market, from beauty to power tools. The selling power of the platform is unfathomable. Social media companies have been dreaming up a way to finally master  “social commerce” for years, backing it up with massive advertising budgets. Those plans involve enticing consumers to buy and sell to get a coveted chunk of the social media mega-market.

TikTok saw its base increase exponentially since the spring of 2020, during the height of the pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, the platform had around 500 million users worldwide. The company then rocketed past  a billion users by the fall of that year and continues to accelerate . eMarketer estimates that social commerce, in general, will be a $79.64 billion industry in the US by 2025. The research also points out that social commerce is most popular with the older members of the Gen Z demo.

Brands are utilizing the app’s commerce tools more than ever before, and TikTok’s influencer economy is growing at an astronomical pace. TikTok’s influence and reach have surpassed, and innovated beyond its predecessors like YouTube. 

The reach that TikTok has amassed is hard to fathom. For example, the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has over five billion views globally and an endless scroll of videos showing off every possible purchase.

It only makes sense that this reach has irreversibly affected the music industry.

TikTok’s Impact on the Music Industry

There’s no sugarcoating it: songs that trend on TikTok’s platform usually chart on the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50. A recent study conducted for TikTok by the music-analytics company MRC Data found that 67% of the app’s users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok. 

TikTok has become a hub for labels promoting new releases and unreleased or back catalog tracks. back in 2021, Nicki Minaj’s legendary 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty was finally released on streaming services. It’s the first time Minaj’s groundbreaking project has been commercially available. It features her first hit, “I Get Crazy,” and five previously unreleased tracks. While not explicitly promoted in cahoots with TikTok, the release received incredible hype and broad exposure on the app.

Consumer behavior data compiled by Cirisano shows TikTok users are more likely to spend money on music and be more invested in it. 40% of active TikTok users pay a monthly subscription for music, compared to 25% of the general population. And 17% buy artist merchandise monthly, compared to 9% of the general population.

TikTok users often respond to music with original videos, either posting a lip-sync to a song, making up a dance, or singing it all on their own. But things began to accelerate for the platform with  the success of Lil Nas X in 2019. The young artist went from living in his sister’s home and dropping out of college to dropping the most successful song of all time, the country-rap crossover “Old Town Road.” Besides the pure tenacity of the artist, this success can be credited to the track becoming an early TikTok viral trend picked up by millions of users.

Old Town Road has since become the blueprint for a series of viral musical successes on TikTok. These artists have skyrocketed to immediate success and popularity because their songs were used by millions of TikTok users in their videos.

Australia’s Masked Wolf made Barrack Obama’s iconic annual summer playlist and received nominations for five ARIA awards after their sleeper hit song “Astronaut in the Ocean” became a global hit in 2012. It was initially released two years prior by a modest Australian label. It has since been used in a staggering 18 million TikTok videos.

Additionally, some of 2021’s most prominent global hits didn’t stick when released on a smaller scale until the songs were promoted on TikTok. Africa’s most successful pop song, CKay’s Love, Nwantiti, was released in 2019 but didn’t catapult into the spotlight until 2021. The track has been used in millions of TikTok videos since. 

Many musical teams utilize built-in tools such as the TikTok’s Trends Chart on the ‘Discover’ page, which shows the week’s hottest trending sounds and user-generated content. These tools help artists and fans leverage the app as a powerful space to explore new music.

This means that artists now have to factor TikTok into their music strategies if they want to produce the big numbers– even if they don’t want to. 

What This Means for Artists

Artists and their teams are starting to have no choice regarding TikTok promo, but it can be fun. Some artists and labels work with TikTok’s team to host private listening sessions with creators to promote a song before its release.

In the summer of 2020, ahead of Miley Cyrus preparing to release her single “Midnight Sky,” her team partnered with TikTok to schedule two private 

Zoom calls with around 15 creators to give them an early listen to the track. 

The Washington Post notes that Brandon Stosuy, a music manager who co-founded the company Zone 6, saw the intense focus on TikTok as more of a natural extension of how labels have operated for decades. He referenced the early 1990s and that labels scrambled to sign grunge bands in response to Nirvana’s massive success. Now, labels are scrambling to get their artists to utilize TikTok. 

But it’s not always sweet.

Artists Push Back

Well-established singers suddenly roped into the social media marketing process, which could arguably succeed without TikTok fame, feel that these new parameters take away from the artistry involved. In a November interview, Adele said she responded to her label’s request for her to make TikToks with, “Tika Toka, who?”

“It was like if everyone’s making music for the TikTok, who’s making the music for my generation?” Adele continued. “Who’s making the music for my peers? I would do that job, gladly.”

The Post also addresses comments from singer/songwriter Vérité, who has released music independently since 2014. The artist said it is “really disheartening when technology and culture shift in a way that … is so blatantly focused on pure consumerism.” 

Most recently, major alt-pop artist Halsey brought attention to just how grueling her music label’s social media requests have become. The singer posted a TikTok this week mimicking the vibes of a hostage situation. In it, she emptily gazes toward the camera and the words, “Basically, I have a song that I love that I wanna release ASAP, but my record label won’t let me. I’ve been in this industry for 8 years and I’ve sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.” Of course, in true internet fashion, this TikTok went mega-viral, prompting some people to question whether or not it was a ploy the whole time. 

Other artists have shared this transparency and sentiment. Charli XCX mentioned her label asking her “to make my 8th TikTok of the week.” In March, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine posted a video casually singing a cappella because “the labels are begging me for ‘low-fi TikToks.” In a since-deleted post, FKA twigs said she “got told off today for not making enough effort (referring to social media promo).”

The music industry, including everything from chart data and promotion, to new artist development, has been altered by TikTok. Its immeasurable reach and power to change the life of an average person in merely 24 hours is enticing to regular users, small artists, and now even popular artists. It will be fascinating to see how this new social requirement sticks over the next few years.

Photo by Solen Feyissaon Unsplash