TikTok and the music industry’s oddly symbiotic relationship can be a polarizing conversation. While the app is beneficial for emerging musicians and independent artists who otherwise have limited exposure, TikTok has raised some valid concerns over topics like creating for virality or making inorganic art. Nevertheless, the impact TikTok and the music industry have had on each other is a powerful one.
Trending music on the app can revive old songs which didn’t make the top charts when they were released years and even decades before, allowing them to gain new popularity (think Mariah Carey’s 2009 hit song “Obsessed”). It even has the power to usher in entire subgenres of music that weren’t incredibly prevalent before. Furthermore, TikTok’s trending capabilities can also be used by up-and-coming artists trying to expand their audience reach. We can look to artists like Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, PinkPanthress, etc. as prototypes of this app’s success. Even for artists who choose not to partake in the application’s marketing power, this culture of content creation is undoubtedly changing the way music is made, how it is discovered and how it is publicized.
The promotional power that the app has is substantial, and many users play into this truth. Unlike other social media, TikTok isn’t just about the number of followers you have in order to reach a larger crowd; it’s about feeding into the algorithm. The main page has two options: to view solely videos from content creators that a user is following or the infamous “For You” page, a feed catered to you. The latter is a popular tool that tracks users’ general interactions with videos and shows content that they are likely to enjoy, resulting in an endless scroll…it truly never ends.
The app encourages users to go offline and really dig for more about the artist, which drives music discovery. It’s also important to note how widespread the reach of this app is; the algorithm can really reach an incredible amount of people, whether they are other underground/independent artists, random eight-year-olds, or literal A-list celebrities.
TikTok has revolutionized the way music has been brought into the world. We see the prominence of trending songs that are slowed down, have reverb, are mashup songs, and most commonly, are the backdrop for edits and challenges or dances. In the last case, the music speaks for itself in that content creators on the app make the content for them, and the song sequentially blows up. Music discovery as a result is demanded by TikTok as opposed to other platforms; the challenges, prompts, and dances encourage users to participate in a trend and act on what could be considered a fleeting cultural moment. Even already-established artists have seen the might of this app, and labels have now adapted to change the way music is released. A prime example of this would be Dua Lipa creating “DuaVideo”, where she asks fans on TikTok to help create her new video by dancing to her track.
This contrasts with other artists who release music exclusively on the app first before it appears on streaming services. Being mostly the case for independent artists, releasing snippets of new songs allows these independent artists to source out their audience and build something more intimate, whereas artists like Dua Lipa already have a solid fan base that will back any project.
The state of the musicscape now supports how corporate powerhouses in mainstream music have to rethink how they present new projects: advanced marketing techniques, evaluating streaming analytics, and scavenging for content that has a high potential for virality to name a few. This paradigm shift doesn’t have to be scary, though it may have been accelerated because of COVID-19. During the early stages of the pandemic when live music experiences were at a halt, TikTok emerged as a new avenue for listeners to interact with cherished artists. One example of this was virtual concert experiences. Take Justin Bieber’s Valentine’s Day virtual concert for instance (see below). It acted as the most-watched single article live stream on the app, attracting about 4 million viewers.
Music and how it’s presented will always evolve with time; we just don’t know how long this era of TikTok music discovery will reign supreme. This can be considered a healthy shift though, in that music is not meant to be passively consumed as the previous model implies. TikTok reinforces how transcendent music can be by making viewers understand it to be a means for creative self-expression.
Cover Photo: BBC
Rhea is a writer for The Crescent’s Entertainment section. She is a junior double majoring in Psychology and Design with a minor in Studio Art. In her free time, she makes an excessive amount of playlists, dabbles in the kitchen, and coffee-shop-hops with her friends.