• Sarah Bhatt

TikTok’s Music Industry Takeover

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

TikTok is one of, if not the most, controversial social media platforms of our era. Let’s take a look at the history of the app, shall we? In 2015, the entertainment app took off among American teenagers, who used the app to record videos of themselves lip-syncing to popular songs. Around the same time, another entertainment app called Douyin, which was later internationally branded as TikTok, was gaining significant traction in China. Let’s fast forward to 2017. Bytedance, the Chinese tech company that owns Douyin, purchased intending to reach the U.S. market. To say they achieved this goal would be a dramatic understatement. With over 100 million active users in the United States, the merger has become an App Store favorite under the name we all know and love: TikTok.

That’s the accurate and objective history of TikTok. Now here’s mine.

January 2018: I start getting ads on Instagram for TikTok. The ads are also showing up on TV.

March 2018: My little cousins start recording dance videos on TikTok. They are obsessed. I have now mentally branded TikTok as a dance app for preteens.

December 2018: Almost every video on Instagram Explore was uploaded from TikTok. It’s getting annoying.

August 2019: I’m now in college. TikTok is becoming more and more popular. Even my friends have downloaded it.

September 2019: My friends begin texting me TikTok videos. They’re kind of funny, but I still swear I’ll never download it.

November 2019: I download TikTok.

December 2019: I get bored and delete it.

February 2020: So many people are texting me TikTok videos that I download the app again. It’s not that bad…

March 2020: Obsession.

Now that I’ve exposed myself, I’d like to refute my March 2018 assumption about TikTok. It’s not just a platform for teens to upload and watch dancing videos – although that is a big part of it. TikTok’s video categories range from ‘Gaming’ and ‘Beauty & Fashion’ to ‘Pets’ and ‘Family & Parenting.’ However, the category that most dominated my ‘For You’ page, (a continuous feed of content curated for individual users) at the height of my TikTok usage was ‘Music.’

True to its roots, TikTok videos are almost always paired with a soundtrack. Soundtrack audios can be voiceovers or songs, which sometimes even go viral. This has resulted in big changes in the music industry in recent years.

Ever heard the song “Old Town Road'' by Lil Nas X? Billboard’s longest-running number 1 single in July 2019? It first gained popularity on TikTok, landing Lil Nas X a record deal with Columbia Records. The success of Lil Nas X’s track has set an interesting precedent for musicians on TikTok. Audio virality on TikTok and music chart-toppers have become a parallel phenomenon, as we’ve seen with Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne,'' Doja Cat’s “Say So,” and Roddy Rich’s “The Box.”

Smaller music artists are noticing this trend and are using TikTok as a self-marketing platform. In the fall of 2020, indie pop artist Badly posted a TikTok marketing his single releases, with his original song “I’m okay now” as the video’s audio. His video took off among music lovers on the app, and Badly now boasts 154.2K followers on TikTok and 242,916 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Badly is doing self-marketing right. We’re now seeing major record labels turn to TikTok to scout new talent. Mikael Wood, a music critic for the LA Times stated, in an interview with NPR, that TikTok:

“...had tens of millions of users just sort of locked in their houses, staring at their phones, making huge hits of these songs. So, the labels jump in, and there's like - whoa, look at this song that is resonating in such a huge way. We need to start grabbing these songs and sort of giving them the boost that major labels kind of traditionally give songs.”

Here’s what we can take away from this: TikTok is not only changing the music industry, but it’s also changing how artists and businesses spread awareness of their brand. Although TikTok is fairly new to the social media scene, marketers and advertising agencies should seriously consider adding the app to their marketing strategies.

I can’t write a blog post about TikTok and the music industry without leaving some artist recommendations. Here are some of my favorite artists that I discovered on TikTok: Kid Sistr, Paul Russel, Remi Wolf and Theo Kandel. Enjoy!

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