Social media platforms come in and go out of fashion, but TikTok is here to stay for the foreseeable future in light of current trends. The increasingly popular app has been downloaded over a billion times and recently overtook YouTube as the platform with the highest average watch time in the US and UK. With music being an integral part of the platform, there’s no denying that TikTok plays a vital role in how artists reach new fans. However, what makes TikTok such an attractive interface for musicians and music lovers, and what does the app’s exponential growth mean for the future of the music industry?
Why is TikTok so popular?
The addictive qualities of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms have been widely recognized for years, but TikTok’s ability to keep users hooked leaves the rest in the dust. The platform’s AI-assisted algorithm analyzes user interaction, video information, and device and account settings to curate a personalized feed on TikTok’s “For You” page, which shows users an endless series of videos related to their interests. These surprisingly precise and easily digestible short videos trigger the brain’s reward system in the same way as a slot machine and have even led to the app being compared to a “digital crack cocaine”. This effect is particularly apparent among younger generations, who are increasingly reliant on TikTok not only as a medium for entertainment, but also for finding new music.
A rediscovered community
However, the app’s dramatic rise in popularity cannot only be attributed to its addictive appeal. For some creators, TikTok is a platform where they feel they can be themselves, as it offers a refreshing change of pace from the highly visual and sometimes perfectionist nature of other platforms. According to a Nielson survey, 77% of TikTok users believe they can express themselves openly on the platform, and 84% of users found the content relevant.
This growing sense of community could be driving the dramatic increase in app downloads during the pandemic. Amid this isolation, TikTok has been particularly valuable to musicians, who often rely on using their creative networks. Electric violinist Mia Asano reflects on her experience: “I have bonded so much with such amazing and talented people that they now want to take me on tour with them. I play on their albums, and they’ll play on my stuff. I really don’t think music should be done alone…collaboration is so important, and I’m really lucky to have received that from TikTok.
Electronic artist/producer Annie Elise also praised TikTok’s community of supporting musicians. “In a fiercely competitive industry where everyone is trying to get ahead with subscribers, views and streams, it’s refreshing to see the focus once again return to music and independent creators thanks to TikTok.”
The art of going viral
TikTok can be a nightmare for parents trying to limit their children’s screen time, but that’s a different story for entertainers looking to get their name out there. Unlike other platforms where growing an audience is a relatively more linear process, TikTok is like playing the lottery. Even those with modest followers have a chance of going viral. For pop singer-songwriter Mae McCoy, who received nearly 400,000 views on one of her videos, that turned out to be the case. “At first I used the app like most people – ironically – but it quickly got serious after a random video of mine went viral.”
The same was also true for Mia Asano “I went viral totally by accident…I had 300 followers and the next day I had 150,000 and I didn’t know what to do with myself…Suddenly there’s a lot eyes on you and your music, and what that did for me is that it allowed some of my personal projects to start to see the light of day”
Nonetheless, for every TikTok video that takes off, countless fall flat. Factors like trends, hashtag challenges, and even the sounds and effects used can make or break whether videos go viral. Producer Travis Heidelman, who has worked with artists such as Jay Alan and Sammi Jordan, notes, “It’s not just good enough to release; there must be a two-way relationship between the artist and his fans. When the fans take secondary action with the music, that’s when you really have a hit.
For many creators, it can be difficult to predict which videos will go viral, leading some to question the effectiveness of TikTok. Annie Elise observes: “The videos I’ve had have gone viral there mostly unrelated to my music career – unlike Instagram reels, where my viral videos are related to my brand. Is it worth it if the content that goes viral isn’t authentic? »
TikTok Success Stories
For artists who are able to navigate the app’s unpredictable trends while fostering genuine connections with fans, TikTok can effectively launch their professional careers. A notable example is 22-year-old artist Lil Nas X, who rose to fame after promoting his country-trap song “Old Town Road” on TikTok’s platform. Lil Nas X attributed the song’s rapid success to its exposure when TikTok users began posting videos of themselves turning into cowboys and cowgirls. Fueled by the viral trend, the song garnered so much attention that Lil Nas X appeared on record label radars, and he went on to sign with Columbia Records that year.
The multi-hyphenated artist and songwriter Damoyee has also seen meteoric growth in her career thanks to the attention of TikTok’s platform. “What started out as me sharing quick and simple videos of myself singing and performing, and occasionally goofing off without doing anything music-related, has now turned into a platform that’s part of my brand… in fact, more people in public recently recognized me from TikTok than from any other social media platform or in-person or virtual show. had several brand partnership opportunities through my presence on TikTok, as well as booked shows and interviews with smaller platforms and major publications such as Ebony and Entertainment Weekly.
Copyright and Compensation Challenges
So how can other artists follow suit and harness the potential of TikTok’s platform to generate revenue and extend their careers? Unfortunately, the answer may not be so simple. While some musicians credit TikTok with kick-starting their careers, the app has also received its fair share of criticism. For example, the Creator Fund recently launched by TikTok allows certain users to earn between two and four cents per thousand views. However, the move, which TikTok says will help the app’s most successful creators financially, has received mixed reviews. Annie Elise shares her experience, “My views were wiped out once I joined the creator fund. I made a grand total of 60 cents over three months and then I left.
TikTok has also been at the center of numerous copyright issues. Due to the app’s reliance on copyrighted music, as well as the massive influx of new videos being created every day, the demand for tracking copyrighted music is more important than ever. While TikTok has entered into licensing deals with several labels, publishers, and musicians, there are still some falling through the cracks. Artist Joji, well known for his Youtube personality Filthy Frank, has had his song “Slow Dancing in the Dark” used millions of times for the #microwavechallenge, but he hasn’t been paid for its use.
In another case, rappers ZaeHD & CEO ran into trouble while promoting their unreleased song “All In” on TikTok. Although their strategy initially seemed to work – the song featured in more than 2.3 million videos on TikTok – problems arose when another user misplaced the sample in the system. Although the ZaeHD team communicates with TikTok, the song was mislabeled for months after.
For example, TikTok’s payment and identification systems have proven to cause problems for many of its creators. Users can work with TikTok like ZaeHD, waiting for unexpected lengths of time while the app processes similar requests, or submit a DMCA takedown notice, completely erasing the song from the app. Both solutions are neither desirable nor “Creator-Friendly”, which raises the following question: is TikTok the best platform to market your music?
Is TikTok for you?
Like any platform, TikTok comes with its own unique set of challenges and areas that need improvement. However, when it comes to how artists gain exposure, there is no one method that is better than the others. Whether or not TikTok can become a useful tool differs from person to person; nonetheless, artists considering the app should experiment and try it out for themselves. At the moment, TikTok is a force to be reckoned with, with its impact on the music industry too big to ignore.
 “Tiktok tops YouTube for average watch time in the UK and US.” NMESeptember 7, 2021, https://www.nme.com/news/music/tiktok-passes-youtube-for-average-watch-time-in-uk-and-us-3038483.
 Koetsier, John. “Digital Cocaine Crack: The Science Behind TikTok’s Success.” ForbesForbes Magazine, June 30, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2020/01/18/digital-crack-cocaine-the-science-behind-tiktoks-success/?sh=61ec951678be.
 South, Mat. “Why is TikTok so popular? » Search Engine JournalOctober 24, 2021, https://www.searchenginejournal.com/why-is-tiktok-so-popular/424603/.
 Chow, Andrew R. “TikTok Boosts Artists Like Lil Nas X. But Who Benefits?” WeatherTime, May 31, 2019, time.com/5594374/tiktok-artists-money/.
 McEachran, Rich. “TikTok: Keeping Content Creators on the Right Side of Copyright.” StorytellerJanuary 27, 2021, www.raconteur.net/social-media/tiktok-creators-copyright/
 “Following Tiktok: Music Copyright Infringement.” Quality OracleAugust 19, 2020, www.qualityoracle.com/keeping-up-with-tiktok/.