TikTok: the latest app to take over the music industry

I downloaded TikTok a couple of months ago. Not because I wanted to learn new dance moves or create the next big trend; I was merely bored. The monotonous scrolling through an endless stream of videos was comforting, and I just wanted a new source of entertainment.

Weeks have gone by since I last opened the app, but while listening to my Spotify, I heard a familiar sound.

‘SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK’ by Joji. Although I had no recollection of the name or the artist, this song brought back memories. Memories that consisted of teenagers rotating on the floor, pretending to move in slow-motion. The more I delved into this, the more I realised that the vast majority of the new music I’d been listening to had risen in popularity through TikTok.

TikTok is a career maker

The influence that TikTok has had on the music industry is immense. Not only can you achieve instant fame overnight, but your career can also be revived in a few short seconds. TikTok made Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ a record-breaking hit, remaining at No1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 17 weeks, after gaining recognition from the goofy cowboy, Yee Yee drinking memes, people started listening to ‘Old Town Road’ outside the sphere of TikTok. 

However, when audiences found out who Lil Nas X was, controversy began to set in. The eloquent mixing of country and trap had many furious, particularly those from the country-scene, who did not believe this song should be associated with their genre. This contronvery was further exacerbated when Lil Nas X came out as gay in late June, 2019. 

As the old saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, and with all the drama surrounding him, Lil Nas X’s career was propelled further, eventually allowing him to team up with legendary country singer, Billy Ray Cyrus.

The streaming platform has also aided other household names in the pursuit of success. TikTok helped resurrect the career of Lizzo, who’s hit single ‘Good as Hell’ became a chart-topper on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as remaining in the charts for a solid 34 weeks, almost three years after the song was first released.

So what is it that makes TikTok a hotbed of chart-toppers?

TikTok’s young audience boosts listens

First of all, the age span of their audience is HUGE, with a total of 800 million active users worldwide. The rebranding of Musical.ly to TikTok meant that the users from the previous lip-syncing platform were relocated to the new app. This led to TikTok’s immediate popularity, as it had already gained a steady stream of followers before establishing itself fully.

As you can probably guess, the demographic on Musical.ly was relatively young, averaging an age range of 13-24-year olds. However, statistics show that 25.8% of users on TikTok are aged 18 to 24, and a further 24.8% are between the ages of 25 to 34. So why does age matter?

Needless to say, the music industry is governed by youth culture. Music is continually targeted at the desires of the young, be that through advertisements, music videos or lyrical content. As the Guardian states “younger people create the trends that are aped by the rest of us”, and therefore music labels target the young and, as a by-product, manage to influence the rest of society

The music industry is particularly geared towards this demographic, as popular music is often riddled with elements that help identify and consolidate youth culture (i.e. partying with friends, first love, heartbreak, etc).

Having a social media platform that is almost entirely below the age of 34 is the industry’s dream. TikTok’s platform helps promote and source new talent, while reviving old classics and reaching a broader demographic than many other social media networks. Acquiring this substantial audience was a massive aim for TikTok. Whereas Youtube does not have a specific demographic, TikTok had been deemed a pre-teen haven. 

The effect that this sizeable age-range is having on the music industry seems impossible. No longer is TikTok seen as “cringier comedy for younger individuals in middle school”; it is now a sea of consumers waiting for their next musical installment. Instead of listening to the radio to hear the most popular songs, the music finds you. TikTok has opened the door for new artists to get their music heard, without the long-winded process of acquiring a manager and having the backing of a record label. As long as your music has 15 seconds that are catchy, funny and danceable, you can become successful.

Pleasing the TikTok algorithm

But you cannot make yourself successful on TikTok; TikTok makes you successful. Although the music industry is now able to advertise artists through this platform, it’s the audience that determines whether the music will become a hit. 

The music industry is now flooding the platform. With creative talent agencies created for the sole purpose of advertising new artists through Tiktok; paying for more screen time through advertisements, so that viewers are less likely to swipe away. These advertisements are all filtered through the TikTok algorithm; its most successful tool.

The sophistication of TikTok’s algorithm is the real reason for their widespread success. Their tailored-to-you approach means that you no longer have to endlessly search for quality content; they bring all the content to you. Your homepage is a compilation of the videos they know you’ll enjoy, based on your previous viewing habits and likes. 

If you’ve spent an evening binge-watching ‘Truth Hurts’ compilations, odds are the next day your feed will be filled with a multitude of videos featuring Lizzo’s music.

“Once the all-knowing TikTok mothership observes videos that are performing well, the platform takes an active interest in elevating these clips — and the sounds within — which enhances the churn from bottom to top”. Rolling Stone magazine

Funnily enough, artists such as Lil Nas X had tried their luck with other social media apps, but had not found the level of success that TikTok offers. The app’s revolutionary algorithm has aided many artists in their pursuit to success.

The future of TikTok and the music industry

As stated in Rolling Stone magazine, the major labels that work alongside and push for their music to be advertised on the platform have expiring contracts. This means that labels now have room to re-negate the terms of their contract with TikTok, reflecting on the success of their artists in order to push for better advertisements. This is now especially relevant as TikTok’s key to success lies within their intertwining of music and visuals.

If TikTok is unable to create reasonable contracts, it’s likely that the industry will find another platform that can accommodate their label and the promotions of their artists. TikTok’s success has been immense, but that does not mean that another media platform cannot reach a similar level of success. 

Music streaming platforms change and develop every year. The success of apps such as MySpace Music and Napster seems like a distant memory, but at one point in time they were the TikTok of their day. 

It’s unlikely that TikTok’s effect on the industry will be a future hindrance, but a new learning curve. Industry restructuring has allowed for them to reach a wider audience than was thought possible. Audiences listen to TikTok music and organically find artists they love, and may not have found on any other platform. The industry has profited from the success of TikTok, and TikTok has profited from the advertisements of the industry. A match made in heaven. 

TikTok’s success is unprecedented. It has now entered every sphere of media consumption. Scrolling through Instagram? You’ll most likely see a Vine-like meme or choreographed mash-up. Listening to PUBLIC’s “Make You Mine” on Spotify? You’ll be met by a 15-second video from their personal TikTok account. It is a multi-sensory experience. Unlike radio, TikTok offers viewers a chance to engage with music, dancing and humour, all in one short 15-second clip.

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