TikTok has become a game-changer for music, and the industry is hustling to keep up.
After playing college basketball, winning an MTV reality show, podcasting, modeling, and acting, in 2019, Tyler Colon got serious about his music career.
“After singing in my car for, like, six months for an hour and a half every single day, I released ‘Stuck In The Middle,‘” he said.
He released the song under his stage name Tai Verdes while working at Verizon Wireless.
“I saw other people like me that had no following end up on the radio,” he said. “And when you see that happen multiple times because of one app, it’s kind of like ‘a-duh’, you know what I’m saying? Like, why not?”
Soon he was receiving calls from presidents of record labels during his lunch break. Eventually, the singer landed a record deal, completed an album, and is now on a 22-city tour across America.
Spotify has streamed the song “Stuck In The Middle” more than 100 million times.
TikTok has ultimately changed the way music is made, and everyone from top analysis, and marketing bosses, to artists are vying to catch up.
Without TikTok, Verdes believes he would still be a sensation in the music industry. However, he realized TikTok allowed his fans to be more engaged. They would track the artist on TikTok, Spotify, or his YouTube channel.
“You just made this video, you have this song, you have this melody that they really like. They want to go get that. You just gave them something,” he said.
Verdes is not the only one to notice the trend that TikTok users interact differently with music.
“They’re not just listening to music in a sort of, like, lean-back, passive way,” says music industry analyst Tatiana Cirisano. “They’re more likely to do more lean-forward activities, like creating playlists or listening to full albums on streaming or buying merchandise.”
TikTok users are more likely to spend money on music or have a more significant investment in it, Consumer behavior data compiled by Cirisano stated. A paid monthly subscription for music is chalked up by 40% of active TikTok users compared to 25% of the general population. Artists’ merchandise is bought monthly by 17% of users on the app; however, only 9% of the general population supports their artists’ products.
Also, TikTok users are more engaged with an artist’s song and will try to make a video of the song using special features built into the app. Users might lip-sync, dance, or sing along to their favorite artist.
“It’s changed music listening from being a one-way relationship where a song comes out, and you listen to it on your own, to something that you participate in,” Cirisano said. “I mean, I don’t think that any other social media app has done that to this degree. TikTok is peak UGC in that way.”
One of the buzzwords sweeping the music industry right now is UGC, short for “user-generated content.”
The music industry was a lot less complicated when Nina Webb, the head of marketing at Atlantic Records, first began, she said.
“It used to be a puzzle for a 3-year-old. You had video and radio,” she said. “And you just needed money and leverage and influence as a label. And now I feel like it’s the 1,000-piece gray sky where TikTok is the only piece that will individually move the dial the way it does.”
Webb understands the business well. A song called “ABCDEFU” was released by an Atlantic Records artist named Gayle last august.
The song was promoted heavily on TikTok; however, it did not explode onto the scene until months later, when in the middle of Gayle’s tour, the sign language sub-community of TikTok got ahold of it.
“She saw the difference from playing at the beginning of the tour, when people, like, somewhat kind of heard this or looked it up, to by the end — I mean, it was like the whole place was going crazy,” Webb said. “So November was really the tipping point, and it was 100% the sign language community.”
The user-generated content push was all that was needed for Gayle’s song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart for 11 weeks.
There are many strategies to try and get a song to explode on TikTok; however, the success seems to be organic when it happens.
“I mean, there’s a million examples of a lot of very expensive campaigns that had no return,” she said. “Like, we can’t do it. It has to come from fans or the artist because you’re talking to Gen Z. They smell everything out.”
The support of fans can be unpredictable. Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” was released 25 years ago; however, after lip-syncing the most dramatic part of the song became a viral TikTok trend earlier this year, it set one-day streaming records on Spotify and YouTube.
Another example is the song “Snowman” by Sia. The song was released in 2017, but the challenge didn’t happen until 2020. The catch was to try and sing the entire chorus in one breath.
Initially, the music industry scouted new taled and developed it, but that is no longer the case, Analyst Tatiana Cirisano said.
“I think that we are increasingly in an era where audiences are choosing what they want to hear, and record labels and the rest of the music industry are sort of listening to that,” she said.
Some artists feel that they have to constantly produce content or be “on,” which could result in creator burnout.
“There’s kind of this fear, I think, for people that have built huge followings on TikTok that if they stop at any point, people will just stop following them, or they’ll forget, or they’ll move on,” Cirisano said.
“At times, people’s attention spans are shorter, and just the content trend doesn’t stop.”
A 21-year-old independent music artist/content creator from Dallas, Texas named Damoyee is a composer, producer, singer, songwriter, and she plays a lot of instruments.
She uploads many covers and remixes of other songs that are usually trending, and the work is tedious. It takes about 6 hours for her to create a minute-long TikTok.
“I know starting out, it took me a little less than a week to get 100 followers,” she said. “And I remember, like, seeing one-zero-zero, I freaked out. I thought, hey, I’m famous, you know? I was grateful,” Damoyee says with a laugh.
Sometimes the videos are a success, and other times they are not. Damoyee said she generally feels TikTok helps boost musicians like her.
The creative star works to balance her personal and professional life as she builds her social media following.
“It’s definitely been a bit of a challenge, and it has taken a toll, you know, especially on my mental health,” she says. “I’ve gone, at the latest … a month without posting because I just needed to breathe.”
“I will say, for now, the goal is to thrive as an independent artist without looking at any labels at the moment and to still build a platform to the point where I would feel comfortable releasing music alone,” she said.
Subsequently, she hopes to find the perfect balance between music and social media, and when she does, she hopes the music industry will reach out to her first.