Three years and four months after shaking up the music scene with ‘El mal Quiero’, on March 18 Rosalía presented ‘Motomami’, her creative metamorphosis. However, she did not do it from a stage, much less from television, but with a performance in vertical format, that of the screen of her account on TikTok. This brief anecdote serves to illustrate something that is a trend, not an anomaly: fashion artists promote themselves on the fashion social network. And that is transforming the music industry.
Like other artistic disciplines, music has not been immune to the emergence of platforms in an increasingly digital world. If Spotify has altered the way songs are produced, TikTok has opened up a huge window of prescription and marketing. With more than 1,000 million active users around the world per month, many of them young, the video social network has become such a huge musical catalyst that record companies and artists have not been able to look the other way and have launched to seduce that public. Last year, 430 songs exceeded one billion views as sounds on the platform, three times more than in 2020. Thus, hitting it on TikTok is already synonymous with being on the list of most listened to songs.
From ‘lip-sync’ to choreography, TikTok’s brief and brilliant history has been marked from day one by music. Unlike other platforms, the social phenomenon owned by China’s ByteDance uses an algorithm that exponentially amplifies the content that manages to keep users hooked for the longest time, something that rewards the originality of its creator, not its popularity. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a following, if the content is good it can take off,” explains Paul Hourican, Head of Music for Europe and the UK at TikTok.
In addition to giving birth to new stars, that formula has resurrected old songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. In October 2020, the historic rock band saw one of its great works enter the list of the 100 most listened to songs for the first time. time since its publication in 1977, 43 years earlier. The revival of the song, which recorded 8.47 million views in a week on Spotify, did not respond to a detailed marketing strategy launched by a record company, but to the originality of Nathan Apodaca, a warehouse worker from Idaho who decided to record himself skating and drinking juice with the melody in the background. His 23-second video became a global phenomenon on TikTok, amassing 494 million views in just two weeks.
TikTok has established itself as a commercial window. 80% of its users use it to discover new songs, according to a study by the company itself. This musical interest has attracted artists and labels that use the immense reach of the ‘app’ and the closeness and interaction it allows with fans to create trends and generate community. From doing duets with Pablo Alborán to the live presentation of Justin Bieber’s new album. That allows them to drag fans to physical concerts or streaming platforms like Spotify, where their main economic business is. The same report indicates that 67% of users are likely to search for the songs they discover on these platforms.
Incubator of ‘hits’
As well as being a vehicle for making money, TikTok is also an artistic laboratory, an incubator for hit topics. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” is a paradigmatic forerunner of that strategy. In 2018, the rapper published a video dancing to the song that became viral, inspiring a choreography that was repeated by thousands of users around the world. The tune was number one on the Most Streamed Songs chart for a record 17 weeks in a row. Lil Nas X signed a contract with Columbia Records, won two Grammys and became a global star.
From The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” to Lizzo’s “About Them Time,” the use of choreographic challenges has served artists to engage fans in promoting songs to the point of holding them accountable for part of their success. By creating and replicating content, followers act as pollinating bees that multiply the reach of their favorite artists. “The power of TikTok is that our community actively turns and engages with songs or sounds, creating and sharing their own content,” adds Hourican.
Aware of this, record companies have polished their strategies. There are those, like the singer Jason Derulo, who have used and remixed sounds already popular on TikTok to launch musical products that are guaranteed success. Others share only fragments of their songs on the platform before publication to create expectation and for fans to be responsible for popularizing it. Rosalía has done it with “Hentai” or the rapper Jack Harlow, whose popularity on TikTok has allowed his songs to climb the most listened to lists. There are labels that even pay to boost viral videos of fans talking about their portfolio artists. “The music industry is becoming a more reactive than active business, part of the promotional campaign is delivered to the fans, who are in charge of doing what creative directors used to do,” explains Miquel Castany, strategy consultant at TikTok .
Turned into a promotional obligation, this successful strategy is raising tensions between creators of the stature of Halsey, Charli XCX, Florence and the Machine or FKA Twigs, who have recently shared videos complaining that record companies force them to be more present on the platform. . However, there are not a few who see in this protest a new emotional maneuver to amplify its contents.
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TikTok, the network that is transforming the music industry