TikTok is the application of the year — especially because we’re all bored at home. What started out as Musical.ly has now become a platform for funny videos, DIY tutorials, dances and most notably, space for creators to go instantaneously viral.
This is especially true when it comes to music, with artists popping up on charts out of thin air, or even bigger artists like Jason Derulo and Miley Cyrus using the platform to promote their current music to a new audience.
But what makes TikTok unique in launching musicians’ careers in particular? Let’s start with the infamous, and all-knowing, algorithm. We all put our blind trust in the algorithm, at least when it comes to showing us content we like.
But how does that work for creators on the other end who are trying to make it big? Audios are essential to the app and so, just by a creator using their song as the background audio to a funny video or a video of them promoting music, they're likely to get a few saves and even duets or extra videos using their song in the background. It’s like instant virality — that is, if enough people see your original video.
Even though the algorithm is messy and mysterious, the game of chance has worked out for thousands of musicians on the app. Some artists I love are EASHA, neiori and Payday. All of them were focused on putting their music out on TikTok but sort of became accidentally viral after likes and shares piled in on videos they posted sharing their music.
EASHA’s song “Dying is a Beautiful Thing to Do” took off on TikTok and has since landed her on the radio. She is also well on her way to creating more viral music.
TikTok also heavily influences who tops the charts by making remixes and trends out of songs. This goes for new and already popular artists. I think we all remember the iconic TikTok of Cyrus singing “Heart Of Glass” that eventually pushed her to release the cover on all streaming platforms. Remixes of “Good Days” by SZA hyped up the song months before release was even on the table.
Due to how curated TikTok is, once a creator is on the right audience for your page, their music will be attached to a certain trend or aesthetic (see: indie girl TikTok).
Yet TikTok isn’t just a one-way ticket to fame. The waiting game has proven to be much longer for person-of-color (POC) musicians starting their careers. Due to TikTok’s built-in duet, stitch and audio usage, it can be difficult to trace back the origins of a song or idea.
If a creator’s song is roped into a remix or playing in the back of a dance video that happens to go viral, they don’t get nearly enough of the recognition they deserve. We see this happening disproportionately to POC creators, particularly Black women. It’s annoying to say it, but it depends on who lands on your for you page and if you, as a user, go out of your way to support the artists you’re seeing.
At the end of the day, TikTok songs and trends are short-lived, with multiple songs going viral each month and then dying down once again. There’s a much larger conversation to be had on if TikTok trends and popular music are even an indicator of good music or if the songs that go viral are just catchy enough to be used by a larger audience.
I think that’s where my biggest disconnect with TikTok and music comes from. Although I’ve discovered great artists from the videos I see, I don’t see that particularly reflected in the biggest trends on the app because I’m living in my own niche just like everyone else.
The biggest change now, with TikTok songs being played on the radio and recognized by bigger music industry professionals, is that the app is just a new pool of songs to pick from. It doesn’t necessarily indicate good or bad music like we may hope it to.
And so I’d advise anyone looking to expand their music taste, or starting a music career of their own, to keep the algorithm in mind and know your niche isn’t the only one out there!