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How TikTok Is Dominating The Music World 15 Seconds At A Time
Music|Mar 29, 2022

How TikTok Is Dominating The Music World 15 Seconds At A Time

What Started As A Video App Is Proving To Be A Music Industry King And Queen Maker.
Paul Dalgarno

If the Bible of TikTok and the Music Industry is ever written, its Genesis chapter will feature American rapper Lil Nas X who, in 2019, aged 19, posted a genre-bending rap-country song to his SoundCloud and social media accounts. 

With rumoured production costs of US$30 for the drum track, Old Town Road has since become the most successful single of all time, sitting at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly five months and going 15 times platinum, not in small part because it was an early TikTok meme, adopted and re-used by millions of creators to use in their own videos. 

It’s not that TikTok – a video-sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance – set out to be a music industry king and queen maker but that’s what it has become, with an ever-growing role in minting global hits, launching new artists, foregrounding world music and plucking obscure performers from the shadowlands of the internet. Just five or so years into the app’s existence, its hit-making properties are still, in many instances, organic and unpredictable. 

Even the parents of many TikTok users (the lion’s share of whom are under 25) would have been unborn or infants when seventies rockers Fleetwood Mac recorded ‘Dreams’, and yet the song re-entered the charts in 2020 after the viral – and much copied – TikTok video of labourer Nathan Apodaca (aka 420doggface208) rolling down a highway on his longboard, drinking juice and lip-syncing to the 1977 hit. 

An ever-growing role in minting global hits, launching new artists and plucking obscure performers from the shadowlands of the internetMost TikTok challenges start with a song, some lip-syncing and/ or dancing, with those that go viral becoming trends. Alongside golden oldies, there are plenty of contemporary examples. Doja Cat’s 2020 song ‘Say So’ became a gigantic trend on TikTok and has since racked up more than 350 million YouTube views. Acts such as Olivia Rodrigo, Megan Thee Stallion and PoppHunna have also tasted the audience-exploding potential of being featured on the apps hallowed “for you” page. 

For obvious reasons, many eyes are now on the correlation between rhythm and algorithm. A study by MRC Data last year found 67% of TikTok users are more likely to listen to songs on streaming services after hearing them in 15-to-60-second snippets on the app – a music marketer’s dream, if only trends could be manipulated. Which, more and more, they can.  

TikTok has its own division for monitoring music trends on the app, and “promo levers” to boost the popularity of certain songs to make them more discoverable. Artists, marketers, record labels and influencers have likewise converged, with money changing hands in the hope that top influencers (or, more commonly, a diverse spread of cheaper “micro” influencers) will use a song in a way that will help shoot it into the stratosphere. 

Dedicated agencies are now on hand to assist artists and labels with music promotions, and TikTok-focused consultants can even be hired to advise on creating music that will thrive on the app. 

Just remember, when the charts are dominated by tracks that last between  15 and 60 seconds, it started here.