TikTok’s impact on the music industry – is it good or bad?

Image source: Pexels / Cottonbro

In the years since TikTok launched internationally in 2017, it has solidified itself as the biggest social media platform among Gen Z – a status that has undoubtedly been accelerated by months and months. young people locked in their homes with little to do other than scroll through the app amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The app has become beloved by Gen Z and Millennial music fans for its unique ability to expose us to new artists and grow musicians’ platforms in a way that’s both authentic and trendy – or, at least, that’s how it all started.

As more artists’ songs explode onto the app, some TikTok users have grown skeptical about “viral hits” and, more specifically, how the mainstream music industry can influence the music corner of TikTok. As a growing number of artists picked up by major labels flood the app, fans have felt that the so-called “viral hits” seem to be more calculated and inauthentic – the opposite of what TikTok users once loved about the app.

In July 2021, singer Gayle asked her followers for songwriting ideas, and an account named @Nancy_Berman requested a breakup song using the alphabet. The musician responded with an acoustic version of “abcdefu”, the clip quickly went viral and the song was officially released by Atlantic Records weeks later. Gayle’s “abcdefu” would eventually reach No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. The US charts, a shining beacon of the power of TikTok music. Fans would attribute its smash hit to the TikTok community and Gayle’s on-the-fly songwriting skills, but the novelty surrounding the song and its origin story quickly faded.


The answer to @nancy_berman is definitely not based on personal experience… #orginalsong #newmusic #plslikethisaccount #hastagsworkapparently #acoustic

♬ abcdefu – GAYLE

In January 2022, Daniel Wall claimed in a TikTok that fans were “lied” about the song and that the comment requesting the song was made by an Atlantic Records marketing executive – not a fan. Gayle’s supporters suddenly had to question the authenticity of “abcdefu’s” hit. Was the song really written on the fly, inspired by a TikTok comment? Or did some brilliant marketer just set up an elaborate TikTok campaign around a song Gayle had already written and her label had already chosen as her next single?

Atlantic Records says it wasn’t a stunt, telling Newsweek that although the comment was left by Berman, “it was just a playful comment because she and GAYLE knew the song was about to drop, with the track and video already recorded.” (However, they didn’t make that clear to Gayle’s followers in their interaction with TikTok.) They also say the song didn’t go viral because of Gayle’s original acoustic TikTok, telling Newsweek that he Actually took off in November 2021, months after Gayle’s TikTok debut, because of a viral video of the song being translated into American Sign Language. Fans had apparently made up their mind, however, with most of the main comments on Gayle’s original TikTok calling it a “setup” and grudgingly acknowledging how brilliant her label’s marketing strategy was. This is just one example of record labels apparently using TikTok in a way that users find insincere – but it shows how distrustful users are of the music industry and its so-called ‘factories’ , especially on an app they like because of its genuine content appearance.

The approach of many well-known musicians towards the app only adds fuel to the fire. On May 22, Halsey posted a video claiming that their record label wouldn’t let them release their song “So Good” unless they faked a viral moment on TikTok, despite having been in the industry for eight. years and sold more than 165 million records. “They say if they don’t hit some imaginary goal of views or virality, they won’t give me a release date at all,” they said. tweeted. Many followers wondered if this was another meta-marketing tactic pitting Halsey against her record label (especially considering the video – which eventually went viral – actually featured the unreleased song Halsey a said his label was holding back). Two of the top comments under the original video read, “I love it, but how do we know it’s not reverse psychology?” and, “That has to be my least favorite marketing lie.”


I’m tired

♬ original sound – Halsey

Meanwhile, FKA Twigs posted a TikTok share that she got “scolded” for not trying hard enough on TikTok. Charli XCX made a reaction video when her label asked her to do her “8th TikTok of the week” (although she later admitted she was “lying for fun”). Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine also recently posted a TikTok claiming that her label is “begging” her for lo-fi TikToks, adding, “please send help.” Macklemore added to the conversation on Instagram, sharing that after so much change in the music industry, he and his team have “spent dinners talking about algorithms, how to create content, consistency, likes , views and readings”, and that, “spiritually, I felt the negative effects.” He went on to share that fear plagues the music industry and that he sees his peers under pressure from their labels – but that he believes there is “always an appetite for the art”.

And it’s true that there is an appetite for art. The advantages of TikTok for small artists looking for a big break are obvious. This allowed musicians to grow their fan base on their own, even if they didn’t have a major record company, making stardom literally accessible from the musician’s bedroom. TikTok user Jawsh 685’s “Laxed-Siren Beat” has gone viral, prompting Jason Derulo and BTS to collaborate on a remix of the sound. Ultimately, the little-known producer gained over 250,000 subscribers on the app and ended up with a Billboard No. 1 single.

But even those who find incredible success on the app understand its risks and drawbacks. Singer Gabi Sklar, who grew from 30,000 TikTok subscribers to more than 800,000 over a three-month period in 2022, asked many record labels to contact almost the same email asking to make an appointment with her – but only after growing up. from videos of her singing in her laundry room. She tells POPSUGAR, “We live in a time where a 30-second video can reach over three million people in just 24 hours…it’s amazing, life-changing and terrifying.” For Sklar, that means being able to grow a real following, saying, “It’s allowed independent artists to have their moment.” But at the same time, she understands that the “major concern” is that “analytics becomes the driving force, not the art.” Now Sklar is still negotiating a record deal that works for her as she continues to expand her online presence, acknowledging both the opportunities her TikTok has given her and the flaws it has. .

One of those flaws is that record labels seem to be using the platform not only to market their current artists, but also to find new ones without having to do the same level of work as before. By using TikTok, they can easily find musicians who already have a massive following on social media. The TikTok artist’s established fanbase mitigates the need to hand out big marketing budgets to get them on the radar of a large audience, because they’re effectively doing it themselves. It’s similar to the ongoing conversation around models being hired for their Instagram following. Such an emphasis on “getting a following” and “going viral” not only takes away from other artists, but it also feels too contrived for an app that attracts is its “homemade” approach.

Apparently relying on an algorithm, especially one notoriously unpredictable, to find and market talent is a calculated process that lacks creativity. It sells off already successful artists in the short term, pushing them to buy into an algorithm they never needed approval for before TikTok (and don’t necessarily need to pursue success). Meanwhile, record labels are jumping on the bandwagon of viral one-off creators regardless of whether the artist actually has a chance of longevity in the industry. It’s a lazy, reactive approach that shows industry leaders who sign who they see as “the moment” instead of creating moments and pushing their already successful artists to go “viral”, that they want it or not (and if it’s even possible). As we already see, this probably drives artists away from their labels.

Ultimately, relying so much on TikTok is a losing strategy for major labels, whose artists have been losing streamers to independent artists on Spotify since 2017. a song distribution platform in March and released deals for “A&R Manager” positions. So while isolating artists by making them beholden to a TikTok algorithm is detrimental to major label artists and the labels themselves, it’s clearly good for TikTok as a music platform (and competitor).

Maybe once labels realize they can’t replicate what users love about TikTok, they’ll slow down their viral hunting approach and spend more time researching and nurturing undiscovered talent. If they can’t stop relying on TikTok, hopefully they can at least find smarter ways to hide their love of the algorithm from its intuitive users.

Alice P. Darby