TikTok Trending: What does it mean for the artist?
Is TikTok governing the popularity of a song? Lucy Egan asks what does that mean for the artist and the music industry at large?
It’s no secret that TikTok is the next biggest social media platform. With millions of users, TikTok has provided a fun and interactive format for users to post and view short videos around the world. Music is a crucial part of TikTok; most videos require a backing track or sounds to attract viewers. Videos can be grouped by audio, hashtags, content and page. Sounds go viral on TikTok frequently, dictated by trends and the popularity of the masses.
Most recently, several artists such as Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Florence (from Florence + the Machine) have come forward to protest against the expectations of their record companies to produce content based on their music. Halsey addresses the camera claiming that their record company is holding a new song they want to release hostage until “…unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok” despite being “…in an industry for 8 years and have sold 165 million records.”
what tiktok has done to the music industry is upsetting like… pic.twitter.com/bSJ0EIVfv1
— allure (@alluregaga2) May 22, 2022
Florence Welch has also mentioned the pressure by her recording company to create TikTok videos “begging” her to curate “lo-fi vibe”. In a Triple J Hack podcast, announcer Lucy Smith discusses disconnection between artists like Florence who are “notoriously offline”, adding to her mysterious allure as opposed to the ‘slice of life’ content that TikTok is famous for. Part of the appeal of TikTok is the readymade nature of the content- users can film themselves at home with very little equipment and preparation. This accessibility makes followers feel as though the artist is addressing them, creating an atmosphere of intimacy previously reserved for friends and family.
FKA Twigs has also spoken about coming under fire from her record label “for not making enough effort” with social media content in a, now deleted, TikTok duet. Doja Cat has been seen talking about her label signing her on to do commercials for Taco Bell. Charlie XCX and Maggie Rogers have also spoken out about the pressure as an artist to create TikTok content; and not just one, but several a day to adequately engage the algorithm. The responsibility seems to fall to the artist to not only, record their own music, but also film and promote content on social media, particularly TikTok. Whereas in the past, artists have had whole teams dedicated to marketing and promotion, the combination of Covid-19 isolation and increase in social media use, means that the artist has also become subject to being part of curating their own brand and internet persona.
On the flip side, artists like Peach PRC, MAY-A and Lil Nas X have launched their careers through TikTok and created unique, loyal fanbases. Songs that were released years, decades ago, are having their moment in the sun again. Indie songs by little-known artists are blowing up and becoming more mainstream. New singles released by pop legends are clamoured over and utilised by the every person to create new content and engage users with similar interests and tastes. Streaming services like Spotify is creating new playlists called “Viral Hits” and “big on the internet.”
But what does this pressure to create content for artists to be valued and invested in by their record companies say about the music industry as a whole? Industries are always changing and subject to the whims of the consumer, the music industry being no different. Record companies are responding to the needs and wants of the consumer, and consumers want access to their favourite artists and their lives. TikTok offers a cost-effective and person-centric window into an artist’s life and mind.
For some artists, it acts as a confessional, a space where they can create non-serious content and connect with fans more personally. But for some artists, it is less a place of creative freedom and more a marketing ploy to give the people what they want at the cost of the artist’s privacy and guarantee record sales. There are also cynical suggestions that some of these cries for help from artists are merely a meta-marketing gimmick to attract views and generate publicity around the singer.
Algorithms dictate who has access to what content and interfaces like Tiktok’s FYP (For You Page) selects videos based on user engagement and location; also influences who is exposed to different accounts and content creators. Musicians are being encouraged to put out music that can be chopped into shorter parts to be more user-friendly for formats like TikTok, and singles are becoming a way for record companies to gauge interest in an artist before investing in a full album.
What do you think? Is TikTok changing the face of music as we know it?
To read more on this topic head to Dazed, Vice, or listen to Triple J’s Hack discussion of musicians and Tiktok, (available on all major podcast platforms).
Featured Image by Phoebe Metcalfe, Yak Media Designer