How TikTok Is Shaking up the Music Industry

Photo Credit to Getty Images Article by Kayla Bride

The short-form video-sharing platform TikTok was released globally less than two years

ago, but it has already become one of the most popular apps in the world. Sensor

Tower , a company that specializes in market intelligence and insights for mobile apps,

estimates that TikTok has now surpassed two billion app downloads. 

TikTok’s immense user base presents both established and aspiring musicians with a

tremendous opportunity to reach new audiences. Music is a core part of TikTok’s DNA -

TikTok has a feature that allows content creators to easily add music clips to their

videos, and the app has become well-known for its viral challenges where users

perform choreographed routines set to music. TikTok has reached various licensing

agreements with record labels to distribute royalties when songs are used on the app,

but the cross-platform effects of having a song featured in viral TikTok videos can prove

to be much more lucrative for artists. The app has become a remarkable vehicle for

increasing plays on music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. Users hear

a song they like on TikTok and then stream or buy that song wherever they typically

listen to music; Apple Music and Spotify even have playlists dedicated to songs that are

trending on TikTok. TikTok-trending songs sometimes experience such exponential

growth in popularity that they make it all the way onto Top 40 radio and the Billboard Hot

100. Recently, a dance challenge called the “Toosie Slide” ran rampant on TikTok,

helping Drake’s track of the same name debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Lil Nas X’s 2019 smash hit featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road,” provides

another case study on the enormous impact TikTok can have on music industry

success. Lil Nas X, who at the time was an unsigned, aspiring rapper, posted “Old Town

Road” on TikTok, and the country-trap anthem inspired a trend in which users suddenly

transformed into cowboys and cowgirls after the song’s base drop. Millions of TikTok

users uploaded their creations set to “Old Town Road,” and the full-length version of the

song began racking up streams. Mere weeks after posting his song on TikTok, Lil Nas X

was signed to Columbia Records and “Old Town Road” continued to rise up the charts.

The song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for 17 weeks,

becoming the longest-running number one single in Billboard’s history.  

Lil Nas X’s runaway success proved that TikTok is capable of generating incredible

exposure for unknown artists, but many music industry executives are still wary of

TikTok’s ability to launch sustainable careers. Jeff Vaughn, VP of A&R at Artist Partner

Group, told Rolling Stone , “The jury is out on whether this launches actual artists. I’m

curious to see if there’s anyone that cuts through and sustains. [TikTok] moves songs so

fast that it can be difficult to put any foundation underneath the act if there wasn’t one

there before.” TikTok can be an effective way for fledgling artists to get their name on

the map, but once they strike TikTok-gold, it’s up to them to cultivate a fan base that will

follow them even after their top TikTok hit is overshadowed by someone else’s. Only time will tell if TikTok becomes known as a legitimate source of new superstars for the

music industry, or is synonymous with a string of one-hit wonders.

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