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How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Gia Woods performs at the "Thrive With Pride" concert hosted by LA Pride and TikTok on June 10, 2021.Rich Fury/Getty Images for LA Pride.
Here's how TikTok is changing and transforming the music industry. We've been tracking TikTok's ascent from social-medi...
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How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs

Here's how TikTok is changing and transforming the music industry. We've been tracking TikTok's ascent from social-medi...
  • TikTok has become a go-to platform for discovering new music.
  • Record labels, music marketers, artists, and other creators are all flooding the app with songs.

TikTok is an essential promotional tool for music artists and record labels.

Songs can rise up organically on the app even if they've been outside the mainstream for decades. Marketers can also hire influencers to help a song take off, sparking a wave of user-generated posts from their fans. And some artists even set up private listening sessions with TikTok influencers in the hope that it will help new songs gain steam on the app.

The company has a global team that works with artists and record labels, negotiates licensing deals with rights holders, and builds new ways for TikTok to convert its cultural influence into recurring revenue. It rolled out a "Hot 50" and "Viral" song charts feature in its app for some users, and partnered with Billboard in September to rank its most popular songs on the media site. In July, it rolled out a dedicated music-streaming service called TikTok Music in five countries. And in December, it organized its first live, in-person concert in Mesa, Arizona, featuring TikTok-famous artists like Cardi B, Charlie Puth, and Niall Horan.

Read Business Insider's dispatch from TikTok's first big live-music event, where the smartphone was the star, and brands like Paramount and Coca-Cola courted young fans

TikTok's music ambitions could end up ruffling feathers at the record labels, particularly as it breaks into overlapping business lines like artist services. For instance, the company has done direct deals with artists and courted SoundOn staffers to "identify, sign, and develop new artists"; to help "supervise the production of records and oversee all aspects of the recording process"; and to "design live show and merchandise strategies for artists globally."

Read more about how TikTok's push into artists services could end up 'pissing off' its music partners

TikTok can avoid tension with the industry by showing its partners how its various experiments in music will lead to paydays for all. Its ability to maintain close relationships with the major rights holders is critical as the parties negotiate licensing agreements.

"If they want to be a long-lasting platform, they need to kind of lock arms with artists in the music industry," Jonny Kaps, cofounder and CEO of the independent label +1 Records, told BI. "There's money to be made all over the place here if it's done in collaboration."

Read more about the 'complicated' and codependent relationship between TikTok and music rights holders

For artists, the hyper-focus on TikTok can be draining. Performers like Halsey and Charli XCX have posted videos expressing frustration at being asked to make TikToks by their labels. One performer, the artist Taylor Upsahl, told BI it can be "really stressful" to be expected to balance social promotion with touring and writing and recording new music.

How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Music artist Upsahl performs on November 02, 2021 in Tempe, Arizona.Steve Jennings/Getty Images.

TikTok's global head of music partnerships and programming told BI that the company's goal is to release products and services that make artists' lives easier.

"When we think about certain features like artist verification or certified artists, it is all in the spirit of just trying to make it easier for artists to understand their community on the platform and understand the best ways to grow it," TikTok exec Paul Hourican said. "We want to maximize the amount of time artists have to do what artists do and make it as easy for them as possible."

Read more about how TikTok is building products for artists to make it easier for them to promote work on the app

The industry's attention on TikTok isn't unfounded. Songs that trend on TikTok often end up charting on the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50. And 67% of the app's users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok, according to a November 2021 study conducted for TikTok by the music-analytics company MRC Data.

TikTok has become a hub for labels to promote both new releases and back catalog tracks. And a new cohort of social-media music marketers has sprung up to support promotional efforts on the app.

Check out BI's power list of the 23 music marketers, artists, digital creators, record labels, and other industry insiders who are using TikTok to help define popular music

"TikTok has really become a critical part of artist storytelling," Kristen Bender, SVP of digital innovation strategy and business development at Universal Music Group, told BI during a webinar on TikTok's impact on the music industry. "Our labels have been extremely leaned into the platform."

Watch a full replay of BI's webinar on TikTok's impact on the music industry, featuring execs from TikTok, Universal Music Group, and UnitedMasters

The blending of short-form video with music has spread well beyond TikTok onto other apps like Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram. YouTube's top music exec Lyor Cohen told GQ in November 2022 that short-form video is one of his biggest focuses when it comes to the company's music strategy.

"Every short-format platform's got music on it now," Ted Suh, global head of music partnerships at Snap Inc., told BI. "All this engagement on these types of services is really leading to the music industry finding incremental business value, whether it's leveraging this data to help them get radio play, or more spins on Pandora, to even kicking off national tours."

Read BI's list of 15 music innovators at TikTok, YouTube, and other platforms who are shaping the future of the industry on social media

How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Elissa Ayadi/Meta/SoundCloud/Roblox/Sydney Bradley/Getty.

Paying creators to promote songs on TikTok

Song promo deals between music marketers and influencers have become an important source of income for TikTok creators. Some users can earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single video where they promote an artist's track.

"Music marketing on TikTok is huge," Jesse Callahan, founder of the upstart marketing firm Montford Agency, told BI. "It's a big way that labels have brought artists into the spotlight the last couple of years. It's also a big way that creators have made a lot of money."

Read more about the different rates for song promos for TikTok creators who have a few hundred thousand followers or up to 10 millions fans

As TikTok's user base has grown and content has become more saturated, marketers are turning more to micro influencers over superstars for song campaigns.

"The price point for mega stars is extremely high," Zach Friedman, a cofounder at the upstart record label Homemade Projects, which was acquired by 10K Projects, told BI. "The way the TikTok algorithm works, it's hard to know what's going to be successful. Instead of paying a premium for a D'Amelio, you could pay a micro influencer $200 and their TikTok could get 10 million views. Because of this, it's better to cast a wider net."

Read more about why some marketers are choosing micro influencers to promote new tracks

Working with non-influencer accounts on song campaigns

While the strategy of hiring influencers to spark a music trend is tried-and-true, record labels also regularly pay general-interest accounts to put songs in the background of videos.

Working with a non-influencer account, like a creator who uploads close-up shots of slime or films a hydraulic press crushing random objects, can be an equally effective way to drive interest in a song, music marketers told BI.

"Using these accounts like the hydraulic press accounts are helpful with giving the song a chance to sort of work outwards first, and just kind of get in front of people and make the algorithm aware of it," Acrophase Records' founder Dan Asip told BI.

Read about why TikTok music marketers are turning to general-interest accounts to promote songs

Creating TikTok music challenges to spark user-generated videos

And some marketers are opening the door for social-media users who wouldn't traditionally be considered influencers to get paid to promote music.

Platforms like Pearpop and Preffy allow labels and artists to create user-generated video challenges that invite users with any size following to get paid on a sliding scale for participating in a song or artist campaign. TikTok has tested its own in-app challenges product as well.

"The initial way influencer marketing would work would be you would go and pay a few people with big followings, but it would be like throwing a few big logs onto a non-existent fire," Pearpop cofounder Cole Mason told BI. "With challenges, there's a way to actually start the fire."

Read more about how music marketers are using a new TikTok strategy to make song 'challenges' go viral

Augmented-reality effects can also help songs take off

In addition to creating music challenges and working with influencers and general-interest accounts, marketers are also building custom AR filters that feature a particular song in order to boost plays for that track in user-generated videos.

Unlike influencer campaigns centered on a dance challenge or comedy skit, adding AR effects to videos is a low lift way to get users to engage with a song, marketers told BI.

"There's not always a dance trend or a storyline that makes sense to seed with a song," said Johnny Cloherty, Songfluencer's CEO. "If you do come up with a cool AR filter, it's easier for the regular user to create a TikTok with than to create a dance."

Read more about how marketers are using AR effects to promote songs on TikTok and other apps

How record labels track performance on TikTok

Many record labels have teams dedicated to monitoring TikTok so they can help fan the flames on a trending song when it starts to take off.

"Our entire music catalog is effectively tracked on a daily basis," said Andy McGrath, the senior vice president of global catalog marketing at Sony Music focused on the label's older releases dating back decades. "We're constantly monitoring actions, reactions, and trends that happen on TikTok."

Read more about how Sony's marketing team jumps into action when an old song begins to trend

RCA Records' SVP of digital marketing Tarek Al-Hamdouni said the label relies on a series of signals like an increase in streams on Spotify or shifts in audience numbers on YouTube to track the efficacy of a TikTok song campaign.

"If I see that in the course of a week our audience [on YouTube] went from being primarily 25- to 34-year-old male and a week later the majority is 13-to-24 female, then that's a pretty easy bridge to connect between those two platforms," Al-Hamdouni told BI.

Read more about RCA Records' strategy for promoting songs on TikTok

Writing songs specifically for TikTok

How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Tiagz.John Arano/Epic Records.

While TikTok is often a go-to platform for promoting a newly released track, some artists incorporate the app even earlier in their creative process.

The Canadian rapper Tiagz (Tiago Garcia-Arenas) has grown a following of around 6.1 million fans on the app by writing songs that directly referenced the app's popular memes and trends, effectively gaming its search and content recommendation algorithms.

"I tried to understand the platform," Tiagz told BI. "I kept doing these memes because I saw that it worked."

Read more about how Tiagz used TikTok to land a record deal with Epic Records

Remixes and mashups

Remixes are wildly popular on TikTok. In 2023, the top four trending songs in the US on the app were all sped-up versions of tracks.

Whether sped up, slowed down, layered with a clap track, or mashed up with another track, songs are constantly being remixed on the app.

To tap into the trend, record labels and marketers are collaborating with remix and mashup artists as part of their song release strategies on TikTok. The tactic expands on what artists have long done to get their songs in front of a wider audience.

"Back in the day, you'd go get a bunch of club DJs to remix your records so that you could appeal to the drum-and-bass market, to the techno market, to the underground market," said Nima Nasseri, the A&R lead for UMG's music strategy and tactics team. "You want to be able to have your record get discovered in spaces that it normally wouldn't be discovered in."

Read more about the growing business behind TikTok song remixes, which are transforming the way music is discovered on the app

TikTok fatigue among artists is rising

Not all performers are thrilled about spending time on TikTok.

The app's grip on the music industry has led some artists to speak out about the pressure they feel to be content creators.

"TikTok has now become a whole other part of our job that takes up such a significant amount of time," performer Taylor Upsahl told BI. "As artists, we're all still in a transitional phase of like, 'Okay, cool, how do we find time and energy to now be essentially content creators and influencers?'"

Read more about how TikTok's influence on music is exhausting artists and marketers alike as the industry grapples with the pressure to go viral

Inside TikTok's internal music division

Not all song trends on TikTok happen serendipitously or via external music marketing campaigns.

TikTok also has an internal music division dedicated to monitoring music trends on the app. The company's music team handles artist and record label relations, licensing deals, and newer products such as SoundOn and Resso.

BI in 2022 mapped out the 25 music execs and staffers at TikTok and its parent company ByteDance who are driving the strategy

How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Ole Obermann.Rita Franca/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

TikTok's music operations team has a series of "promo levers" that it uses to boost the popularity of songs. The company can add new tracks to playlists in the "Sounds" section of its app and apply keywords on the back end to optimize song discoverability in the app's search interface.

TikTok's editorial team even overrode its own algorithm to boost views for Taylor Swift and Beyoncé when they first joined the platform.

Read more about how TikTok's music team shapes trends on the app

Hosting private listening parties with TikTok creators

Some artists and labels work with TikTok's team to host private listening sessions with creators in order to promote a song ahead of its release.

In the summer of 2020, as Miley Cyrus was preparing to release her single "Midnight Sky," her team partnered with TikTok to schedule two private Zoom calls with around 15 creators to give them an early listen to the track.

"These creators are needed in the process," Olivia Rudensky, founder and CEO of Fanmade, a marketing and fan engagement upstart that works on digital strategy with clients like Cyrus and Hailey Bieber, told BI. "They're just as important as all the relevant stops when you're doing promo or when you're going to tastemakers because they really are the audience that's making or breaking music right now."

How TikTok is changing the music industry and the way we discover new, popular songs
Miley Cyrus performs at Movistar Arena in Bogota, Colombia on March 21, 2022.Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images for MC.

Other artists like Khalid, Demi Lovato, and Marshmellow have joined similar events. Running a listening session with creators can help an artist's marketing team understand the types of videos or snippets of a song that might break through on TikTok.

Read more about TikTok's private listening sessions

A dedicated TikTok Music streaming app is born

In July, TikTok stepped deeper into the music business by launching its own dedicated music-streaming app, TikTok Music, in Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico, and Singapore.

ByteDance had already piloted an app called Resso in India, Brazil, and Indonesia for a few years. Swapping Resso for a TikTok-branded product could help the company better link its main app, known for song discovery, to a full audio-streaming subscription service.

BI tested TikTok Music in Singapore, where it launched in a closed beta, to learn more about how it works. Like TikTok, TikTok Music includes a "For You" feed of recommended content and a variety of social features that set it apart from incumbents like Spotify and Apple Music.

"We find in our consumer surveys that younger consumers are more interested in having a more social streaming experience," Tatiana Cirisano, a music-industry analyst and consultant at the research firm MIDiA Research, told BI. "Spotify is starting to offer more things in that vein, but I just see it as an opportunity that's ripe for TikTok's taking."

TikTok has yet to launch its dedicated music app in other markets like the US, though its owner filed a trademark application for the name in May 2022.

Read our full review of TikTok Music here

TikTok threw a live, in-person concert

In December, TikTok stepped deeper into the music business by throwing a live concert in Mesa, Arizona.

The event, which was also livestreamed on TikTok's app, sold around 17,000 in-person tickets and cumulatively drew in tens of millions of views via its livestream and replays, per the company.

Its first big push into live music served as a celebration for its partners and a way to highlight some of the up-and-coming artists that TikTok works with through its artist incubator program, Elevate.

Read more about the event, "TikTok In The Mix," here

How the radio industry is responding to TikTok's rise

For decades, the radio industry has had to adapt to shifts in how music is consumed, as platforms like MTV, Spotify, and YouTube have changed user habits.

With the arrival of TikTok, many radio stations and their talent have embraced short-form video as both a promotional tool and a resource for discovering new music.

"I wound up on TikTok because I was looking for another way to connect with the listeners of my show, [and] I was looking for a way to expand the listenership of my show," Jeffrey Ramsay, an on-air personality at iHeart's Denver, Colorado, station HITS 95.7, told BI.

Read more about how radio DJs are using TikTok to find new listeners as the app takes over music discovery

SiriusXM, which streams audio over satellite, digital, and via partnerships with auto manufacturers, took it one step further, launching a dedicated TikTok Radio channel in partnership with the short-video app.

"What we do at SiriusXM is very much a complement to some of the other experiences that are available with music digitally," Steve Blatter, the senior vice president and general manager of music programming at SiriusXM, told BI.

Read more about SiriusXM's TikTok Radio, a channel where creators are hosts and memes reach parents and Uber drivers