TikTokhas 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
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.
"TikTok has really become a critical part of artist storytelling," Kristen Bender, SVP of digital strategy and business development at Universal Music Group, told Insider during a webinar on TikTok's impact on the music industry. "Our labels have been extremely leaned into the platform."
For some, the hyper-focus on TikTok can be draining. Artists like Halsey and Charli XCX have recently posted videos expressing frustration at being asked to make TikToks by their labels. One performer, the artist Taylor Upsahl, told Insider it can be "really stressful" to be expected to balance social promotion with touring and writing and recording new music.
But 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 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.
Paying creators to promote songs on TikTok
Song promo deals between music marketers and
"Music marketing on TikTok is huge," Jesse Callahan, founder of the upstart marketing firm Montford Agency, told Insider. "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."
Hiring micro influencers for song campaigns
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, told Insider. "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."
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 Insider.
"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 Insider.
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.
"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 Insider. "With challenges, there's a way to actually start the fire."
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 marketing at Legacy Recordings, a division within Sony Music focused on the label's catalog of songs dating back decades. "We're constantly monitoring actions, reactions, and trends that happen on TikTok."
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 Insider.
Writing songs specifically for TikTok
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) built a following of 4.2 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 Insider. "I kept doing these memes because I saw that it worked."
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 Insider. "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?'"
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. Led by former Warner Music digital chief Ole Obermann, the company's music team handles artist and record label relations, licensing deals, and newer products such as SoundOn and Resso.
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.
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 Insider. "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."
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.