How TikTok is shaking up the entertainment business and changing power dynamics, according to dozens of authors, comedians, dancers, music-industry professionals, and more
- TikTok has become a de facto audition stage for musicians, dancers, comedians, and even authors.
- Choreographers, A&R leads at record labels, and comedy scouts use the app to find new talent.
This story is part of a series examining TikTok's influence on the entertainment business. Welcome to the era of CultureTok.
TikTok is a titan in the entertainment industry.
Its powerful recommendation algorithm and quick-bite videos have shifted viewing habits across media, making it a real competitor for attention time to incumbents like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify.
Publishing houses and book retailers have embraced BookTok as a powerful tool for promoting authors' work. Music marketers have similarly leaned into the app as a way to push songs into the mainstream.
The platform has become a launching-off point for undiscovered creatives in music, dance, comedy, and writing — a de facto global talent show for dancers and musicians, as Broadway choreographers, record-label A&R specialists, and more scour the app for untapped talent.
Dancers are among the artists benefiting the most from TikTok. Some have used the app to get noticed by casting agents. Professional dance companies like the American Ballet Theatre have turned to TikTok as a branding and recruitment tool, too.
"This app is a gold mine for artists like me who are still looking for their big break," said Neha Dharmapuram, a TikTok creator and dancer who used the app to score an audition for the Broadway-bound musical, "Come Fall In Love — The DDLJ Musical."
The company's cultural cachet in entertainment, particularly among young people, has sparked concerns among US state and federal politicians that the app, which is owned by the China-based company ByteDance, could be used as a propaganda tool by the Chinese Communist Party.
In addition to butting heads with Washington, the company's relationship with the entertainment industry isn't all sunshine and daisies. It's developed a "frenemies" relationship with record labels as it begins to encroach on their territory by offering services directly to artists.
"TikTok has to find that balance with not pissing off the major labels," a music marketer told Insider.
Some music artists have also expressed TikTok fatigue, as the need to balance content creation with their standard work of recording songs and touring has become "exhausting."
Still, the app is essentially unskippable for up-and-coming performers looking to launch their careers.
"It's the most important thing that's happened in the music industry in a long time," Jonny Kaps, cofounder and CEO of the independent label +1 Records, told Insider. "It just allows us to build a new artist audience in a way that we've never really been able to do before."
In the comedy world, TikTok has offered a resource for comedians to pay their bills through brand deals and other paid opportunities, while using the app to build a recognizable brand.
Laughs on TikTok can translate into business opportunities elsewhere, be that on the stand-up stage or the SNL writers' room.
"TikTok has opened the world to a whole new type of comic because before, everything was controlled by gatekeepers," Zarna Garg, a TikTok comedian with around 700,000 followers, told Insider. "A 48-year-old woman like me wouldn't have been able to get past them, but now the people in charge take one look at my following and give me a shot."
Read more to learn how 20 comedians and entertainment insiders think about TikTok's influence over comedy
Book authors and their publishers have also turned to the platform for marketing, using TikTok to promote old and new books and drive real sales.
Some authors have even begun to feel pressure to include TikTok-friendly "tropes" in their stories as a way to boost attention on their work.
Launching a writing career via the app is real if an author can get enough attention on their videos, writers told Insider. Author Alex Aster used TikTok to post about her book idea and ultimately scored a publishing deal that ended up being worth $460,000.
"That's the power of TikTok," she told Insider. "People find out about my book every week, word of mouth is so powerful … It changed my entire life, it changed my career."
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