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TikTok - Has it helped or hindered the music industry?

TikTok has become an essential tool for artists to promote their music and grow their following, and the capabilities the platform possesses are endless as users can instantly reach a worldwide audience and gain a viral track, simply a click of a button away. 

But the invaluable exposure the platform can potentially offer is overshadowed by the drawbacks it has as the users endlessly scrolling through TikTok are often disillusioned by what negatively goes on beyond their phone screen. 

TikTok empowers, supports and catalyses the careers of the next generation of artists and champions their work whilst also breathing new life into classic anthems. It's an essential tool in the arsenal for artists, as the possibilities are endless when you have an app as powerful for music promotion as TikTok, especially when it boasts 1.7 billion users. 

From TikTok’s year in review regarding music, 10 of the 12 UK Official Singles Chart number one had a viral moment on TikTok, making it paramount to driving commercial success within the industry. 

TikTok additionally holds emerging artists on a pedestal to bolster their profile among listeners, it's Breakthrough Artist category champions artists who have broken into the mainstream through the help of viral trends and unwavering fan connections. Artists this year include 2022 Eurovision finalist Sam Ryder, who has garnered an overwhelming amount of support, including a live session with TikTok after performing covers in his mum's kitchen a little over a year before he hit the mainstream and has since become the most followed British musician on the social media platform. 

Elsewhere, Venbee’s first-ever track ‘Low Down’ hit 1.6 million views, and Nicky Youre had the most popular song by video creations in the UK with ‘Sunroof’, both have consequently signed with Columbia Records. 

The two-time Grammy-winning Indie-Rock group, Wet Leg, were included on TikTok's Breakthrough Artists list and used the platform to springboard their career. Speaking about the impact TikTok has had on their tenure, the band said: “TikTok has definitely had a significant impact on our music journey so far. 

“The platform has allowed us to reach a wider audience and find people who wouldn’t have otherwise come across and connected with our music. 

“We’ve noticed a stronger presence of young female fans at our shows who say that they discovered our music on TikTok.

“It’s been so meaningful to have gained a strong audience of young women who can fully relate to our music.” 

Whilst TikTok has the power and capabilities to champion emerging sounds and artists, the platform is also extremely effective in reintroducing its users to timeless classics. Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ was the sixth most popular track on TikTok in the UK in 2022, after being thrown back into the spotlight following its inclusion in Stranger Things. However, with the recent influx of 5 billion views for the 80s’ banger, according to Music Business Worldwide, Bush didn’t make a single penny from TikTok. 

The divides in royalties have been a frequently debated topic in the industry as artists believe they don’t receive a big enough share of royalties - the counter-argument - TikTok’s power to raise a profile and turn a song into a worldwide sensation is payment enough. 

In fact, in 2021, TikTok made a total of $4.697 billion and paid a total of 14% of its revenue to the record industry, which equates to $220 million. 

Peleton - yes the bike company - according to Goldman Sachs contributed more to the industry with 17%, or $267 million of their revenue. 

So clearly there’s an underlying issue here. 

Well, TikTok’s stance has, and quite possibly always will be, is that they’re creating unprecedented exposure for only a small segment of the songs used and providing streaming spikes for songs on other platforms which offer higher royalties. Currently, on average, TikTok pays royalties based on the number of videos that use your music, which stands at three cents per video - which would take 1,000 videos to make $30. 

It’s essential that your publisher has a licensing deal in place with the Chinese app to ensure that your royalties are collected, otherwise, you could see a similar scenario to Kate Bush. 

Steps have been taken to resolve these disputes as TikTok recently announced that licensing deals have been agreed with major labels: Sony, Warner Music and Universal Music Group. 

It could finally see royalties rightfully paid out through a consistent stream of money to the music creators for having their tracks on the app. 

The agreement allows creators to freely use Warner Music Group music on their videos without needing a license, and it could set a precedent for other major labels to follow suit.

Their new venture is TikTok Music, which seems similar to competitors Spotify or Apple Music, here users can use their new streaming platform to listen to their favourite TikTok tracks, discover new artists and engage with unique community features. The service has already been rolled out in Indonesia and Brazil with the recent additions of Australia, Mexico and Singapore, the only exception being the absence of the world’s largest music right holder, Universal Music Group, in the last 3 countries TikTok Music is now available in. 

Royalties aside, the traditional route to making it commercially successful in the industry has been completely flipped on its head as it has become incredibly feasible for unknown artists to gain stardom. 

With users endless scrolling for an average of 95 minutes a day, the potential they’ll, at some point, stumble across one of your videos is beyond fathomable. 

But fathomable is exactly what it was for some of the biggest success stories coming from TikTok, including Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X, whose early promotion has propelled the pair to become globally renowned musicians. 

At the time, the unknown rapper Lil Nas X released his standout track ‘Old Town Road’ on the platform, with its viral success, ‘Old Town Road’ had the longest run at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, nailing down the position for 17 consecutive weeks. 

When starting, Olivia Rodrigo was only known for Disney, not music. 

Her debut single ‘Drivers License’ got thrown into TikTok’s circulation and got thrown out as one of the best-selling songs of 2021, which was followed up by her chart-topping singles ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Good 4 U’, which has earned the artist three Grammy Awards. TikTok has become incredibly self-aware about its prominence in the cultural sector and music industry when boosting artist profiles, with Paul Hourican, Global Head of Music Operations saying: “Our community embraces and engages with music like no other, putting their own spin on sounds and breathing new life into old hits. 

“These dedicated music fans, the artists and music creators and the sheer breadth and diversity of music is what we love about TikTok.” 

Their influence has extended beyond the platform and has partnered with the Eurovision Song Contest and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two consecutive years. The ‘Virtual Stage’ allows creatives to reach wider audiences than what could ever have been experienced at the Fringe, the platform produced round-ups of both events to highlight that you don’t have to physically be at the event to participate.

The traffic that Eurovision alone generates for the app is unprecedented as it recorded a 40% increase from the 2022 viewings, as last year sat at 315 million video views solely on the Eurovision account. 

Its powers and influence within the industry are vital in adapting the music landscape regardless of their event partnerships, but equally spanning to user collaborations. Formerly, users are using the core purpose of the app - dancing and remixing popular songs and gaining notoriety by going viral across the platform. 

Engagement on the app is highest among Micro-Influencers on TikTok across any other social media platform, sitting at 17.96% compared to Instagram in second at 3.86%. Whilst it’s great to get involved with the crazes, the music market then gets flooded and saturated with songs specifically designed to get hits on the app. 

Tracks like Drake’s ‘Toosie Slide’ were created for a TikTok dance collaboration, and Leah Kate’s ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ has profited from the nursery rhyme to create a relatable track designed to blow up on TikTok. 

Savvy? Absolutely. But it does lead to an unsavoury music industry. 

Whilst the positives can be glaringly obvious, the drawbacks to the platform are blinding. Gaining new audiences to consume your music by numbers appears incredibly attractive, yet what is the loyalty of this new fan base? 

Often users of social media get hooked on that one viral song with that one viral moment, which in reality, is such a small percentage of the artist's catalogue. 

The pressure then starts to loom on artists to try to recreate that golden nugget of sound across their new tracks, but in reality, lightning doesn’t strike twice. 

Usually, those users who have listened to your viral hit aren’t loyal and don’t get a full overview of what the musician's true sound and style are like, which blindsides new fanbases and potential record labels, who can sign artists off one viral moment not an overarching view of their whole discography. 

Mark Orr is the founder and director of the independent record label, LAB Records, who have experienced first-hand the benefits and drawbacks of TikTok in the 17 years of operating.

Mark spoke to GigPig and touched upon how artists can use the platform, he said: “True fanbase building is really important. 

“TikTok is amazing, and we devote a lot of time and energy into it, but it's hard to create multiple moments on there. 

“You can have a lightning in a bottle moment and one song moment, and it can be fantastic, and it can make a career of the artists. 

"But if you want a career, the numbers don't have to be huge, having this core audience who show up tour on tour album on album buy the record and keep it moving. “I think that is the fundamental thing.” 

That pressure that artist experience stretches far beyond replicating a viral moment, it stems from rushed releases or burnouts with record labels pushing their musicians to constantly create TikToks to promote their work. 

Concerns about the matter have been voiced by Halsey, Charli XCX and FKA Twigs who have shared the reality of the demands record labels place upon artists to constantly produce content for TikTok. 

Halsey has shared their dissatisfaction with the app saying: “Basically I have a song that I love that I wanna release ASAP, but my record label won’t let me… my record company is saying that I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok. 

“I just wanna release music man, and I deserve better tbh. I’m tired.” 

Whereas British singer-songwriter FKA Twigs voiced: “It’s true all record labels ask for are TikToks and I got told off today for not making enough effort.” 

The schedule of an artist is already chaotic and busy as it is, but throwing in the expectation to consistently create viral music clips and transparent lifestyle content, it’s no wonder musicians are getting burnt out. 

With far-reaching potential to be the catalyst of artist’s careers, the negatives of TikTok are often overlooked and ignored by users as they seek out the new viral sound to remix with a trendy dance.