TikTok has become a major force in the music industry in recent years and its influence is only growing. In this article, we’ll take a look at how TikTok is disrupting the music industry and its impact, both good & bad.
The online age has upended the way we find, consume and share music. In the past few years, social media sites have been taking the process of discovering music out of the hands of major labels and legacy media sites - and putting them in the hands of users and the artists themselves.
But nothing has disrupted the music industry as much as TikTok. The short-form video site has propelled the careers of dozens of artists (often overnight) thanks to viral music and dance trends which users quickly latch onto.
In the wake of this disruption, areas of the music industry such as music marketing, music PR, and music journalism have had to play catch up, while many music artists themselves are still somewhat hesitant about TikTok’s impact.
So what does TikTok mean for the music industry? Does it signal the end of music marketing and music promotion as we know it? And do the stakeholders behind a hit song - the label bosses, the artists, the publishers, and the managers - actually benefit?
Let’s unpick the ways TikTok disrupts the music industry.
How TikTok has helped disrupt the music industry in a positive way
Let’s start with the positives, of which there are many. The first thing worth mentioning is that TikTok is a truly massive social media site. At the time of writing, the site has over 1.6 billion users (and over 1 billion active users every month). This means that it presents music artists with incredible opportunities for reaching an audience.
With that in mind, here are the beneficial ways that TikTok is disrupting the music industry:
TikTok is helping artists get discovered
Purely and simply, TikTok’s content focused algorithm does its best to feed users with new and exciting trending content. In this way, whether you’re an unsigned artist, an artist with a low follower count, or even an artist who has just shared their first song, you stand a decent chance of becoming popular (as long as you have a good, viral-worthy song, of course).
Viral truly means VIRAL when it comes to TikTok
With so many people using TikTok - and with trends being picked up so quickly - you can literally become an overnight success if your song is successful on TikTok. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road, Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’, and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Savage’ are three examples of early viral success stories on TikTok. You only have to look at how far those artists have come in the last few years to understand just how pivotal the site is for music careers.
Artists are using TikTok to get signed by major labels
Or rather, major labels are often sprinting full tilt to chase down viral TikTok artists and sign them up for record deals! TikTok has, in some respects, given a lot of power to music artists. This is beneficial, as an independent artist who goes viral can negotiate good terms when signing a deal with a label that wants to piggyback off their success.
Labels are using TikTok to reshape both themselves and their artists
If we’re talking ‘disruption’, this is an important point to make: many artists and labels are actively rethinking their genres, changing their instruments, and reshaping their entire sound, all to write songs that will help them go viral on TikTok. This can often mean artists being pressed to write songs to which TikTok users can perform dances. Or songs with catchy hooks. Or songs with memorable lyrics. Many artists see this as a negative, as it takes away from the ‘purity’ and uncompromising nature of making music. But others find it very easy to swallow. You only have to look as far as the viral TikTok success of Machine Gun Kelly - once a rapper and now closer to an emo-rocker - to see how it can actually help artists who are up for the challenge of making social media-friendly music.
TikTok’s licensing agreements can be lucrative for artists
To put it simply, TikTok pays out royalties to artists and labels for the use of their music on the platform. Sure, your song might need to be in 100,000s of TikTok videos for you to be making anywhere near decent money, but this licensing agreement system has led to increased revenue for artists.
TikTok promotes remixing, collaboration, and fan interaction
In recent years, a culture has emerged of TikTok users remixing songs by their favourite artists or even ‘duetting’ with the artist using split-screen videos. These remixes have been effective in helping songs get popular - even in ways the artist didn’t intend. A good example is RAYE’s song ‘Escapism’, which was remixed, sped up, and featured on so many TikTok videos that it actually reached No.1 on the UK charts at the start of 2023 (two months after it was first released).
How TikTok has helped disrupt the music industry in a negative way
Now for a look at some of the negatives. As with anything that involves ‘disruption’, there are many who feel uncomfortable about the speed with which the industry is changing.
Here are some of the drawbacks that TikTok is having on the music industry:
Today’s music industry is over-reliant on TikTok - and it’s hurting artists
In the past 18 months are so, some of the music industry’s biggest artists have been voicing their dissatisfaction with the direction that their labels and managers have been taking them in, by constantly pushing for viral music and lifestyle content on TikTok. Halsey, FKA Twigs, and Charli XCX are just some of the artists who have spoken about the pressures being placed on them to make TikTok videos.
TikTok users have an attention-span problem
The short-form nature of TikTok - added with the endless spoon-feeding of 10-second video after 10-second video - has meant that many users of the site have developed a shorter attention span. This means that artists who write more lyrically and sonically complex songs are often pushed to the sidelines. For many people who consider themselves serious music lovers, this literally represents a decline in the art form itself.
TikTok is having an impact on artist revenue
As mentioned earlier, TikTok is having an influence on how artists get paid. And while certain artists can make good money from it, others can feel cheated by other little they earn. For one thing, copyright infringement is a major issue on the site. For another thing, there are hundreds of instances of artists going viral but not seeing a pay-off in terms of their real-life revenue. The royalties system that TikTok uses means that artists sometimes need their songs to appear in millions of videos before they break even.
In summary, TikTok has already had a major impact on the music industry - and current trends suggest that this will continue well into the future. And while many artists might welcome the possibilities that it has, it remains to be seen whether TikTok will bring artists the kind of revenue they need in order to keep making the music we all love.
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