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Exploring TikTok’s impact on music

It’s no secret that TikTok has recently exploded into the public consciousness. Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about the newest TikTok song or trend. There’s playlists, YouTube compilations and even entire radio stations dedicated to the songs trending on the app. 

But, the app isn’t just a fun way to listen to little soundbytes of songs. It’s become a way for record producers to discover new artists and for small artists to have their shots at fame. But, the issue of whether or not this is good is a multifaceted issue. So, let’s take a look at the good and the bad of this social media giant’s influence on music: 

The good

TikTok serves as a way for new artists to use social media to build a following for their music. Artists like Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo have exploded onto the scene and used their popularity on the app to increase public support for their songs. 

Other artists such as Frances Forever and Lyn Lapid have used TikTok to promote their songs, “Space Girl” and “In my Mind” respectively. This allows them to build a grassroots audience and to establish a persona before growing further. New artists are popping up everywhere, ready to share their music. Record producers know this and use the app as a way to find these new artists and bring them onto the scene.

It also can bring older songs back into the public consciousness, generating more streams and therefore more income for the artists. One of the most well known examples of this is “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, a song that reentered the charts after a video of a man drinking cranberry juice on a longboard while listening to the song went viral. After not being on the charts since 1977, the song reentered at No. 2 in October of 2020. This ultimately sparked a renewed interest in the band, allowing the song to surpass 800 million streams at the time of writing. 

Another example of this is the indie rock group Mother Mother. After not releasing music for two years, the band appeared in Rolling Stone Artist 500. The reason? Several of their songs went viral on the “alt side” of the platform, shooting them to fame through songs like “Hayloft”, “Burning Pile” and “Verbatim.”

Along with this, TikTok struck up licensing deals with Warner Music, Sony and Universal Music Group in late 2020 and early 2021. This ultimately removes a lot of the problems with music sharing for the average user due to copyright law and makes it easier for artists to be discovered and signed. 

The bad

The app also forces most artists into becoming known for one song, maybe two or three in the case of artists such as Jack Stauber or Oliver Tree. Usually, their songs trend for a few weeks before ultimately falling off, condemning them to a lifetime of being known as “the artist that did that one song on TikTok.” We can see this with the artist A-Wall, the bedroom pop singer behind the song “Loverboy.” When taking a look at his Spotify profile, we can see that “Loverboy” has over 68 million streams. Compare that to his second most popular song “Watcha Say?” with just over one million streams, and you’ll notice a sizable difference. Furthermore, he has just under five million monthly listeners, meaning that at least four million of them are solely listening to the former. This effectively confines him to likely becoming a modern day one-hit wonder, not allowing any room for growth. 

Another example of this is indie-pop artist Lonely God. His song “Marlboro Nights” trended heavily on TikTok in the summer of 2019 and has briefly resurfaced every once in a while ever since. The song currently has 113 million streams. Compare this to his second most popular song, “Sunday” with two million streams, and you’ll notice that the former has over 56 times as many streams as the latter. Everyone is listening to “Marlboro Nights,” not allowing improvement for his other songs. 

Along with this, many artists are not getting a fair cut of the money their songs bring in. Many of the new artists on the platform are young and inexperienced, ready to accept anything a record label gives them. As a result, the record labels they sign to oftentimes underpay them and don’t share much information with the artist. 

Naomi Pohl, deputy secretary of the Musician’s Union states that “if payments were shared more fairly with musicians, it would boost creativity, there would be a much more diverse range of music shared with consumers.” However, due to the fact that these artists are more often than not being paid unfairly, creativity is limited. 

Creativity is also limited due to the fact that songs have begun to start being made for TikTok. In order for a song to succeed, it needs a hook of about 15 seconds. We see this with songs like “Say So” by Doja Cat. The song exploded into popularity due to its catchy and dance-worthy refrain. Then, with the release of her latest album Planet Her, we saw several songs replicate this. Many of them contained a catchy hook, and thus they all trended on the app. As a result, her creativity was limited due to a need for the songs to be trendy and replayable. 

There’s absolutely no denying TikTok’s influence on the industry, but whether or not it’s totally good or bad, it is a multifaceted issue and an ongoing debate


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