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Is Time Running Out For Tik Tok?

Increasingly used by aspiring musicians Tik Tok has gone from obscurity to being one of the worlds fastest growing, most successful, social media platforms. However, is this a passing novelty or a communication medium that's here to stay?

Tik Tok originally came to fame as a lip syncing and dancing tool for teenagers, mainly performing in their bedrooms. However, over the last year it has grown as one of the most influential platforms for music. A classic example of this is American rapper, Ashnikko. She received very little media attention until her song ‘Stupid’ became viral through Tik Tok, after which she became famous worldwide.

Tik Tok offers musicians three clear benefits;

  • it promotes their music through teenagers using it,

  • it acts as a platform for musicians to promote their own work, and it

  • can give fans an insight into their idols, making them appear more like them and down to earth.

Again, taking the Ashnikko example, in her video she appears at home dancing around with a towel on her head! Normally, like most pop music videos, we would be more used to seeing her with heavy makeup and in rather obscure outfits.

The pandemic has been a huge contributor to Tik Tok’s success. Teenagers, stuck at home bored and needing to create something fun, downloaded the app in vast numbers. Its downloads grew from 205.7 million (2018) to 2 billion (2020). From the musician’s perspective it also offered a creative outlet to promote their music in the absence of live performance. For example, Nina Nesbitt didn’t download Tik Tok until the pandemic despite her record label previously advising her to do so. After posting her first video, with just her in her flat singing, it had millions of views within the first few days.

This success of the platform has all come over only 3 years. Yet although this time span is short in 2020 the company was valued at $50 billion. It's value enhanced not only by the size of its audience but through their location in fast growing economies.

Tik Tok is is concentrated in Asia, with India having the most downloads at 700 million, followed by China, USA, Indonesia and Brazil. Acquisitions and partnerships have also been key to the growth of Tik Tok. ByteDance the organisation that owns it, has primarily grown through buying out its competitors. In 2017 they purchased and Douyin, two other lip-syncing apps, meaning that Tik Tok immediately gained 30 million users. Acquisitions have not been the only route to growth as partnerships have also been key to success. In 2020 Tik Tok partnered with UnitedMasters, a music distribution company giving Tik Toks audience vast access to legally use their music in creating videos. But will this success last, given that all trends move on?

When I was thirteen the social media craze was for Bebo, MSN and then Vine (similar to Tik Tok) yet none of them exist today.

Platforms like Instagram and Facebook have survived because they are based more around communication, whereas Tik Tok isn’t. Its very simplicity may be its downfall.

Tik Tok also faces global political problems. There is increasing pressure on Chinese companies because of its government policies over Hong Kong, the Uyghur Muslims and its restrictive trade barriers. In 2019 it was temporarily banned in India due to concerns of the platform spreading pornography, this was then withdrawn in court. This would have been a huge problem for Tik Tok given its significant Indian audience. It was also nearly banned in US following concerns it could be used by the Chinese government for exploitation. These political issues are a lot for a company to have to manage especially as there has been more than one incident.

Even though Tik Tok is brilliant promotion, the reality is it does not directly generate significant income for artists and initially for music companies with Universal threatening to sue Byte Dance back in 2020. There are now a variety of copyright deals in place, but the amount an artist can earn will vary, depending on the deal agreed with the distributor. As most clips are only fifteen seconds long the revenue is paid proportionate to time and hence will be much less than a normal Spotify stream. Given those royalties are at £0.0049 per stream, its a tiny sum that many artists already find derisory.

So whilst Tik Tok might be currently riding high, the seeds of its downfall through the ending of the pandemic, antipathy towards Chinese companies and artist dissatisfaction may all be limiting factors for the future. ByteDance have clearly already taken this into account and consequently in 2020 launched Reeso in India, an app combining the streaming potential of Spotify with the customisable ability of Tik Tok. Maybe whacky teenage precious bedroom dancing is here to stay.



See also

Swimming Against the Stream

In December 2020 the House of Commons select committee started investigating music streaming. It's findings may have far reaching consequence for the music industry.

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