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Tik Tok: Masters of the Music Universe?

Tik Tok may be running into trouble politically (as Western Governments look to limit the influence of the Chinese owned platform) and ethically (following its £12.7 million fine for inappropriate data use) but its impact across the music market remains considerable.

Tik Tok originally came to fame as a lip syncing/dancing tool for teenagers, who mainly performed in their bedrooms. Initially, its parent company ByteDance, grew from acquisitions; in 2017 buying who already had around 70 million downloads, and from partnerships. In 2020 Tik Tok joined with UnitedMasters, a music distribution company to give Tik Tok's creators access to legally use music in their videos.

However, perhaps the biggest contributor to Tik Tok's success was the pandemic. Teenagers, stuck at home and bored, downloaded the app in vast numbers whilst for musician’s it offered an 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, of just her in her flat singing, it had millions of views within the first few days.

So is Tik Tok good for musicians

Overall, Tik Tok offers musicians four clear benefits;

  • It gives access to a massive audience within the target age group.

  • It gives an artist the opportunity to promote their work in the way they want.

  • It can give fans an insight into an artists life, making them appear more like their audience.

  • Success on Tik Tok can lead to success elsewhere (songs that trend on TikTok often end up on the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50). "Plus "40% of active TikTok users pay a monthly subscription for music, compared to 25% of the general population." NPR

So what is there not to like?

According to the most recent data available, TikTok pays three cents for each new video in which your song is played (around a 100 video entries buys you a cup of Starbucks coffee in the USA). However,

  • You are not paid by how many times your video is played but by the number of videos that feature your music not including the ones you create yourself. So a high number of views on a small number of videos does not translate into royalties.

  • There are also limits before you receive royalties, To make money directly on TikTok you must be 18 years of age or older, have more than 10,000 followers, and have at least 100,000 views over the last 30 days.

  • If artists choose to upload their music to TikTok on their own, they dont receive royalties. This is because it has to be collected by distributors as per their deal with the platform. Each distributor has their own deal in place to determine how much artists are paid for their song use on the app.

  • Your video needs to be viewed from start to finish to count.

As Tik Tok has grown so has its importance to advertisers. This is not just in terms of direct advertising but also via the use of influencers as the table below shows. The influencer does not necessarily even have to be into music, just that they use music to accompany their content.

Whilst artists are paid by the number of videos, advertisers are charged by the number of times their advert is viewed. The latest data suggests that TikTok ads start at $10 per CPM (cost per 1000 views) with a requirement of a minimum spend of $500 per campaign. Little surpsie that in 2022 Tik Tok is estimated to have earnt $4 billion globally yet only have paid out $179 million or 4.5% to the music industry, despite admitting that without music the platform is nothing.

Because of the way that Tik Tok algorithms and audience interaction works, labels and distributors are going to encourage music that is likely to be used by Tik Tok creators. Therefore, at a premium, is music that people can dance to, or imitate or duet with, plus maybe do something stupid like a drum beat on a plastic bucket, or create an odd hair style. Doing anything to go viral creates a need to perform with originality which in turn increases pressure on artists.

In 2022 Halsey released a Tik Tok video complaining that Capitol Music, told her they wouldn’t release her single “So Good” until it had gone viral on TikTok. Ironically her complaint video probably then helped to achieve that end.

Record companies know that there is a formula to becoming TikTok famous through creating songs that either fit that niche or market their music in a way that makes them TikTok famous. Some labels have been accused of refusing to sign artists unless their social media presence is already high. Sometimes, the desire to promote goes further, as Kamya Pandey points out,

"Music marketers today are paying TikTok creators to make videos with an artist’s song to fake their way into virality. This includes not only TikTok celebrities but also non-influencers. Using non-influencers makes the algorithm aware of the song and gets people gradually hooked on it."

Therefore, like many other social media platforms Tik Tok works well for artists if you are already well known, and/or produce the 'right' kind of music and/or are prepared to work hard not just at your sounds but at tailoring your content and performance to be Tik Tok 'friendly'. Of course, like winning the national lottery, you may just hit lucky, although equally like the lottery, winning big, is very, very unlikely!


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