Tik Tok, A New Frontier for Music Discovery

The evolution of technology has influenced how music is consumed; the past three decades have seen the most dramatic change in this aspect, from cassette tapes, CDs, and iPods, to streaming services and social media platforms today. One social media platform that has gained a notable influence in present times is TikTok. The platform allows creators to upload content with original sounds, covers, and rediscovered music in the background of their maximum of three-minute videos. An estimated one billion users can scroll through their personalized feed and discover music and artists through this feature. 

Tiktok amplified the careers of artists today, such as Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, and Megan thee Stallion. Stallion’s song “Savage” was remixed as “Carol Baskin” by TikToker Caleb Jaxin, now known as Brooklyn Charles, to parody the Netflix show, Tiger King. Doja Cat’s “Say So” was an instant hit with its catchy beats that were easy to choreograph a dance to. Olivia Rodrigo brought many millennial/gen zers back to high school with her song “Driver’s License” by remembering anyone’s first breakup. The platform also helped users rediscover artists who have been in the industry for longer than some users have even been alive. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” gained attention again in a new light through a viral TikToker who skateboarded while drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice to the iconic song. On the app, Boney M’s Rasputin was remixed by artist Majestic, creating a new wave of fans for the music. Rasputin was reimagined through the interactive video game Just Dance 2 in 2010 and brought back to light thanks to the dancing group, The Basement Gang.

Watching the cycles of songs new and old gain popularity leads to the question of the extent of TikTok’s influence and whether it can change how music is created. Our research group reached out to a well-informed scholar on the music industry and how it works. Dr. Waleed Rashidi, a professor in the communications department at California State University Fullerton, has first-hand experience in the realm of music. Rashidi is on-air for radio stations such as KTIE 590 AM and KSPC 88.1. 

RollingStone, “Inside TikTok’s Hidden Hit Machine” by Ethan Millman August 2020

Rashidi and Kiana discuss the uses and effects of TikTok for consumers, creators and music industry leaders. As a disclaimer: the comments and opinions of Rashidi are paraphrased and not his exact words.  Throughout our insightful conversation, Rashidi gave his opinion on how TikTok is changing how music is being published and distributed. In a world where trends are rapidly pushed out through content over social media, the process of releasing and advertising music that is more accessible and shorter. Rashidi has noticed that TikTok allows musicians to skip the record label and publish directly to audiences through the platform. In turn, artists have more control over what is being released than the record labels do. Previously, record labels were in charge of creating trends in music; now, the tables have turned. Audiences show musicians and producers what they like through the support of music on the platform, rather than record labels releasing music that they think will appeal to the masses. The extent to which TikTok audiences and creators influence today’s music industry can be seen by simply looking at the songs that are trending on the app and pushing them through a revolving door into radio stations, Spotify playlists, and YouTube. 

Due to the format on TikTok that originated as 60 seconds and now is at a maximum of three-minute videos, single song releases are ideal for going viral on TikTok because they are catchy and easily danced to. Musicians and producers working with record labels have jumped on the bandwagon of prioritizing singles over albums. One single viral song can have more impact than an entire album on a platform such as TikTok. Songs such as “Toosie Slide” by Drake and “Savage Love” by Jason Derulo are great examples of artists that have tried to create music for the app. However, Rashidi and Kiana discussed how if record labels continue on this bandwagon of making music for trends and popularity, the art of creating music itself is lost. Artists on TikTok have publicized their music on the app without going to such record labels and having labels delegating what “popular” music is and what isn’t. The art of making music is incited by profit, and mass consumption by record labels is a stark new reality compared to the decades before social media. Despite this, a silver lining to the platform is that it gives independent artists a chance to create what they want on their terms, for the simple love of making music. 

 US TikTok Marketing Science, Music Perceptions Research conducted by MRC Data November 2019

In conclusion, the digital age that we currently live in has changed how content is created and consumed. Content released faster than ever, with new trends gaining and dropping in popularity in a matter of days. Music made with catchy lyrics and beats is the one that gains popularity on apps such as TikTok due to its ability to catch viewers’ attention in a matter of sixty seconds or less. Record labels and individual artists have shifted their focus from carefully drafting out albums to quickly releasing songs they hope will gain popularity among content creators and go viral across various social media platforms. Because of these apps, the way music is created and released has drastically changed. The release of albums and the advertising process that once took careful planning and months of work is now fast-tracked through the simple yet effective way TikTok allows content to be posted and shared with the click of a few buttons. The increasing popularity of social media has given it more power than ever expected, leading to overall drastic changes in the music industry. Now we wait for the next viral song to strike our attention and play throughout social media.

Videos Kiana, Klarissa, and Jordan have created to showcase popular songs from TikTok.