The music industry has been in a state of flux since the dawn of the commercial internet.
Flipped on its head by illegal downloads, it seemed to stabilise with the dawn of music subscription services and a buoyed interest in physical formats. Yet along came social media, to turn it upside down once more.
How Does TikTok Work?
TikTok started as a Chinese video-sharing app named Doujin before a global release. It hosted short-form videos, consisting of lip syncs and dance routines set to pre-determined tracks. Yet it has grown into a sprawling media format, allowing larger size videos, and is used for a wider range of content. You can now find everything from yoga videos to travel on it, and much of it has music to accompany it.
Once a video gets picked up by TikTok algorithms it can spread far and wide quickly, which is a godsend for artists when it contains their track. Alternatively, artists can use it as a platform to promote their own content. The list of musicians who have risen to fame using this method is vast. From Loren Gray to Lil Nas X, many of today’s successful artists have used it as a springboard.
Part of this growth can be attributed to the amount of time now spent on the platform itself. A recent survey by ExpressVPN stated that between 45% to 52% of the Gen Z age group use TikTok and YouTube for at least an hour every day. 11% of them said they spend more than five hours a day on the platform. Contrast this with the statistics that most of them spend less than 15 minutes on text-based formats such as Twitter and Facebook. It soon becomes easy to see that video platforms have a large audience.
How Does It Impact Artists?
The TikTok trend does throw up some surprising facts for the industry. Instead of being a passive medium, certain data suggest that it may be boosting revenue. More than background music for viral videos, users are more likely to pay for music. 40% of them will have a monthly music subscription and 17% buy artist merchandise every month, much higher than the average of non-users.
Another bonus is that artists do get paid for the reach of their music. TikTok has deals in place with music distributors who add and compile music for the platform. Once done, people can add this to their videos and the artist will receive royalties.
The Downsides of TikTok
TikTok does have its downsides, however. If an artist chooses to upload their music, they receive no royalties or pay-outs. This means that distributors become the gatekeepers and without them, an artist cannot make money on the platform.
The strain on musicians to perform on social media can also be draining. Once artists concentrated on creating music and performing it, but they now have the added pressure of becoming their own marketing agents and content creators. Expectations are that they create content regularly, which can be very challenging in that this is a full-time profession in itself.
Major artists like Charlie XCX and Halsey have recently expressed their dissatisfaction with both consumer and record label expectations.