Oh TikTok, how did we end up here? Some of us are still grieving for Vine, an app founded in 2012 by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, that lost a battle between competitors in October 2016. Or if you’re like me, you only started watching Vine compilations on YouTube after the fact.

Nonetheless, according to The Verge, an American technology newsite, applications like Snapchat and Instagram introduced similar features and Vine took no initiative toward any real novelty. It makes perfect sense. Instagram allowed 60-second videos when Vine only allowed six seconds, give or take — not an ample amount of time to promote anything, especially anything music related.

However, only two years later, a similar app called Musically was launched in 2014 by friends Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang in Shanghai, according to Business Insider. As the name implies, Musically was solely for lip syncing and dancing to music — nothing too memorable.

But in November 2017, the two worlds combined when ByteDance, a Chinese tech company, released TikTok on a global scale, according to Time Magazine.

Prior to its global release, it was called “Douyin” and was the fastest growing app in China, according to Soundchats, a music blog. No wonder, since with its wide variety of videos ranging from 60-second music promotions to comedy skits, it’s like a miniature YouTube.

What can you really do with 60 seconds? Well, if you’re an underground artist looking to break through the soil and right into the music industry, it might be the perfect opportunity. 

Now, if you’re an artist that wants to post behind the scenes in the studio or the song writing process, you might want to just stick to YouTube. TikTok’s algorithm allows for numerous “unknowns” to end up on anyone’s feed. It’s literally an app where the videos are chosen for you. But, unfortunately, it’s also a place where viewers are encouraged to have the attention span of goldfishes. For this reason, artists need to choose a unique theme or hop on a trend to stay consistent and engaging. To better expand an audience, TikTok has a pro feature that allows artists to track any and all profile activity and viewer demographics, according to Soundcharts. 

Lil Nas X was one of the first music successes on TikTok. “Old Town Road” went along with a dance trend that encouraged viewers who liked the song to search for it on other platforms. The song had no genre, yet it managed to end up on the Hot R&B chart, Hot Country songs chart and Hot 100 chart all at once, according to Rolling Stone Magazine. He’s still riding that high and has a steady music career, one of very few to retain that success. 

Eva Max is also an artist whose music went relatively unnoticed until it started a trend. According to Time Magazine, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Los Angeles created a song called “Not your Barbie Girl,” which became part of a trend that zoned in on the toxicity that comes from comparing yourself to others and the endless search for perfection. Creators would typically dress up as a doll and lip sync to the music. The song ended up making the Billboard Hot 100 list in 2019, peaking at No. 25. But let’s be honest, when you read her name, you probably said to yourself, “Oh, that’s the ‘Sweet but Psycho’ singer.” That song hit No.7 on Billboard after garnering 550 million streams on Spotify. 

Another singer that gained overnight success on TikTok was Salem Ilese, a 21-year-old singer-songwriter also from Los Angeles. Her song “mad at disney,” which discusses how Disney movies brainwash consumers into believing true love is all rainbows, unicorns and wishes upon stars, gained around 1 million followers in less than a month because 1.2 million people were using her sound. Now, Spotify has her at 17.6 million streams, according to Dexerto, an entertainment forum. Not bad for a rookie. 

As we can all see, TikTok can boost music. However, the biggest question to ask is whether or not an up and comer can stay successful through TikTok, or if their music is only made for a few dance trends or memes. 

Based on Musicgateway, a music industry marketplace, as an artist continually releases music, royalties will be received. This basically means every time a user makes a video with an artist’s song, the artist makes a profit. However, an artist never gets paid directly through TikTok, rather through music publishers or distributors.

Despite this fact, getting paid as an artist is an unpredictable, rocky endeavor. Many times, artists make more money through brand deals than their actual music. Inevitably, brands can turn around and drop them for a greater deal elsewhere. Artists are always on their toes, with the constant need to keep adapting to an ever changing world. 

It seems far more likely that unknown artists will be boosted to the point of one-hit wonders. I immediately think of  “Ashes” by Stellar. I can’t really call this a one-hit wonder because the song is relatively new — released summer 2020 — and the band is just starting to reach acclaim, but I haven’t heard anything new about their music since. Not to mention, when trying to research the band, the only song that pops up is “Ashes.” 

The lack of acclaim outside of TikTok continues with Ir-Sais, a 32-year-old singer born in the Netherlands. He blew up on TikTok for his single “Dream Girl,” which was the third most popular song on the app in July 2020 and had over 100 million Spotify streams as well. But, surprisingly, the singer only has 41,000 followers on Spotify and none of his other songs have reached that level of success, according to Rolling Stone Magazine

I believe TikTok is best at bringing music into the spotlight, whether it’s from 10 years ago or yesterday. But it’s quite the gamble to stay there. Scrolling through my feed, I saw Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” from 1977 was given quite the comeback via quirky skateboard trend, or Estelle’s “American Boy” from 2008 paired up with some fun dance choreography. In this way, TikTok seems to be a doorway to something greater and not the thing that ultimately guarantees success.

Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be the next Lil Nas X, or maybe you’ll fall flat, but regardless of where you land, you’ll be further along than where you began. If you need more of a pick-me-up, just think of how much success the Ratatouille musical is getting. 


Follow Lauren Johns on Twitter, @lje2017

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