Is TikTok Really a Must-Conquer App for Musicians?

With the meteoric success of tech-savvy musicians like Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, and Doja Cat, overlooking TikTok is no longer an option. The video-sharing app is much more than just a place for silly soundbites and ASMR videos. It’s actually made the careers of some of the most famous musicians of modern times. 

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Naturally, ambitious (but perhaps skeptical) musicians will ask themselves, “Do I really need to market myself on TikTok?” “What’s TikTok got to do with being a real musician?” Let’s dive into the answers (although by now you know where our verdict is heading). 

TikTok is one of the very most popular social media platforms around. We promise. In 2023, it climbed to 1.6 billion users—yep, that’s “billion” with a B. That doesn’t quite rival the behemoths Facebook and Instagram, but it’s easily generating more traffic than X (Twitter), Snapchat, Reddit, and Pinterest. Between viral challenges and easy-to-customize videos, there is space for pretty much everyone on TikTok. 

One of the fascinating aspects of TikTok is that it’s not just considered a source of fluffy entertainment. It’s come to be a space where people can both watch silly videos and absorb important information. And most importantly, like it or not, it’s also become a hive of entertainment marketing and promotion. 

What Musicians Have Launched Their Careers Via TikTok? 

Quite a few TikTok users have used the platform to successfully launch bona fide superstar music careers. Of course, a few stand out from the crowd. 

Lil Nas X went viral on the platform in December 2018 when he released his song “Old Town Road.” It quickly became the subject of the “Yeehaw Challenge,” and quickly launched the track to the Billboard Hot 100. Three months after its release on TikTok, the singer signed a record deal with Columbia. 

Lizzo also owes much of her success to TikTok. Though she had already signed a record deal, it wasn’t until her song “Truth Hurts” became a TikTok sleeper hit that she was propelled to worldwide fame. Meanwhile, other musicians such as Dixie D’Amelio, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat used TikTok to turn their modest careers into something truly sensational. 

How TikTok Has Changed the Music Industry

TikTok’s influence goes way beyond making it easier to share your music. By the early 2020s, it had become an entrenched part of the modern music industry. Online marketing is non-negotiable when it comes to building any kind of personal brand. For aspiring musicians, TikTok is the place to be. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The platform is undeniably intertwined with the music industry. These days, record labels and marketers have an active presence on TikTok, and they’re always searching for rising talent. TikTok’s own marketing team works with these individuals to help curate listening experiences and get in touch with potential new stars. Case in point: in the summer of 2023, they tested an app-specific series of charts that included “Viral” and “Hot 50” lists. In other words, they have a vested interest in finding musicians and turning their content into long-term revenue. 
  • Musicians and influencers can often work together. If you’re suddenly hearing a song all over TikTok, it might have just gone viral on its own. Or it might have been featured as part of a deal between a musician and an influencer.

    Such tactics might be unseemly for some burgeoning artists’ tastes, but it’s today’s reality to team with another artist or an influencer. Even John Mellencamp, who famously dissed his fellow artists who started licensing their songs to car commercials, eventually licensed a song to a car commercial once he recognized licensing was becoming the best way to make a buck in the music business.
  • It’s become the place where new musicians get promoted. Not only do record labels scout for talent on TikTok, but they also have teams dedicated to promoting new music. That means that newly-signed artists have an extremely effective way to get people listening to their music, and fast. 

The Bottom Line

A 2021 study found that 67 percent of TikTok users stream music that they hear on TikTok on other platforms. In other words? The marketing works. A huge part of marketing oneself as an artist is to go where your audience already is. For musicians in the 2020s, that’s TikTok. Both potential audiences and potential record labels are waiting there for you. 

Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

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