Harper examines how Tik Tok, digital platforms are changing the music industry | Nebraska today
Three-time Grammy Award-winning Olivia Rodrigo’s single “Driver’s License” took Tik Tok by storm before debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
Rodrigo’s experience illustrates how the nature of Tik Tok gives artists and the music industry the power to reach millions of people within hours. This hyper-algorithmic nature is what sets Tik Tok apart from other platforms, according to Paula Harper, assistant professor of musicology at the Glenn Korff School of Music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Even before the days of YouTube and Facebook, artists harnessed the power of the internet to promote their songs. Tik Tok is therefore the latest in a series of social platforms that musicians, singers and songwriters use to promote their brands and their music.
Harper talks about all of these concepts in his upcoming book, “Viral Musicking and the Rise of Noisy Platforms,” due out in 2023-24. The book begins at the beginning of the Internet before current digital platforms existed, and the studies move to the beginning of YouTube, Facebook, etc. circulation of musical and audiovisual content.
“Artists have been incorporating the internet and digital technologies into their promotion and distribution strategies since the internet has existed,” said Harper. “There are often talks that present new technologies as disruptions in the music industry, but I think it’s more historically accurate to see Tik Tok as part of a much longer series. , in which musicians and the music industry really integrate these technologies into their strategies.”
Harper, who earned a doctorate in historical musicology from Columbia University, studies music, sound and the internet, focusing on issues of circulation, sharing, sociality and social media, fandom, gender and representation.
“I tend to look at how people use the internet in a way that’s less explicitly designed for music circulation and consumption,” she said. “I look outside of where the music is supposed to be, like platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. I rather look at what it means when people do musical things on platforms like Snapchat or Tik Tok or Instagram or Twitter.
For her, what sets Tik Tok apart from other platforms is its hyper-algorithmic nature, compared to sites like YouTube, where a user searches for a certain type of content and then leaves the platform.
“That’s how the following content is so out of the hands of the user,” Harper said. “Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube have some of these features, but Tik Tok amplifies the way algorithmic curation is so central to the platform’s default experience. It feels more random and is much more amplified than other platforms.
The rise and cultural integration of Tik Tok “means that artists have to think about Tik Tok and how people are going to engage with their music from the start,” Harper said.
The success of artists on the platforms, both veterans and newcomers, shows how players in the music industry have quickly incorporated Tik Tok into their marketing strategies.
“These aren’t unknown songs that made their way to the Grammys via Tik Tok,” Harper said. “Lil Nas X or Megan Thee Stallion having Tik Tok dances associated with their music which is currently having success is more indicative of how music industry personnel are already thinking and sort of seeding hit songs in Tik Tok – in the same way that in the past they may have tried to play them on the radio or to pass their artists SNL.”
Artists have to think about how their songs might be cut into shorter lengths, or make decisions such as refining a lyric line to fit Tik Tok’s platform, a symptom of contemporary virality.
“The length of time something goes viral has decreased. Something that could have been happening for months at the turn of the 2000s, is now happening for hours, if not days,” Harper said.
Could Tik Tok lead to changing song lengths? Maybe, but it’s unlikely, Harper said.
“We can definitely follow a trend towards shorter songs,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily a complete move in one direction that we’re making towards shorter and shorter songs.”
While Tik Tok may force some artists to adapt their strategies, it has also allowed artists and labels to capitalize on creative fan labor in which fans do the work of promoting an artist’s songs or albums. Tik Tok’s platform inherently promotes trending sounds, leading fans to participate in trends that ultimately promote an artist’s song.
Before Tik Tok, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and K-pop artists were great examples of using fan labor.
For example, in 2013, Beyonce released her self-titled visual album without any promotion. However, once the album was released, it sold millions of copies as fans and social media served as promotional efforts.
“This instance was for me a large-scale proof of concept of what could be done through the internet and through the mechanisms of virality – and so, for me, Tik Tok is the final chapter. Tik Tok has really normalized that,” Harper said. “The person who benefited from the Tik Tok videos made with the song ‘Old Town Road’ was Lil Nas X, rather than one of the people who made the videos.”
Although Tik Tok and the Internet have had an impact on the industry, many aspects of the traditional industry remain intact, such as fans following or subscribing to an artist’s content and listening to full songs on albums physical or musical platforms.
Looking ahead, Harper is looking forward to the next Tik Tok.
“I have the impression that we are on the eve of something new. It feels like Tik Tok is so normalized now that it feels like the next vanguard must be on the horizon,” she said. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I feel a little nervous about it, both as a person living in the world and as a researcher.”