Why the music industry is paying close attention to TikTok: NPR



TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Artist Doja Cat has a hit song called “Say So”, complete with her own signature dance.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “SAY SO”)

DOJA CAT: (Singing) Day to night to morning, stay with me in the moment.

KEITH: She didn’t invent dance. It was a teenager on TikTok named Haley Sharpe. It went viral. Doja Cat noticed it, put it in her music video, and then performed it at the Grammy Awards.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “SAY SO”)

DOJA CAT: (Singing) You want it, say it.

KEITH: Maybe you don’t use TikTok or you don’t use it to discover music. But as Doja Cat proves, the music industry certainly does. NPR’s Mia Venkat explains.

MIA VENKAT, BYLINE: Tyler Colon played college basketball. He won a reality show on MTV. He tried podcasting, modeling, acting. But in 2019, he took the pursuit of music seriously.

TYLER COLON: After singing in my car for about six months for an hour and a half every day, I released “Stuck In The Middle” under Tai Verdes.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE”)

COLON: (singing) You know what she told me? She said, you’re a gamer, aren’t you? I hope you know it shows.

VENKAT: He put it on TikTok under this name – Tai Verdes. At the time, he was working at a Verizon store.

COLON: I’ve seen other people like me who didn’t have a follow-up end up on the radio. And when you see this happening multiple times because of a single app, it’s kind of like a duh, you know what I mean? Like, why not?

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE”)

COLON: (singing) Because we’re stuck in the middle of lovers and friends, and we lose all the benefits.

VENKAT: Before he knew it, he was getting calls from record company presidents during his lunch break. He got a record deal, made a debut album, and is going on tour this year. “Stuck In The Middle” has been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify.

Verdes says he thinks he would have succeeded even without TikTok, but he also noticed his fans on the app were particularly engaged. They would move from his TikTok to his Spotify page or his YouTube channel.

COLON: You just made this video. You have this song. You have this melody that they really like. They want to go get it. You just gave them something.

TATIANA CIRISANO: They don’t just listen to music in a passive way, like a little behind. But they’re more likely to do more advanced activities, like creating playlists or streaming full albums or buying merchandise.

VENKAT: Tatiana Cirisano is a music industry analyst. She says consumer behavior data shows that TikTok users are more likely to spend money on music. Additionally, TikTok users often respond to music with their own videos. They can lip-sync a song, make up a dance, or try to sing it.

CIRISANO: It changed listening to music from a one-way relationship where a song comes out and you listen to it on your own, to something you participate in. I mean, I don’t think any other social media app has done that to this degree. TikTok is like the UGC peak that way.

VENKAT: UGC – short for User Generated Content – it’s one of the buzzwords going around in the music industry right now.

NINA WEBB: When I started, it was a headache for a 3 year old. You had video and radio.

VENKAT: It’s Nina Webb. She is head of marketing at Atlantic Records.

WEBB: And you just – you needed money and leverage and influence as a label. And now I feel like it’s the gray sky of a thousand pieces where TikTok is the only piece that will individually move the dial the way it does.

VENKAT: Last August, an Atlantic Records artist named Gayle released a song called “Abcdefu.”

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “ABCDEFU”)

GAYLE: (singing) Forget about yourself, your mother, your sister, your job, your broken down car and what you call art.

VENKAT: They promoted the song a lot on TikTok, but it didn’t really take off until months later when TikTok’s sign language sub-community picked it up midway through their tour.

WEBB: She saw the difference between playing at the start of the tour, when people sort of heard it or watched it, at the end – I mean, it was like the whole place became crazy. So November was really the tipping point, and it was 100% the sign language community.

VENKAT: This user-generated content has made all the difference for Gayle. His song has been at No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart for three weeks now.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “ABCDEFU”)

GAYLE: (singing) ABCDE forgets about you and your mom and your sister and your job and your broken down car and the things you call art.

VENKAT: These days there’s a cottage industry dedicated to marketing a song or an artist on TikTok: paying influencers to promote a song, posting short clips to see what people react to, trying to throw a dance challenge. Webb says she’s definitely tried different strategies, but most of the time when a song takes off on TikTok, it seems to happen organically.

WEBB: I mean, there are a million examples of a lot of very expensive campaigns that have had no return. Like, we can’t do it. It has to come from the fans or the artist because you’re talking to Gen Z. They smell everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IT COMES BACK TO ME NOW”)

CELINE DION: (Singing) There were endless nights of fun. It was more than all the laws allowed. Baby, baby, if I kiss you like that…

VENKAT: Sometimes these fans work in unexpected ways. Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” was released 25 years ago but recently set single-day streaming records on Spotify and YouTube after the most dramatic part of the song became a viral TikTok trend.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “SNOWMAN”)

SIA: (Singing) Don’t cry, snowman…

VENKAT: Or take the song “Snowman” by Sia.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “SNOWMAN”)

SIA: (Singing) Who holds back your tears if you can’t catch me, honey.

VENKAT: This came out in 2017, but the TikTok challenge came in 2020.

(SOUND EXTRACTION FROM THE EDITING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I’ll try to see if I can do this breath. (Singing) I want you to know that I will never leave because…

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) …I’m Mrs. Snow, until death we’ll be frozen. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing) You are my home, my home for all seasons. So…

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing) …Come on. Let’s go.

VENKAT: Analyst Tatiana Cirisano says the ability for a song to go viral is built into TikTok since the whole app prioritizes discovery.

CIRISANO: When you open TikTok, even if you’ve never used the app before and you don’t follow anyone, it immediately opens to a discovery page and starts serving you content. Like, you open it, and you’re on the train.

VENKAT: She says the music industry was looking for unknown talent and developing it. But the rise of TikTok has helped overturn that formula.

CIRISANO: I think we’re more and more in an era where the public chooses what they want to hear, and the record companies and the rest of the music industry kind of listen to that.

VENKAT: Independent artists have taken note.

DAMOYEE: Hi. My name is Damoyee. I’m 21. I’m from Dallas, TX, and I’m a multi-hyphenated music artist/content creator.

VENKAT: Damoyee is a composer, producer, singer, songwriter and she plays many instruments.

DAMOYEE: Above all, I am a pianist. I started when I was 2 years old. I took a guitar, electric and acoustic. I can play ukulele, dulcimer…

VENKAT: She releases a lot of covers and remixes of other songs, usually trending songs. And it’s a lot of work. A one-minute TikTok typically takes around six hours to create.

(TIKTOK SOUND EXTRACTION)

DAMOYEE: (singing) I could do this for hours and hours and hours. I could do this for…

I know that at first it took me a little less than a week to get 100 subscribers. And I remember, like, seeing a zero zero, I freaked out. I thought, hey, I’m famous, you know? (Laughs) I was grateful.

VENKAT: Sometimes a video fails, and sometimes it takes off. But Damoyee says she generally thinks TikTok helps boost musicians like her.

DAMOYEE: I will say for now that the goal is to thrive as an independent artist without looking at any labels at the moment and to continue to build a platform to the point where I would feel comfortable stepping out of music alone.

VENKAT: In other words, she hopes that eventually she won’t have to ask the traditional powers of the music industry for recognition. Thanks to TikTok and other platforms, they might recognize her first.

Mia Venkat, NPR News.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF SIA SONG, “SNOWMAN”)

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