If you look at the social media landscape over the past twenty years, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. Of course the obvious point of what these social platforms began offering users – from LiveJournal giving people the chance to pour their hearts out to peers and MySpace providing everyone the opportunity to rank their Top 8 friends, for starters – but more importantly how users were able to interact with each other, and eventually bands, brands and celebrities. In just a matter of years, millions of people were connected, and social media became a major avenue for promotion and revenue generation.
Just as MySpace evolved from a simplistic channel for sharing funny moments with friends via personalized user profiles to a hub of independent music discovery seemingly overnight, we’re no longer surprised when a new platform comes along and transforms how artists engage fans in real time.
There’s no better recent example of that than TikTok: what started out as a lip-synching app allowing users to create short videos using background music has turned into a massively popular platform for music discovery. While artists of all genres are not guaranteed to find their fans on TikTok, there can be no doubt about the influential nature of these often-hilarious and outright entertaining videos that feature music from independent (and sometimes totally unknown) artists.
In October of 2019, TuneCore began helping artists distribute their songs to TikTok. As a distributor, we were psyched to be on the cutting-edge by facilitating music delivery to what has become one of the most downloaded apps worldwide, and our artists were equally as excited to have an opportunity to get in on the fun.
But like any new app or social media platform, there’s sure to be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to how artists can best take advantage of it. Viral success isn’t a sure thing, and artists cannot sit idly by waiting for their song to be the next big craze on TikTok. Like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, artists must come to the table with a marketing plan for how they plan to get the most of having their music on TikTok. That also means knowing what’s happening on the app overall.
We chatted with a few TuneCore Artists about their experiences using TikTok and found, unsurprisingly, that it’s a lot of trial and error.
“I was using TikTok before TuneCore made the announcement,” says TuneCore pop artist Erin Kirby. “I started around June 2019. I really did not know too much about it before that. My fans use it to basically watch videos and entertain themselves.”
Even with its popularity, it isn’t uncommon for artists to be totally unaware of how a new social app like TikTok works to begin with. Singer-songwriter Katie Belle wasn’t using TikTok as an artist or in her personal life: “I heavily utilized Instagram for my music promo, followed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”
“I knew very little about TikTok – the best I could tell my fans seem to watch a lot of the silly ‘twerking’ videos that are on there, which isn’t really my brand,” Belle says with a laugh.
Electroswing duo 11 Acorn Lane, on the other hand, had a bit of an advantage when it came to fans using their songs across TikTok – even before TuneCore had opened up distribution. Thomas Feurer tells us, “About a year ago, one of our tracks started showing up in more and more TikTok videos. We assumed someone who likes our music started it, and it must have spiraled from there. It is so much fun for us to see how people are creative with our music in their videos!”
That one track went on to be used in almost 600,000 TikTok videos, resulting in “a considerable sales boost across all services and platforms, and inclusion on an overseas CD compilation.”
With TuneCore’s distribution option, users went from uploading their own clips of songs to being able to select that artist and song within the app. “The direct distribution presence of the tracks on TikTok should help with preserving credit for the music used in videos, including a link to the music with artist name and artwork,” Feurer goes onto say.
When fans begin using an artist’s music in videos, it shouldn’t surprise anyone with social media experience: engagement is key. Figuring out the best ways to do so on TikTok is just like when you get started on any other platform. When you figure out what’s working, TikTok becomes a new way to build your fanbase.
“Reposting is great,” says Kirby. “I think making sure you let people know that you appreciate their use of your music and their support is really big.”
Katie Belle realized the challenges of taking on a new social platform, and knew to begin by using the tactics she’s applied elsewhere: “I feel like similar strategies will work on TikTok as other social media channels: consistency and interaction. It’s very time consuming to build a social platform from “0”, but I will continue to post on TikTok since I’ve gotten started on it.”
For 11 Acorn Lane, when it comes to incorporating TikTok into their marketing mix, they’ve focused on a “build it and they will come” strategy:
“We don’t want to push our music onto people and we feel like we can’t really tell anyone to use our music in their videos. It’s best if video creators click with our music on their own,” says Feurer. “So our main strategy is to focus on our music: make our music the best we can and be thankful when people like it so much that they are inspired to use it in a video.”
On the other side of things, Erin Kirby encourages her followers elsewhere directly: “I actually had fans use my music for their videos which helps build a rapport. I do comment and watch my fans’ videos. This helps them know I am here for them as well.” Some of the features she recommends are “hashtags, duets and just fun content.”
A big takeaway in terms of the potential engagement that TikTok offers is how users go from hearing or using a song on TikTok to streaming on Spotify, purchasing on Amazon Music, or following an artist on Instagram. On top of seeing a boost in sales, 11 Acorn Lane has also enjoyed an increased social media following: “It certainly spills over into other social media channels where people who found us on TikTok engage with us.”
What kind of creative trial and error efforts you make as an artist with your music on TikTok is ultimately up to you. Like the artists we spoke to, employing tactics from other social channels will probably be a great place to start, but as you build your fan base, there’s no shortage of ways to encourage them to utilize your songs in their videos.
One thing is certain: there’s no better time to send your songs to TikTok via TuneCore! While any new platform on which you can promote yourself may feel a bit intimidating at first, it’s crucial to find your voice and figure out a way to make it work for you. We’ll continue to cover the evolution of TikTok and how artists can benefit from it in 2020 and beyond.