The ubiquity of Tiktok is the most significant evolution in music land since the introduction of streaming. During two pandemic years without concerts or festivals, the short movie app became one of the main channels for discovering music. Just ask The Kid Laroi and Tai Verdes: the fact that they are playing at Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop respectively this summer is largely due to a Tiktok hit.
Bigger names can also benefit from a well-aimed Tiktok campaign. At the launch of her new single ‘About damn time’, Lizzo made videos about the dances her fans did to that song, after which even more people started making ‘content’ with it. A month and a half after the song was released, the counter stands at an impressive two million original videos.
Complaining as a strategy
In Lizzo’s wake, however, other established names are experiencing unpleasant pressure from their labels to create Tiktok content. “I was lectured by my label today because I didn’t put in enough effort for this app,” sighed FKA Twigs recently in a Tiktok video. Halsey even claimed that her label wouldn’t release a new song until the pop star didn’t ‘viral moment’ had created on the app. Charli XCX, Florence Welch and Ed Sheeran also complained in a Tiktok film. Ironically, these went viral more often than the regular movies they made—raising the question of whether those laments might also have been a marketing strategy.
† BBC discovers ‘Sound of 2022’ on Tiktok
It is such success stories that, according to musician Orla Gartland, ‘paralyzes’ the music industry, she also says in a Tiktok video. ‘Labels see that Tiktok can work, so they are equally blind to other marketing strategies. That brings us to a dangerous moment: labels need to make artists still feel like artists, not influencers or… content creators†
In Belgium, no artists have yet spoken out prominently against this pressure. Singers such as Pommelien Thijs and Camille Dhont manage to use their experience from TV series such as #LikeMe to the smaller screen, with hundreds of thousands of followers. But more ‘traditional’ musicians such as Milow or Bazart are taking it easy on the app for the time being. Balthazar doesn’t even have an account yet.
Oski cannot afford that luxury. The 18-year-old Luis Oscar Santos worked on a music career and at the same time on a Tiktok account with 66,000 followers. ‘Two years ago I made a mash-up video of hits that now has three million views. But I have not yet been able to repeat that success: Tiktok’s algorithm can cooperate or counteract.’
‘Labels and managers made me understand that I had to be able to present a promotional plan. That way you miss opportunities if you don’t know much about marketing’
Santos is now growing mainly organically, with three to five posts a week. Sometimes it’s snippets of a new song, a record of his day backstage, or he’s trying to fathom the production of a Kendrick Lamar song – content he’d like to see himself. He does not feel pressured by his label, Sony. “There is a team that works around social media, and they sometimes propose popular Tiktok formats. But that’s an encouragement, not a threat. I also don’t find it difficult to combine with making music. I am aware that videos simply attract more people to my music. And I also grew up with the medium. But I understand that this is not obvious for established values such as FKA Twigs or Halsey. They don’t lie in their seats watching Tiktok.’
Still, younger artists sometimes feel the Tiktok pressure. Monday we suddenly saw a video of Lunace, the stage name of 21-year-old Katrien Braet. ‘I have a problem,’ said the Antwerp woman. ‘To break through in the music industry you have to work with Tiktok, but I suck just make it in Tiktoks.’
Braet releases her music under her own management, and therefore does not have a label that sets requirements. ‘But when I negotiated with labels or managers in the past, they made it clear to me that I also had to be able to present a promotional plan myself. I understand that, but it’s also a shame, because that way you miss opportunities if you can make music but know less about marketing.’
And so Braet recently ramped up her Tiktok output. She regularly plugs in her new single ‘Honest’, but she also experimented with recipes and make-up. Still, it’s her ‘I have a problem’ confession that has stirred things up the most – just like with Halsey and co. ‘That honesty must have struck a chord. I even notice it in my streams, which have doubled in the past few days. So I will continue to invest in it. In 2022, that’s just part of it.’