How TikTok is redefining the music industry

Jessica Mclaren, Staff Writer

Have you ever thought about the reason some songs go viral and others don’t? Social media has been a major influencer of fashion, music, food and lifestyle trends in the last couple decades. TikTok, a platform that allows users to post clips up to 60 seconds long, has shown without a doubt that the right amount of exposure in the right place can bring a song from SoundCloud to the charts. TikTok users have the option to record a video using a sound from the directory, where other people can upload songs and audio from their own posts.

By providing users with the creative freedom to select the songs they film with, TikTok became the place for trends, challenges, choreographed dances and lip-syncing videos all associated with a particular song. As a result, these songs flood the app’s “For You Page” and find their way into playlists, on the radio and all over social media. Since its release in September 2016, TikTok has proven to be an incredible asset to musicians and record labels, and a great place to find some new tunes.

“Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X was one of the firsts songs to go viral on the app in early 2019. The song was originally posted to SoundCloud on Dec. 2, 2018, before blowing up on, you guessed it, TikTok. Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, was later offered a $1 million+ deal with Amuse, a Stockholm-based startup that lets users post music for free and offers deals to prospective musicians later; Hill ultimately opted to sign with Sony label Columbia Records in March 2019. After his song continued to climb the charts, he recorded a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, and in April 2019, this remix was No. 1 in the Billboard Top 100. In January 2020, the “Old Town Road” remix won two Grammys for Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It is currently 14x platinum and the most certified song in music history. 

“Old Town Road” was not an anomaly. In 2020, songs like Doja Cat’s “Say So,” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” were among the top 10 sounds used on TikTok. As a result, these songs appeared all over social media, streaming platforms and the radio. Several songs that have gone viral on TikTok have significantly more streams on Spotify compared to other songs from the artist. Doja Cat’s “Say So” has over 690 million streams; this is 350% more than the average number of streams within her other top 4 songs on Spotify. Similarly, Olivia Rodrigo’s “driver’s license” has 105% more streams, and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” has 24% more. A few songs, such as Kardinal Offishall’s “Dangerous,” Erica Banks’ “Buss It,” and carolesdaughter’s “Violent,” saw an increase in over 4000% when compared to their other releases. From this data, we can infer that TikTok clearly has an impact on the music that its users listen to outside of the app. 

Although many of the songs that go viral on TikTok are classified as pop or hip-hop, the app has a very diverse range of users and, therefore, a very diverse range of music. Spotify currently has a verified playlist of TikTok hits updated regularly; the playlist includes pop songs like “pov” by Ariana Grande, R&B songs like “dirty laundry” by blackbear and “Desperado” by Rhianna, and hip-hop/rap songs such as “Body” by Megan Thee Stallion and “What You Know Bout Love” by Pop Smoke. The playlist also features alternative and indie songs by artists like Clairo and Børns and rock songs like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Dear Maria, Count Me In” by All Time Low. The app features songs from all genres and has even brought several ‘older’ songs back to the charts. 

Music hasn’t been the only thing highly influenced by TikTok. After being raved about on the app, products by the skincare brand CeraVe began to sell out almost instantly. CeraVae’s parent company, L’Oréal, later reported an over 40% growth in their “Active Cosmetics Department ” in the first quarter of 2020. Additionally, products such as Micellar Cleansing Water by Garnier, the L’Oreal Telescopic Mascara, the ChomChom Roller Pet Hair Remover, and Martinelli’s Apple Juice that sounds like an apple when bitten into have sold out almost days after going viral on TikTok. With a growing user base and a “For You Page” perfectly curated to each user, TikTok has proven itself to be an important marketing tool. If you are an emerging musician or just someone who likes to stay on top of what’s trending, you might just have to download TikTok.