Last year was the a big one for artists on TikTok, as a viral hit would spike Spotify streams and have labels calling with million dollar deals if the act was unsigned. This year the industry has soured on the platform as increasing it looks like the TikTok music era will be much different moving forward.
That’s not to say that you still can’t have a hit as a result of a viral video on TikTok, but the value in that is diminishing in the eyes of most labels. A sense of reality has crept into what was once the Wild West mentality surrounding the platform.
One Hit Wonder
One of the main reasons that labels have lost faith in TikTok is the fact that many of the breakout music stars turned out to be nothing more than one hit (if that) wonders. So much of what happens on the platform is built around the visuals that the music is frequently only part of the reason, not the main reason, why people watched. Most unsigned viral hit makers were unable to deliver another song close to the hit, and proved unable to perform live to back it up. It doesn’t take long for label execs to wise up after a few million dollar TikTok misses.
Not Long Term
Every artist and label wants a sustainable career, but TikTok doesn’t seem like the best way to do that. A 10 second exposure to an artist’s music has increasingly shown to be not enough to make a viewer want to listen to more from that artist. Yes, it hypes the song, but in most cases, doesn’t go beyond that in terms of discoverability.
You can go back to the ’50s with radio to see that record labels have always done their best to leverage the system in order to promote their artists and records. It’s worked on every type of media until now, as labels have increasingly discovered that paying influencers or using TikTok advertising doesn’t provide the return that they’re used to. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re an artist you want your label to be able to exercise those deep promotional pockets to get your music in front of people, and that can’t be guaranteed anymore on TikTok.
The music industry has become frustrated with the royalty payouts from the platform, as the revenue is tiny even compared to YouTube, the industry’s former demon. Unlike other platforms, you don’t get paid on the number of views your video gets, but on how many people use your music in their videos. You’ll see this addressed soon when the licensing agreements come up for renewal.
Does this mean that the TikTok music era is completely over? No, the platform still contributes to the making of hits (Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ “Unholy” is the most recent example), so it’s still a service that music must be marketed to, but the emphasis on the platform has certainly diminished and may never be what it once was. Creating good songs instead of short hooks is still the way to go.