TikTok for Artists, Music Professionals: Using TikTok To Promote Your Music
Since its launch in 2017, TikTok has become a global sensation, dominating the world of original short form video, and propelling obscure songs on to become chart-topping hits. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the mechanics of TikTok and outline some key strategies for using it to promote your music.
Guest post from the Soundcharts Blog
We have all heard of TikTok and its massive global capture. Since its launch back in September 2017, the social media app dedicated to creating short ‘authentic’ videos has expanded to over 150 markets and became a cultural phenomenon on a global scale. Today, TikTok is a favorite form of entertainment for some millions of users — and a platform with a proven track record of taking unknown songs and turning them into global, chart-topping hits. In 2020, TikTok has become an integral part of the music marketing landscape, and that’s why we’ve decided to put together this comprehensive guide, breaking down the mechanics of TikTok, and going through some of the main strategies for promoting music on TikTok.
TikTok Global MAU, September 2017 — May 2020, million. Source: PrioriData
What is TikTok?
The chances are you are acquainted with TikTok on some level — even if you’re not an active user yourself, you ought to be familiar with the content and trends that have originated on the platform. However, saying that TikTok is just a short-form video sharing platform would be a massive oversimplification. Short video format in itself is hardly new — you can find it on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. TikTok isn’t even the first platform to put the format front and center — Vine went there 7 years ago. So, what makes TikTok so different from every platform that came before it?
To answer that question we have to take a brief dive into the history of the platform. It’s a common misconception that TikTok was born when ByteDance, a Chinese startup, bought Musical.ly in 2018 — which is just a part of the story. In fact, the two apps used to exist side by side for almost a year, as TikTok was first launched as an international version of ByteDance’s Douyin back in September 2017.
It won’t take long to describe Douyin to the western audience — for all intents and purposes, it’s just TikTok on the Chinese market. Sure, there might be an extra feature here and there — but at its core, Douyin is TikTok and vice versa. That counterintuitive two-app set up is not even a business decision — it’s a result of regulations imposed by the Chinese government on the local tech industry (If you’d like to know more about how the Chinese tech industry works, check out our deep dive into the Chinese Music Market)
So, back in 2017 Douyin was the fastest growing app in China by a huge margin — and at the core of that growth was one thing, and one thing only. Today, we now know it as the “TikTok algorithm” — a (so far) unmatched system, that allows TikTok to serve hyper-personalized feeds to its users, based on their behavior on the platform. That algorithm was the main building block of the app’s success — and it’s the same thing that drives TikTok today.
So, Douyin was making a lot of noise back in China, and ByteDance decided to expand its operation overseas. TikTok was launched in September 2017, but counter to the idea of TikTok as this “grand explosive success story”, the first year of the app on the international market was actually pretty quiet in comparison.
You see, every social media out there is subjected to what is known in marketing tradition as the “communication good effect”. In short, it comes down to a simple equation: the more people use the product, the more valuable it becomes — and you could argue that TikTok is even more susceptible to that effect than the likes of Facebook or Instagram. This can help us explain the moderate success TikTok throughout its first year on the global arena — a number of active users producing content on the platform plays a huge role in forming the app’s value proposition.
In August 2018 ByteDance merged Musical.ly into TikTok, effectively pouring its 100 million MAUs into the video-sharing app — and that is when things really exploded. In a matter of months, TikTok’s active audience grew by over 150 million. Just a few months later a little-known independent rapper from Atlanta uploaded an eccentric song on the platform, following his plan to “promote it as a meme”. That song ended up breaking the Billboard’s record for the longest leading #1 song on the Hot-100 chart — I’m talking, of course, about Lil Nas X and his break out single Old Town Road.
In a way, that was the moment when people around the music industry really saw what TikTok is capable of. From that point on, the platform has become the power to be reckoned with, and soon enough found its way into marketing strategies of artists of all shapes and sizes. That said, we have to admit that while the TikTok audience is massive — closing in on the milestone of 250 million active users as of May 2020 — some sources tend to overstate the platform’s importance.
One of the most common metrics thrown around is TikTok’s 800 million MAU — which is not technically false. However, it does count Douyin’s 500+ million user base as the audience of TikTok, and given the two-app set up we’ve outlined above, that’s not really valid. Even though TikTok has definitely found purchase with the Western audiences, it’s yet to match the scope of its Chinese twin.
Why is TikTok so successful?
What makes TikTok special? What makes it different from any other platform that came before it? Let’s start with that quick stat: in 2018, more than 55% of all active TikTok users were not just watching videos on the platform — they were regularly uploading videos of their own. And that is just huge.
Compare that to YouTube, for example. It’s impossible to find an exact figure for a percentage of YouTube users that are uploading on the platform, but it’s obviously just a fraction of the platform’s 2 billion global user base. In that sense, despite its massive role in modern digital culture, YouTube is still a platform that is rooted in traditional, “one-to-many” communication schema. So what TikTok did is that it took the many-to-many communication approach found on social media and applied to video — arguably the single most important format of the digital age. On TikTok, everyone is an audience, and everyone is a creator, and that is the key to TikTok’s success.
First, what TikTok did was to remove all traction, on sides of the system. For the supply of content, ByteDance made sure that it’s very easy for a user to start creating content. Sure, it can take hours, days or even weeks to produce some of the most advanced content on the platform, but if we’re talking a simple, “salt of the earth” TikTok, it probably won’t take you longer than 10 minutes to go from an idea to a final edit layered with filters, effects, and music.
Then, on the demand side, TikTok has built a feed designed to host all that user-generated content. If you have had any experience with the likes of Tinder, you’d probably notice that watching videos on TikTok resembles the flow of those dating apps in a lot of ways. As a viewer on TikTok, there’s a single main action that you can perform — you can swipe up to skip the video and immediately get to the next one. That’s it — and that set up allows TikTok to do something that no other platform can. It can afford to serve its users videos they’re not really interested in — worst-case scenario, they’ll just skip it. The whole interaction will take just a few seconds. In fact, some would say that this “instability” of the TikTok feed is one of the main reasons behind the app’s addictiveness. There’s just something very captivating about that process of “looking for something interesting” around TikTok’s seemingly endless feed.
But that system wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the secret ingredient — the recommendation engine. In a way, TikTok was the first app in history that is based entirely on a principle of AI serving content to the viewer. I mean, there is a dedicated section of the app that allows users to watch content by the creators they follow, but it’s the “For You” recommendation section of the app where the magic really happens. If we would compare it to YouTube — even though recommendation and programmatic curation is a huge part of it now, YouTube is still about people navigating the platform and choosing the content they want to engage with. On TikTok, there’s no such thing as a direct choice, Users don’t have any direct power over the content they are consuming — it’s all about the algorithm that gets to know you as you spend more time on the platform.
The TikTok Algorithm
Initially, this was supposed to be a section of the article where we sort of hypothesize on the principles that drive the TikTok recommendation engine — since, you know, TikTok obviously doesn’t disclose how it all works. But in a lucky coincidence, just a few days ago, TikTok lifted the curtain and published an article on the platform’s blog breaking down the main building blocks of the TikTok algorithm. We won’t go through all the details of how the platform’s recommendation engine is set up — here’s a link to the original post if you’d want to dive in. Instead, let’s try to understand why the recommendation engine works that way.
Given the participation rate on the platform, the TikTok algorithm has to deal with a sheer volume of content that none of the platforms that came before had to deal with. And when it comes to processing that enormous flow of user-generated content, the primary principle of TikTok recommendation is that every video gets a chance. Here’s how they put it in the blog post we’ve mentioned above:
“While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, by virtue of that account having built up a larger follower base, neither follower count nor whether the account has had previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the recommendation system”.
The main goal of the TikTok’s recommendation engine is surfacing content that is interesting in one way or another — regardless of the initial audience of the creator. When the video is uploaded on the platform, TikTok will choose a small sample of viewers and show them the video to test it out. If it does well among that narrow group of users — taking into account metrics like completion ratio, comments, shares, and likes (you know, the usual stuff) — the algorithm will proceed to show the video to a wider audience. And then, the cycle repeats.
That approach allows TikTok to take a video uploaded by a regular “no follower base whatsoever” user, and spin it to thousands or even millions of views. Which really gives us a perspective on the platform’s unmatched participation rate. Any user on TikTok has a chance to get millions of strangers to engage with their video — and I don’t have to tell you about the social media high that comes with all those views, likes, and comments.
So, you can view TikTok as a two-way street. First, you have a pull of 200+ million users sifting through their feeds, looking for something interesting and engaging. Then, half of them also upload on the platform, in a hope of becoming a “TikTok Influencer” — creating a massive pool of content for the algorithm to process, test, and push upwards. That set up is what makes TikTok such a fertile ground for all things viral. This balance is what makes things like memes, viral dance routines, and challenges such a staple of the platform.
Let’s say there’s a video posted by a big TikTok influencer lip-synching to a song — and that video falls in favor with the algorithm. Millions of people are going to see it, and let’s say that something like 1% of them will decide to do their version of the lip-sync — after all, the original video did so well! Those videos will start a journey of their own, the cycle will repeat itself — and before long, you have a TikTok trend on your hands. And more often than not there will be a song attached to it, becoming a flag of sorts, signaling to the viewer that this particular TikTok is a part of a bigger trend.
That is a bit of an oversimplification, of course. Not all songs will make it on the platform, and not all dances will start a challenge. Besides, there’s more to the TikTok algorithm itself. There are themes assigned to the videos, matched with the user’s interest profiles. TikTok, just like YouTube, is a multi-faced platform, with hundreds of different narratives developing simultaneously across the space — you have your beauty blogs, dance routines, comedy sketches, hell, even financial advice blogs. But whatever the facet is, the core principle on which the algorithm is built remains the same.
Artist’s Guide to TikTok
So, with that introductory part of the way, let’s get to the heart of the matter. With all the stories of global hits breaking through TikTok — how can artists and music professionals leverage the platform? Well, the first thing that you have to understand is that when you approach TikTok as an artist, there are quite a few paths you can take, that all ultimately lead to the same end goal.
How to Grow Your Following and Views on TikTok
First and foremost, you can engage with a platform directly and expand your social media reach into TikTok. That means creating and growing an artist’s TikTok account to expand the overall reach of their music — just like you would on Instagram or Facebook. But before you decide to engage with the platform as a creator, you need to understand what type of native TikTok content you can produce to fit with your artist’s universe.
The chances are, if you want to start a page as an artist on TikTok, your end goal is driving people towards your music. So, the artist’s TikTok profile has to be built around that — which means finding a way to feature music in the videos you produce, while making sure that they still fit the spirit of the platform. Simply posting snippets of your upcoming tracks or behind the scenes footage from the studio is not going to cut it — other platforms are way better for that. When you build your following on TikTok, you have to remember that you’re in the hands of the algorithm, and while it can enable you to get in front of A LOT of people, your content needs to be short, catchy and engaging.
Like on any social media, a few practices have proven to push the growth of a user’s following. If you want to maximize your chances of going viral, here are some tips for you to take into account.
1. Pick a theme and stay consistent
The most important thing that you need to do when planning your rise to fame on TikTok is to pick a topic (aside from your music) that you will center your content around. This will help the algorithm to put you in a certain category on the platform and match you with people who enjoy that type of content. What’s your future TikTok account going to look like once it’s built up? Is it comedy sketches and memes? Is it music production tips? There are a lot of ways you can go about it — while Jason Derulo’s TikTok is all about dance routines, Diplo’s official account is all comedy and sketches. Your theme can be pretty broad, but once you pick one — stay consistent.
Hashtags are probably the most important method to determine the relevancy of a video. If you choose popular hashtags, that should increase the chances of your video appearing on TikTok’s Discover and For You tabs. Assumingly, the TikTok algorithm will take into account the hashtags to determine what’s the video is about — so make sure you give it enough to work with. For some insights on what hashtags are popular right now, check out the Discover tab.
3. Follow Trends and Take Part in Challenges
Remember how I’ve talked about the fact that the very nature of TikTok means that all sorts of trends and challenges flourish on the platform? Well, if you’re looking to grow your own TikTok account, the same principles will apply to you. If there’s a new challenge blowing up on the platform, TikTok viewers will be more likely to engage with that type of content — and the algorithm knows it. So, if you see the trend that’s up your alley and have an idea for an engaging take on it — by all means, go for it. But remember, you have to stay consistent — so don’t sway too far from the core of your content strategy.
And don’t forget about hashtags, too — there’s ought to be one attached to the trend. People who want entertainment go to the Discover tab to see what’s trending, so you’d want to get your videos there as well.
4. Feature Your Music on TikTok
Since you’re using TikTok as a channel to promote your music, make sure that all of your active followers on the platform know damn well what you’re doing outside the platform. You don’t need to be too blunt about it — TikTok is hardly a place for “New Single Out on All Streaming Platforms” announcements. However, if you’re producing native TikTok content, you have every reason to use your own songs as soundtracks.
5. Make use of TikTok Pro Analytics
Not that long ago, TikTok rolled out a proprietary analytics dashboard, available to all creators on the platform as a free feature. With TikTok Pro, you can track profile and video views, follower dynamics, audience demographics, and get insights on your content to see which of your videos work best. To switch to a Pro account, simply go to Manage my account tab, and click on Switch to TikTok Pro. You’re all set!
In more details, TikTok Pro Includes three main views:
- Profile Overview: Includes video views, profile views over the last 7 days, and follower evolution, going back to the day you’ve upgraded to Pro.
- Content Insights: Organizes your content from newest to oldest, and shows specific insights on each video (Likes, the total number of comments and shares, types of traffic, audience territories, and more)
- Follower Insights: Includes the total number of followers, evolution graphs, and audience breakdown by gender, territory, and follower’s activity.
The app starts tracking from the day you switch and needs at least 7 days to gather some of the deeper insights. It’s highly recommended to go Pro as soon as you start posting content!
6. Don’t get banned
TikTok claims to be highly active regarding its users’ safety. To create a setting of authentic interaction, TikTok blocks spam-ish, offensive, or harmful content. If the platform notices any of the following, it will ban the account, so try to avoid it at all cost:
- Using banned hashtags
- Deleting a lots content in one go
- Following and unfollowing many users in a sitting
- Using copyrighted material
But however big your own TikTok account can potentially get, it won’t compare with the impact of one of the artist’s songs becoming a soundtrack for a popular TikTok trend or challenge. Which brings me to the second strategy you can choose to leverage TikTok’s viral nature and massive audience.
How to Get Your Music Trending on TikTok
In the last year, we’ve seen numerous marketing agencies — Fanbytes is the first name that comes to mind — flock to the platform, offering brands and artists their expertise in launching viral TikTok trends. From the music industry perspective, this is where the power of TikTok really is. TikTok trends and challenges can bring enormous exposure to the artist’s music — and if you get the combination of the creative idea and music right, it won’t even cost you that much.
At its core, any TikTok challenge consists of people recreating an original video with their unique touch. All challenges are associated with a few hashtags, one of them being the name of the challenge. For example, Benny Blanco’s, juice WRLD and Fanbytes have recently pushed the #schoolyears challenge to promote the song Graduation. The challenge was all about getting users reminiscing about their school years by showing how they’ve changed throughout school — ending, of course, with the graduation. That challenge was recreated over 80K times, and has over 6M views — and by TikTok standards, that’s not even such a huge number.
While the space around TikTok trends and challenges is growing more and more competitive with each day, it’s still very much every man’s game. All it takes is a good idea, a catchy song — or rather, a catchy moment — and a few well-chosen influencers to kick the things off. But let’s take it one step at a time. Here’s our step by step guide to launching a TikTok challenge.
1. Spend time on TikTok
I can’t stress this enough — TikTok is a unique platform with a unique feel for content. So if you’re planning to make the platform a part of your marketing strategy, the best advice I can give you is to go and spend time on the platform yourself. Try to understand which content is popular and why — that experience will be invaluable in the latter stages of planning your viral TikTok campaign.
2. Find your 15-second long TikTok moment
Now, it’s time to dig in and come up with the idea for your future challenge. And on TikTok, it should all start with the song itself, or, rather, a music moment. You see, when it comes to TikTok challenges 15 seconds excerpts work best. That is not an imperative per se — but short content is what really drives the platform. For example, TikTok suggests using videos of 9-15 seconds long as a best practice for in-feed ads — and there’s every reason to believe the same rules will apply to your future challenge.
So, study your music and try to locate a few 15-seconds long TikTok moments — the parts of the song that you think have the most viral potential. There’s a lot of things that can work well on the platform — look for surprise drops, memorable lyrics that can work outside of the son’s context, ect. Your TikTok moment should connect with the theme of the future challenge, whether through lyrics, or the dynamic of the music itself, but be versatile enough to leave room for interpretation.
3. Make sure your song is distributed to TikTok
That’s a simple step, but it’s still worth noting. Not all of the digital distributors work with TikTok so far — so it will be well advised to check with your distributor to see if the song you’ve chosen will be available for TikTok creators to use.
4. Brainstorm challenge ideas
As for the creative behind the challenge itself, you should always yourself: what will the viewers get out of it? What will make the challenge memorable? Your challenge has to be engaging and easy to understand — the video that will start the challenge should clearly convey what the challenge is about.
And then, even more importantly, think of what the creators will get out of getting in on the challenge? Is it designed to encourage rewatchability? Is it easy to recreate? Does it leave enough room for interpretation and modification? After all, at launch, TikTok challenges are more of a template for creators to work with and expand on.
5.Choose a memorable hashtag
Every trend need’s a name for people to identify it and engage with it. So, pick a clear and memorable hashtag, that will tie the challenge together. If all goes well, that name will be associated with your music for a long time, and there’s no turning back once it’s out. So do put some thought into it.
6. Pick your TikTok target audience and locate influencers that will help you reach it
The chances are you have a pretty good idea of what your target audience is. Now, imagine the TikTok’s audience, and try to find an overlap. That is your TikTok target. What are they interested in? What type of Tik Tok do they enjoy? The next step is to find TikTok influencers who have a good affinity with that audience to contact them with an offer to launch a challenge — so you have to understand where your TikTok audience is.
Contacting influencers is also a great way to test your idea — the better they respond to your pitch, the more chances there are of it going viral. So, don’t be afraid to ask influencers what they think about your idea, no punches pulled — TikTok influencers will have much more experience with the platform, so you should really listen to what they have to say.
7. Think about the customer journey
Now, that is arguably the most important step in the whole process. We’ve seen countless artists and songs get viral on TikTok with no real, meaningful impact on the artist’s career. The chances are, you don’t want for the artist to be remembered as “that guy who wrote that TikTok song”.
So, think about how you will convert the TikTok audience to your other platforms, whether it’s Spotify or Instagram, and how you will make them stay. At the end of the day, viral marketing is a tool that is perfect for building awareness, but it’s not fit for building a loyal fan base. Ideally, your TikTok campaign should be a part of the overarching content plan that will have a long-lasting impact on the artist’s career.
Perhaps the most important tool at your disposal here is the official song page attached to every song officially distributed to TikTok. The song’s page, as outlined below includes the link to Apple Music, prompting users to access the full song — but even more importantly it links to the artist’s official TikTok account if they have one. So, it might be a good idea to make sure that the artist has an up and running, verified TikTok account to use as a conversion point between TikTok and other artist’s platforms.
TikTok Song Page for BMW Kenny’s Wipe It Down
8. Kick off the challenge
This last step is pretty self-explanatory — if you got all the i’s dotted and all the t’s crossed, it’s time to kick off the challenge and see where this viral journey will take you. Best case scenario your challenge is a hit, and millions of people are now engaging with your music on a daily basis. But beware — the TikTok’s viral nature also means that the trends come and go, and so the window of opportunity for converting all that awareness into something meaningful and long-lasting will be pretty short.
TikTok Analytics: Monitoring Music and Influencers on TikTok
We at Soundcharts are big believers in the power of music data. Actionable, real-time insights are a crucial tool for any music professional out there — and platform-specific data is simply indispensable when working with a specific platform. So, if you plan to engage with TikTok and make it a part of your marketing strategy, we think that you should check out the TikTok Analytics solutions that can help you on that journey — whether it means looking for the right influencers to support your challenge, or hunting for the latest TikTok viral breakout.
Below, we’ve assembled a concise list of third-party data solutions and resources that we think can prove immensely useful to artists and music professionals alike:
While not a data solution per se, TikTok Ads is both a great “learning” resource, a place where you engage with TikTok’s display network and an official platform connecting brands and TikTok creators/influencers
Analisa is a platform for marketers, agencies, influencers, and media publishers, allowing them to evaluate any public profile or hashtag on TikTok. Check historical data, follower demographics, authenticity, and content engagement metrics to single out top-performing, relevant influencers, and more.
Cloutmeter keeps track of more than 87k TikTok profiles to analyze engagement rates, video statistics, and more, all with a single goal — to help you understand your progress on the platform and educate your marketing strategy.
Exolyt helps influencers, content creators, and marketers by providing tools to calculate how much money TikTok influencers make, as well as insights on engagement and growth metrics, with analytics going as deep as a single video level.
TikAnalytics allows users to locate and review the biggest account by the country of origin, following, and engagement rates. With over 95K accounts tracked, and tools designed for analysis of TikTok trends and hashtags TikAnalytics is a great tool for anyone looking to build a following on the platform.