TikTok and the music industry have clashed since the beginning, as the social platform upends traditional music marketing. However, record labels still have buying power and market share—they simply need to channel these resources in ways that are relevant to the younger listeners of today with insatiable appetites for new music. Just keep in mind competition is now much stiffer because it doesn’t take much money to record and post a song on TikTok. To many labels, this is old news; in fact, artists such as Halsey have complained that their singles are being withheld until the tracks trend on TikTok. Certainly, the new paradigm has arrived.
TikTok shapes the Billboard charts, and it shapes Spotify, so you can’t simply ignore it as a record label and expect to exert the same sort of influence you garnered in the past. Networks and money have been traded in for a social platform that has always had its roots in music via Musical.ly.
Singles are constantly sprouting on TikTok, so if you aren’t up on a daily or weekly basis, you’re lost as a music marketer. But there are clear signs record labels have caught on. As mentioned earlier, musicians such as Halsey have complained that their singles have been held from release until they trend on TikTok. Music labels percentages of future profits have declined every year since 2017; and, per Spotify filings, music labels have slowly lost market share of the streaming service year after year.
The established music industry is fighting back with its buying power by purchasing influence through paying creators to promote certain songs. Music marketers, as in other social media influencer campaigns, first focused on the super creators but are now working their way down to the micro creators.
These small-time players have relatively tiny followings but big conversion pulls amongst their niche groups, so they can’t be ignored. In fact, paying a lot of influencers less is better than paying the big names a big chunk of your marketing budget because what’s going to be hot next is impossible for anyone to predict.
Influencers don’t have to be into music per se to get funded. Just playing a song in the background of a video from any popular category gets it to the ears of those who will spread the news about the new musician. When a certain post spikes in streams, a marketing team for each label is there to pick up the data and run with it, pushing the promotion for that artist even more.
Even TikTok itself has an internal music division that monitors trends in music, so what blows up can be the result of the platform’s own, instead of outside label teams.
Once they see a sign of popularity, they can promote it in a variety of ways native to the app, such as allowing users to feature the song in their posts.
Your brand should carry through across all your social media, including TikTok. That way there is continuity when content bleeds over, for example from TikTok to YouTube. But staying on brand also means making sure that the TikTok algorithm categorizes your musical efforts correctly each time.
Sustaining momentum on TikTok takes consistency, ideally with posts 3-5 times per day, if you can spare the time. Although this seems overwhelming at first, if you break your posts into different categories, it can be easier to come up with content ideas.
Working on TikTok as a record label can seem like a big shift, but record labels have always been masters of promotion. It’s simply the medium that is changing, not the overall objective. You’ve always needed to bring the music to the people, whether it was on the radio, through MTV, YouTube, or now, TikTok. Keep in mind it gets easier and easier to reach people, even as the competition heats up.