TikTok is an essential promotional tool for music artists and record labels. Songs can rise up organically on the app even if they’ve been outside the mainstream for decades. Marketers can also hire influencers to try to make a song take off, sparking a wave of user-generated posts from their fans. And some artists even write songs that directly reference TikTok trends in the hope that it will help it gain steam on the app.
“TikTok has really become a critical part of artist storytelling,” Kristen Bender, SVP of digital strategy and business development at Universal Music Group, told Insider during a webinar on TikTok’s impact on the music industry. “Since we signed our deal with TikTok earlier this year, our labels have been extremely leaned into the platform.”
The industry’s attention on TikTok isn’t unfounded. Songs that trend on TikTok often end up charting on the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50. And 67% of the app’s users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok, according to a November study conducted for TikTok by the music-analytics company MRC Data.
Song promo deals between music marketers and influencers have also become an important source of income for TikTok creators. Some users can earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single video where they promote an artist’s track.
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“Music marketing on TikTok is huge,” Jesse Callahan, founder of the upstart marketing firm Montford Agency, told Insider . “It’s a big way that labels have brought artists into the spotlight the last couple of years. It’s also a big way that creators have made a lot of money.”
TikTok has become a hub for labels to promote both new releases and back catalog tracks. And a new cohort of social-media music marketers has sprung up to support promotional efforts on the app.
Many record labels have teams dedicated to monitoring the app so they can help fan the flames on a trending song when it starts to take off.
“Our entire music catalog is effectively tracked on a daily basis,” said Andy McGrath, the senior vice president of marketing at Legacy Recordings, a division within Sony Music focused on the label’s catalog of songs dating back decades. “We’re constantly monitoring actions, reactions, and trends that happen on TikTok.”
While some songs take off on TikTok accidentally, as was the case with Matthew Wilder’s 1983 song “Break My Stride” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” other times, record labels and marketers pay TikTok influencers to promote a particular song in a video.
The media company Flighthouse helped boost the popularity of Surfaces’ “Sunday Best” almost a year after the song was first released by creating a user-generated video trend around the track.
The company hired about 20 TikTok influencers to amplify its efforts.
“When Flighthouse gets hold of a record, it’s kind of incumbent upon us to create context for a song, especially for TikTok,” Sher Chaudhary, Flighthouse’s strategy lead, told Insider last year.
While TikTok is often a go-to platform for promoting a newly released track, some artists incorporate the app even earlier in their creative process.
The Canadian rapper Tiagz (Tiago Garcia-Arenas) built a following of 4.2 million fans on the app by writing songs that directly referenced the app’s popular memes and trends, effectively gaming its search and content recommendation algorithms.”I tried to understand the platform,” Tiagz told Insider . “I kept doing these memes because I saw that it worked.”
Not all song trends on TikTok happen serendipitously or via external music marketing campaigns. TikTok also has an internal music division dedicated to monitoring music trends on the app. The team has a series of “promo levers” it uses to boost the popularity of songs. The company can add new tracks to playlists in the “Sounds” section of its app and apply keywords on the back end to optimize song discoverability in the app’s search interface.
It’s impossible to predict what video or music trends will take off on TikTok. RCA Records’ SVP of digital marketing Tarek Al-Hamdouni said the label’s promotional strategy involves a fair amount of experimentation with each campaign. The company will often work with an influencer agency to find somewhere between 10 and 30 lower-follower-count influencers to promote a new track in videos and then go after trends that stick.
“We actually give them the freedom to post what they’d like with that content,” he said. “If you see one or two posts start to overperform based on a consistent creative, what we can do is go find those bigger influencers and get them on board with the trend. In the best-case scenario, your micro-influencer campaign is so successful that it creates the trend on its own and then the bigger influencers are going to jump on board organically.”
How TikTok creators can make money from working with music industry professionals
Music marketers regularly pay TikTok influencers to promote songs. The practice has become so common that there are entire agencies dedicated to song promotions on the app.
For the app’s creators, it can be an easy way to monetize their following without having to create a sponsored post for a brand.
“We’ve still found that TikTok remains the most engaged, the most used, and the most rewarding per dollar spent,” Griffin Haddrill, an artist manager and cofounder of the marketing agency VRTCL, told Insider .
As TikTok’s user base has grown and content has become more saturated, marketers are turning more to micro influencers over superstars for song campaigns.
“The price point for mega stars is extremely high,” Zach Friedman, a cofounder at the upstart record label Homemade Projects, told Insider . “The way the TikTok algorithm works, it’s hard to know what’s going to be successful. Instead of paying a premium for a D’Amelio, you could pay a micro influencer $200 and their TikTok could get 10 million views. Because of this, it’s better to cast a wider net.”