How is TikTok Affecting the Music Industry?

TikTok is changing the landscape of music and of musical artists.


Amanda Vick / Unsplash

Popular TikTok dances allow musical artists to gain a large audience.

You are on your favorite social media app, TikTok, and stumble upon a recently posted dance. The user is dancing to a song that is unfamiliar to you, but you seem to grow a liking towards it. You think nothing of the TikTok and continue scrolling through the app, but the short snippet of the song plays over and over again in your mind, causing you to be curious and wanting more. Before you know it, the song has become your most played song on Spotify.

With the short-form, social media app TikTok currently having over 1 billion users worldwide, it has become a great tool for musical artists. A unique aspect of TikTok is the ability of users to post videos with an added sound in the background. With TikTok having such a vast and diverse audience, it is a great platform for up-and-coming artists to spread their music, as well as well-known musicians to grow their fan bases and wealth.  

One common use of TikTok is to post a short video of yourself dancing to a popular song. What frequently occurs is one person or group creates a dance, their video gains millions of views, and  the dance takes the app by storm. According to Business Insider’s Dan Whateley, well-known TikTok songs frequently end up on the Billboard Hot 100 or Spotify’s Viral 50 songs list. Whateley mentions a study conducted by MRC data, stating that “67% of the app’s [Tik Tok] users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok.” Once millions of people are doing a dance to the same song, the artist who created the song gets more attention. Songs such as “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, “Say So” by Doja Cat, and “Savage” by Meghan Thee Stallion are all great examples of this trend.

Where are people currently discovering new music?

Of 21 students whom I surveyed, in age from 7th and 12th grade, two-thirds of them said that TikTok affects their music taste the most. When asked which artists they have discovered through the app, respondents commonly cited Frank Ocean, Steve Lacy, and the Arctic Monkeys. Lacy is an excellent example of an artist who has been positively affected by TikTok. One of his newer releases ‘Bad Habit,’ reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the help of over 500 thousand TikToks made to the song. As of October 2022, Lacy has 1.2 million followers, and 7.4 million likes on TikTok.

Not a single person surveyed said that the radio affects their music taste the most. This response shows a shift away from the “traditional” way of listening to new music towards discovering music through social media. According to Fred Jacobs, the founder and president of Jacobs Media, “…radio listening is trending down and it’s the lowest among the younger generations.” The study also resulted with the conclusion that “…trending down for radio is music discovery, something the radio industry has been touting as one of its biggest strengths for decades.” Since younger people are spending more time on social media rather than listening to the radio, radio broadcasting companies have been negatively impacted.

Statistics have proven that after hearing a new song on TikTok, users are highly likely to visit a streaming service, such as Spotify, to discover more music from the artist (Omid Armin / Unsplash)

Who are the artists most affected by TikTok?

As mentioned previously, Lil Nas X is a well-known example of an artist who has been greatly affected by TikTok. According to Andrew R. Chow, Lil Nas X was  “a college dropout sleeping on his sister’s floor.” He had a great passion for music and started promoting his song ‘Old Town Road’ through Instagram and Twitter, and later through TikTok. His song reached many people on the app, prompting the creation of many  different trends to the  song. His sudden boom in popularity caused many record labels to reach out, leading him to eventually sign with Columbia Records. ‘Old Town Road’ has won several awards, including four Billboard Music Awards, Apple Music Awards’ Song of the Year, BET Hip-Hop Awards’ Single of the Year and Best Duo, and two Grammys.

In December of 2019, TikTok creator Haley Sharpe posted a video of herself dancing to Doja Cat’s song, ‘Say So,’ which quickly became an incredibly popular dance. After the song gained more attention, Doja Cat released the song as a single a few months later. Megan Thee Stallion’s single ‘Savage’ reached a massive audience when TikTok user, Keara Wilson, posted a video of her choreography to the song, causing the song to become one of the most popular in 2020. ‘Savage’ later won a Grammy in 2021 for Best Rap Song.

How are musicians taking advantage of social media?

After noticing how social media benefits musicians, many musical artists are now taking advantage of various platforms. One way  they do so is by posting short clips of their unreleased songs to build up an audience. When  they eventually release their song, an artist might  already have a large number of people eager to listen. Another way to gain traction with listeners is to contact social media influencers to promote their music. This way, their songs can reach various fan bases. For example, if an artist reaches out to a TikTok dancer and asks them to spread their music, the influencer will most likely choreograph a dance to their song, which will then be replicated by their fans.

Artists gain a royalty each time someone plays one of their licensed songs on TikTok. Each time a user plays their song, an artist  receives about three cents. Though this amount seems minuscule, an artist’s profits can build up fairly quickly. As of October 2022, ‘Old Town Road’ was used in about 838 thousand TikToks, not including any remixes From the song  alone, Lil Nas X  made $25,152. Steve Lacy’s ‘Bad Habit’ has been played  in over half a million  TikToksearning roughly $21,000 in royalties.

So, how exactly is TikTok affecting the music industry?

TikTok allows musicians to easily spread their music and attract  a large audience. Several up-and-coming artists have used TikTok to help others discover their music, while already well-established musicians use  the app to tease unreleased songs and further grow their already large audience. Nowadays, more and more people are discovering music and artists through social media. Fewer people are tuning in to the radio now as a result, leaving a powerful industry at risk of massive losses. While TikTok has been an incredible platform for artists, its influence caused great controversy. Hopefully, both social media companies and the radio industry can work together to make music more accessible to consumers, and allow artists to gain the recognition they deserve.

67% of the app’s [Tik Tok] users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok,” according to Business Insiders Dan Whateley.