How TikTok Is Changing Marketing in the Music Industry and Beyond

In a TikTok post last month, singer Helsi shared a message with fans: “Basically I have a song that I like that I want to release soon,” the composer wrote, “but my record label won’t allow me.” Despite eight years in the music industry and over 165 million records sold, Helsi said, “My record company is saying I can’t release it unless they can fake a viral moment on Tiktok.”

Some other artists have recently expressed similar frustration with labels chasing the upcoming “Old Town Road” or “driver’s license” – singles who landed on TikTok and climbed the Billboard charts. “All record labels are asked for are TikToks,” FKA Twigs wrote in a deleted post on the platform. Florence Welch, Doja Kate and Charlie XCX also mentioned the TikTok fixation of their labels. Capitol Records Announced in a Twitter post Addressing the artist that he is committed to the release of “So Good” on June 9. “We are an artist-first company that promotes open dialogue,” the label said in a statement. “We have nothing but the desire to help each of our artists succeed, and hopefully we can continue this crucial conversation.”)

Complaints of recording artists about promotional demands are as old as the music industry, and have often come out in public quarrels. But these latest complaints are not targeted at the labels themselves. They appeal directly to fans (in Halsey’s case, 4.6 million of them on TikTok). And while they describe highly specialized scenarios – world-famous artists in disputes with their labels on marketing strategies – they also evoke the experience of those present on social media, where aspects of the celebrity experience are formalized and created. Available to everyone.

That’s all there is to it: being told how to market yourself is no longer just a celebrity problem. That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there.

One way to think about contemporary pop stars is to have real social media influencers. Some enjoy the opportunity to chat online with fans, and many get their first fame there (including Helsi). Others are less enthusiastic, but understand that their fans – or their labels – appreciate an authentic online presence. All this presents their complaints about Tiktok in a more recent tradition: calling social platforms.

Like musicians, professional social media influencers sometimes find themselves in conflict with their business partners. They are also under contract with large companies on which they depend for their livelihood and sense of self-worth and which are not shy in making demands.

YouTube creators, for example, rely on platforms for publishing, maintaining a relationship with their audience, payment, and distribution. For all but the biggest creators, YouTube’s management style is indirect. Its suggestions and requests, instead, are distributed through policies, comprehensive and frequently updated guidelines for creators and direct signals in its interface. Another way for YouTube to reach its creators is through its analytics dashboard, which receives constant feedback from Google about how they are performing in the Google ecosystem.

Popular art often refers to the conditions under which it was created, and the most devoted fans of musicians always get the picture in one way or another – that their favorite artists are stressed about sales, or insecure about reviews, or unhappy with the situation. Insane on their industry, or on their label. On YouTube, though, fans don’t have to look for clues. In the wide spectrum of YouTube content types, creators frequently raise their voices about the job of being a creator on the platform. Subscription milestones are openly pursued and marked, and fans are regularly thanked for their support – in real and personal words.

Emerging YouTubers, be they makeup tutors, comedians, product reviewers or political essayists, talk directly to viewers about their goals and progress: how many subscriptions they will need to quit their day job; How it will help them if you buy merchandise; And to subscribe, comment and turn on new video notifications. They talk about how hard they work, what the job wants, what the platform wants and what it offers. Ordinary YouTube viewers will eventually become familiar with growth-related vocabulary: CPM, copyright strikes, view velocity, demonetization. In the long run, every YouTube channel is about YouTube, at least a little bit.

The closest comparison to how recording artists can talk about their labels is how YouTuber can refer to the “algorithm” – a shortcut for the platform to talk about the vague instructions given to them. This is often combined with creative folk principles that link YouTube’s official guidelines with examples from personal successes.

YouTubers share and criticize, believing that YouTube demands from them: to post too often; To increase “viewing time” at any cost; Whether creators or their fans are attracted to new features like YouTube Shorts. They have criticized the company for giving advice on how to avoid burnout, leaving the feeling of uncertainty about the physical consequences of taking a break from posting. While some of these videos are addressed directly to YouTube, they seem to take refuge in appealing to the majority of fans, who can actually physically change YouTube’s situation by watching more collectively or joining differently. It’s a familiar but modified message: We’re together in this app.

TikTok, which has quickly become a major cultural influence, is also adhered to by industry standards. It’s an environment in which users are constantly given tips and tricks on how to engage and what to post, where complaints from famous artists about constant marketing interventions do not seem out of touch or unreasonable.

It’s also an environment where algorithm lock principles abound, especially about what it takes to show up on other users’ feeds, known as “for you” pages. In an upcoming paper, researchers Elena Maris, Hibby Thoch and Robin Kaplan suggest that on Tiktok, users plan to try to draw attention and influence, with not only attention but real money being distributed on the platform. . (In December, TikTok introduced new monetization tools for manufacturers, including a tipping feature.)

“With TikTok, we’re looking at this move from the algorithm’s lock principle to the return lock principle,” Kue said. Kaplan, a senior researcher at the Data and Society, a nonprofit research organization. Awareness of TikTok’s priorities – what it wants and how it assigns value – is “something that is reaching the general population of users,” she said.

Maybe it’s been a while. Millions of people can understand the stress of using Instagram with a variety of potential audiences (say friends and family) or with a sense of professional responsibility (for example, people who work for themselves, or in industries where business reputation is involved. ). Noticing that your numbers are lower than normal and wondering what other people are doing experiences that you don’t share is widely shared, such as dismissing or following a recommendation about a new feature or trend on the platform: Instagram Reels or close friends; Twitter space; YouTube shorts; TikTok Avatar. Haven’t posted in a while? Expect a notification about it, or 20.

In 2022, you don’t need to be a popular musician to get regular updates from unsolicited recommendations from audience research, unsolicited suggestions on how to best promote your brand, or how many people are involved in your latest release. Joining a social network for personal reasons to find oneself using it only for material purposes is, in fact, a standard experience. Even as a world-renowned recording artist, to bring it forward, is not just a bid for the sympathy of fans on social media – in a small way, it is an attempt to relate.


For Context is a column that explores the edges of digital culture.

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