Is TikTok democratizing pop music?

In February 2019, the video-sharing platform, TikTok, reached a major milestone:one billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play. Since then, TikTok’s rise in the cultural zeitgeist has been nothing less than unprecedented. The app has been responsible for many cultural phenomena, but most interesting is its unforeseen impact on the The music industry. With its mainstream notoriety, the app has radically changed the formula for success for up-and-coming music artists. Thanks to the platform’s unique algorithm and design, previously unknown musicians have found success in and beyond the digital world.

Unlike other social media platforms, the reach of user content on TikTok is not dependent on a pre-existing audience. Instead of just focusing on the accounts a user follows, the For You page on TikTok exposes users to unique and personalized content algorithmically determined to appeal to them. The algorithm’s important role in delivering user content not only differentiates TikTok from its competitors, but also means that anyone on the app can go viral if they try hard enough.

While average users call the shots on TikTok, a user with a moderate following can post a dance or comedic bit to a song and single-handedly launch into notoriety. For artists looking to break into the industry, TikTok is an attractive platform to promote music organically as a statistics confirm that 63% of TikTok users discover artists they’ve never heard of through the app.

PinkPanthera 21-year-old British film student, is an example of a TikTok music sensation whose viral songs “Pain” and “Just for me” have earned her critical acclaim from music publications like Billboard and Fork. Like many recent up-and-coming artists, PinkPatheress relied on the TikTok algorithm to carry his garage-rock-inspired bedroom pop tunes to listeners. Within three months of its release, the hit song “Just for me” was used in 2.2 million TikTok videos.

Even music industry veterans recognize the power of TikTok’s user base to generate hype and revenue. Waiting for his album Redis reissued, Taylor Swift launched a TikTok profile and released “Taylor’s version” of her song “Wildest Dreams” after it gained traction on the platform.

There’s no doubt that TikTok is redefining what success in the music industry looks like in the digital age. But it remains to be seen if the platform will continue to offer smaller artists an opportunity in the spotlight or if TikTok’s user base will become another demographic that music industry executives are looking to charm. For now, TikTok’s userbase is seizing – perhaps refreshingly – on the opportunity to democratize our mainstream music choice.

About Raymond Lang

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