Photo by Solen Feyissa
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A Musician’s Guide to TikTok Success

Anyone has the chance to go viral on TikTok. All it takes is attention-grabbing content, strategic hashtags, and some luck. Header Photo by Solen Feyissa

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While there is much debate about the future of TikTok in the U.S., the app continues to attract pop stars and indie artists alike. As social media platforms are increasingly saturated, TikTok offers a wellspring of opportunity. For now, anyone has the chance to go viral on the app without spending a dime. All it takes is attention-grabbing content, strategic hashtags, and a little luck. 

We’ve gotten used to seeing viral videos pouring from TikTok these days. Even if you’re not on the app, you can’t escape them. From the outside, it seems like an enigma. Isn’t this a platform where users post funny videos with their adorable pets? How do so many independent musicians go viral on there?

A great place to start is by observing musical artists who are blazing unique paths on the platform. For example, Box of Beats amassed 810.4K followers with clips featuring virtuoso displays of his vocal and beatmaking skills.

@boxofbeats

Mark my words, one day I’ll be performing at Coachella. ##xyzbca ##coachella2021 ##migente ##jbalvin ##foryoupage

♬ original sound - Box of Beats
Celebrities Adopt the Platform

TikTok has only recently become a place where people, including massive stars like DiploHalsey, and LAUV, show their humorous side.

What most outsiders don’t know is that the app had a music-oriented style from the start. For this reason, its layout and signature tools make TikTok an ideal setting for both creativity and collaborative marketing.

While cynics assume we’ll forget about TikTok in a year, mainstream artists target the platform to market new material. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s chart-topping single “WAP” has been circulating on the app for some time now. Dancers on TikTok enjoy putting their own spin on the choreography from the song’s official music video.

Some emerging TikTok trends are beyond the creator’s control. Still, make no mistake. When a mainstream hit goes viral on TikTok, there are professional music marketing strategists behind it. TikTok stars who achieve organic growth observe, take notes, and plan exactly how to use the app for their brand. These tactics are working.

TikTok Trending Song Makers

Writing songs that have a shot at trending on TikTok seems like a calculated move. However, you may already have a track in the works with viral potential. If so, focusing your efforts on TikTok marketing may be beneficial.

The music industry began to take notice of emerging TikTok trends when Lil Nas X broke out with “Old Town Road.” While the artist doesn’t actively use TikTok, others who do picked up on the genre-blending single. In another example, Berklee grad Sam Fischer signed a deal with RCA Records after his sleeper hit “This City” went viral on the app 18 months after its release.

Ava Max‘s promotional single “Not Your Barbie Girl” became a favorite on TikTok as well. Evidently, its unprecedented success paved the way for her breakthrough single, “Sweet but Psycho.”

For “Old Town Road,” the common visual theme in user clips was cowboy hats. By comparison, makeup artists and stylists embraced “Not Your Barbie Girl.” The main takeaway from these examples is that TikTok users pay attention to lyrics. An an artist, you have to offer users a relatable, clear theme.

TikTok Music Production Tips

Vocal producer KARRA created some of the most successful sample packs on royalty-free sound library Splice. Now, she shares quick music production and business tips on TikTok. Her succinct, useful tutorials have earned the attention of up-and-coming musicians around the world.

@iamkarramusic

Since my first record stop FX vid went viral, here’s how to do it in ##logic! 🎶 ##learnontiktok ##tiktokpartner ##vocals

♬ original sound - KARRA

Some major artists are also known to surprise their followers with short tutorials on the platform. Grammy-nominated songwriter Charlie Puth is a notable example. He recently showcased the making of his new single “Girlfriend” on TikTok. The casual but concise editing style of the tutorial provides a template for other self-produced artists.

Musicians who are new to the platform can establish their presence by recycling videos they published on other sites. Sound designer Richard Devine seems to be following this strategy. Devine shared a video of him using Roland’s TR-8S Rhythm Performer and its FM synthesis functions on TikTok a few days after it went live on Instagram.

@richarddevine_

New FM Synth mode is 🔥🔥🔥

♬ original sound - RichardDevine
TikTok Music Performers

For bands and cover musicians, YouTube is crucial to engage listeners. But if there’s one thing the founders of TikTok understand, it’s that people’s attention span is narrowing. Performers get this, too. By recording short, impressive TikTok performances, they increase their chances of mass notice.

Pop band Crimson Apple has reached 1 million followers on TikTok. The group did so thanks to its impressive collection of performance videos. This clip below, with the drummer behind Roland’s Octapad, is an excellent example. Watch how the band incorporates TikTok challenges into their routine.

While putting their spin on Doja Cat’s “Say So,” the band was also contributing to the viral dance challenge that started on the platform. The routine ended up on the official music video for the single.

TikTok Challengers and Dueters

Duet is one of the most appealing features of TikTok and a perfect way for musicians at every level to collaborate. By enabling Duet when you post, anyone can record their reactions and corresponding performance with your content.

This feature breaks the barriers between high profile artists and newcomers. Charlie Puth recently shared the following content with the caption, “I woke up and made this. Who should sing it with me? Tell me.”

@charlieputh

I woke up and made this. Who should sing it with me ? Tell me

♬ original sound - Charlie Puth

Now, let’s take a look at how TikTok star Blu DeTiger responded to the challenge. It didn’t take long for Charlie Puth to take notice of her masterful performance on Twitter.

@bludetiger

had to try this one out @charlieputh

♬ original sound - Charlie Puth
Getting Discovered on TikTok

There’s one fundamental difference between TikTok and other social media channels. On TikTok, users view videos from accounts they don’t follow as soon as they open the “Home” page. On top of this, like most other platforms, TikTok offers a “Discover” tab.

All signs point to one fact: TikTok is not a social network that got a makeover to become a marketing device. Savvy self-promotion is at the core of TikTok. For musicians, this makes the platform well worth exploring.

SIRMA

Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and now living in Brooklyn, NY, SIRMA is a singer, songwriter, and producer who blends Alternative Pop with Electronica. She is the creator of the Modern Pop Vocal Production course on Soundfly and has a degree from Berklee College of Music. Find out more at sirmamusic.com.