"TikaToka-who?" laughed Adele in her exclusive interview with Zane Lowe, ahead of the release of her album 30 last year. In response to her label’s suggestion that she start using TikTok ahead of the album’s release, she said; "If everyone is making music for the TikTok, who is making music for my generation?"
Adele is not the only major artist who is being persuaded by her label team to embrace TikTok. Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine recently posted a TikTok with the caption, "The label are begging me for ‘low fi tik toks’ so here you go. pls send help ☠️ x". Charli XCX, famously outspoken about the pitfalls of the modern music industry, has made multiple TikToks alluding to her label asking her to use the platform.
Adele said “Tika Toka whoooo.” #Adele30 pic.twitter.com/vb79tkFXRY— Culture Unfiltered ✨ (@MasaniMusa) November 18, 2021
TikTok has an undeniable influence over the modern music industry, and for that reason, major labels, and other key industry players like managers, A&R representatives, agents, and marketing executives understand that a successful presence on the app can do wonders for an artists' career at any level. The app is creating hits through trending sounds, plucking bedroom artists from obscurity and thrusting them into the spotlight, and allowing artists' fanbases to grow exponentially in a short amount of time.
But what happens when every artist in the world is 'forced' to start making content for TikTok, by their label, or their management team — or just by general, ever-present pressure from the music industry? What happens when the app is flooded with begrudged content — videos that were made under duress by tired musicians who are expected to take to content creation as easily as they take to their instruments?
The label are begging me for ‘low fi tik toks’ so here you go. pls send help ☠️ x♬ original sound - Florence
Adele might be able to say no to her label when they ask her to download the app — but emerging artists do not have that luxury. If the world’s biggest artists are still being pressured to create content for TikTok, what is being asked of the world’s emerging artists, who may not yet have even found their own unique sound, or their own voice?
'Content creator' is not synonymous with 'musician'
The expectation that young artists have an innate understanding of social media snuck up on us over the years. With the advent of MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok, musicians have been expected to adapt to the requirements of each new social platform, harnessing them cleverly for promotional purposes and intuitively knowing when to jump ship once a platform loses relevance.
Artists like Peach PRC and Leith Ross have had extreme success with TikTok, building audiences of millions who love these artists for their music, and for their personalities — both of which are on show on their respective TikTok accounts. Massive global superstars Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion have also taken easily to the platform, creating humorous, 'real life' content for their audiences that feels natural and fun.
These artists are a joy to watch. Embraced by their fiercely loyal audiences, they have adopted the role of 'content creator' naturally and without hesitation. They are prime examples of what can be achieved when the right artist meets with the right social platform at the right time in their career, and an inspiration to all young artists hoping to follow in their footsteps.
The daily grind for an emerging artist is varied but undeniably trying, particularly after the last two years. On top of daily practice, band rehearsals, writing and recording sessions, meetings, and late nights playing at venues across town, across the country, or across the world, a smaller artist will usually have to work a day job (or two…or three) to make ends meet.
The pressure and expectation to post multiple times a day to TikTok (and Instagram, and Twitter…) on top of everything else is absurd. Content creation is its own full-time job, one which requires study (at a tertiary level, or just through practice), time for trial and error, energy, and creativity (a precious resource for an artist, not something always easily accessed). If content creation does not come naturally to a person, it can feel torturous and futile to try.
Forcing every artist in the world to embrace TikTok is just lazy strategy
Music promotion on TikTok is an illusive art form in and of itself. Organic reach is everything for an artist on a release cycle and non-paid engagement is golden for musicians at all levels. This kind of genuine connection between artist and audience is only reached through honest, engaging content — the kind of content that prompts a like or a share, or a supportive comment from the audience.
Creating this type of original content is a tricky task; it must feel inherently natural, because internet-savvy audiences can detect content that feels forced, or as though they’re being advertised to. The content must be original, adding something different to a trend, or creating an entirely new one in the hopes that it'll catch on. And, on top of everything else, the artist must find a way to include and promote their music to the world — often all in videos that are less than a minute long.
The other thing about TikTok is that the algorithm moves so quickly, and trends are in and out of vogue so fast, that devising and sticking to a promotional strategy for the app requires a great deal of social media experience, improvisational skill and innovative ideas, lest the artist becomes the butt of the joke.
TikTok creator @moldogaa went viral with their recent video poking fun at a particular trend of artists 'leaking' their new songs on TikTok. Being made fun of is a risk that anyone who posts on the internet undertakes, but the risk feels higher when it’s your art — and your livelihood — that is at stake. Artists accidentally participating in an outdated trend like the one that @moldogaa is ridiculing in their video may find that their promotional efforts backfire when audiences suddenly find that particular trend cringey, not convincing.
While TikTok is a wonderfully diverse platform, it’s not going to suit every musician on the planet, particularly not emerging artists who have enough on their plate already without having to develop a reluctant career in content creation as well.
What happens if we saturate TikTok with reluctant musicians?
TikTok, the home of millions of strange, informative, hilarious, moving videos, is a weird and wonderful place. It’s a fascinating tool for artists, one which can be harnessed in a deeply powerful way — just ask Peach PRC, or Doja Cat, or Cody Fry, whose orchestral arrangement of Eleanor Rigby went viral on the platform and was ultimately nominated for a Grammy.
In today’s modern industry, artists should, at least, try their hand at new social platforms like TikTok, or Twitch, or even Discord. It could be the best move of their career to date. And if it doesn’t work out, at least they know they tried it.
If we force — either through industry pressure, or direct pressure from labels, management, agents — artists to use TikTok to promote their music, both with no support and no plan and with the expectation that the artist will just ‘figure it out’ themselves, we do both the artists and the app a disservice.
If we flood TikTok with musicians who are only on the platform creating content because they’re being ‘forced’ to do so…what does that achieve, for anyone?