Recently, there have been a lot of conversations about major labels pushing their roster to be active on TikTok. Whether being asked to promote a song or just to be present on the app, many artists are voicing their frustrations with being forced to market their music on the platform in order to make their labels happy.
You may have seen Halsey’s recent TikTok post (now deleted) in which they expresses frustration with their label, Capitol Records, after they allegedly prevented the singer from releasing a song until she could make it “go viral on TikTok.” Well, the post went viral, which resulted in fans bringing attention to other artists who have come forward about similar situations with their labels.
Capitol Records quickly reacted to all of the controversy with a statement in support of Halsey and their single release, but fans and musicians continue the conversation by asking big questions around labels vs artists when it comes to TikTok.
“Why are labels forcing their artists to be on the app?”
“Why do artists feel the need to listen to their labels?”
“Is the controversy actually a marketing strategy itself?”
Let’s dive into it.
The Relationship Between TikTok & Music Discovery
Imagine a pie that’s cut up into all the different ways an artist can market their music. In this pie, we’d see slices for radio play, touring, advertising, publicity, social media strategy, etc. For a long time, the slices of pie pretty much stayed the same with a mild shift any time a new platform or digital trend entered the equation.
When Covid hit in 2020, many of these marketing strategies (or slices of pie) became unavailable, which required musicians to find other ways to engage with their fans. At the same time, TikTok’s user base exploded with users around the world and quickly became a significant platform for musicians to entertain, engage, and grow their current audience with short-form content. With many of the traditional marketing slices out of the picture, TikTok’s slice of the marketing pie grew exponentially bigger.
Now, even as the world gets back to normal and the more traditional marketing strategies make their way back, TikTok still reigns as a major platform for music and continues to inch its way towards being a bigger slice of the pie. In 2021, TikTok found that 80% of their users say that the platform has become their number one source of music discovery, beating out other social competitors and streaming services. Not only has TikTok now taken up a large portion of the pie - it has completely changed the pie’s colors to black, pink, and blue (TikTok’s colors - get it?).
Labels Want to Market Your Music
Although labels have a majority of the pie covered with strategies such as PR and advertising, they’re now seeing this slice of TikTok that just keeps getting bigger and bigger with incomparable marketing potential. They’re always, and rightfully so, going to advise their clients to do everything they possibly can to promote their projects and connect with their audience. Both musicians and fans know this, and it’s even become a narrative within marketing strategies itself.
Fans have been shedding light on other occurrences of artists talking about being forced on TikTok by their labels, including pop-star Charli XCX. After a screen-shot of one of her previous TikTok posts circled the Internet, she quickly responded to the concerns on Twitter saying “not me - I was just lying for fun.” You had us there for a second, Charli.
As the “My label won’t stop asking to get on TikTok” narrative (whether it’s always true or not) continues to be a main talking point amongst artists, the idea of artists participating on TikTok is starting to sound more problematic than it actually is.
For established artists, TikTok may feel like the “hot new thing;” a flash in the pan that’s too time consuming and too trendy to keep up with. Yes, you’ll see people doing dances and goofy trends, but you will also find that kind of content on platforms most artists are using already. There will always be trend followers on every platform, but just because they make a lot of noise on TikTok doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for artists to tie in their own voice and strategy.
What’s the Solution?
After working with multiple artists that started with a not-so-hot impression of TikTok (and then went on to thrive on the platform), we’ve learned the major issue here is that these artists are not always fully educated on how they can tie their brand into a TikTok strategy that’s both efficient and within their own comfort level.
For artists who don't want to directly participate with TikTok, it’s okay. TikTok can take a lot of time and effort depending on how active they want to be, but there are other ways to have a presence on the platform without being directly on the platform. Take The 1975’s strategy for example - they’re utilizing the app to promote their music by posting aesthetic videos and adding their audio on top. It doesn’t always have to take a lot of time and effort. Figure out a strategy that would work best for your time, your brand, and your audience, then lean into it.
A Word of Encouragement for Artists
Because of TikTok’s landscape, it’s really easy to get caught up in the “virality” aspect that everyone obsesses over. If your posts aren’t reaching a million views, you’re not failing. The ‘virality’ obsession for TikTok users can make the posting process hard, but it’s important to remember that having a few posts a week hitting a cold audience and creating community is an extremely valuable addition to your marketing plan - and probably more action than you’re getting on Instagram right now. It’s worth investing your time into.
It’s worth remembering, TikTok is just another social media tool. It doesn’t have to be intimidating - you just need to treat it like any other platform you’ve taken part in and find a realistic plan that works best for you to communicate with your fans, just like you do with any other marketing strategy.