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Top power players using TikTok to transform the music industry

  • TikTok has transformed the music industry in recent months as tracks that go viral on the app have taken over the Billboard 100 and Spotify Viral 50 charts.
  • TikTok’s music-friendly interface and its users’ penchant for dance challenges have made it an indispensable promotional tool for the music industry.
  • Business Insider compiled a power list of the 24 music marketers, artists, digital creators, record labels, and other industry insiders who are using TikTok to help define popular music in 2020.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On January 13, the marketing team at Sony Music Entertainment noticed that one of its artist’s songs was surging on TikTok. 

Like most record labels, the company had been monitoring activity on TikTok for months as the short-form video app had emerged as a major driver of song streams on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.

Sony had seen Doja Cat, who signed with its RCA Records imprint in 2014, blow up on the app in December after 17-year-old TikTok star Haley Sharpe created a popular dance to her song “Say So” (a dance that Doja Cat ultimately ended up using in her music video).

But this time, it was one of the label’s older catalog songs, a Matthew Wilder track from 1983 called “Break My Stride,” that had caught the fancy of TikTok’s largely Gen-Z user base.

“Our entire music catalog is effectively tracked on a daily basis,” said Andy McGrath, the senior vice president of marketing at Legacy Recordings, the division within Sony that manages Wilder’s song catalog. “We’re constantly monitoring actions, reactions, and trends that happen on TikTok. We watch what’s happening and how many people are creating their own challenges and sharing existing challenges, et cetera, and then we start to say, ‘Okay something’s happening here.'”

For large music conglomerates like Sony and independent labels alike, TikTok has become an essential marketing tool.

Songs can rise on TikTok by accident, as was the case with Wilder’s “Break My Stride.” In other instances, marketers or artists try to make songs take off by tapping into existing TikTok fads, creating original songs, or adapting tracks for TikTok’s short-video format and hiring influencers to promote them.

“Every music label, every record label, they have a budget now for TikTok because it’s becoming so huge,” Ariell Nicholas Yahid, a talent manager at the TikTok-focused talent-management upstart the Fuel Injector, told Business Insider. 

In addition to helping artists and labels launch new tracks, song promotion has become an important source of revenue for TikTok’s top creators who are looking for ways to make money on an app that still has limited monetization features.

And for up-and-coming artists, TikTok can offer an effective way to build an audience quickly. You can see that clearly in the seemingly instantaneous music careers of TikTok stars like Dixie D’Amelio, Jaden Hossler, and Josh Richards.

Artists like Abigail Barlow and the group Avenue Beat have also used TikTok to test out new tracks before releasing them on streaming platforms. Avenue Beat’s recent smash hit, “F2020,” blew up on TikTok first before the group committed to recording a full version of the song in July. It’s since landed on Apple iTunes’ top 50 chart for pop songs.

“We hadn’t finished writing the song, we’d literally just written a verse and chorus,” Avenue Beat’s Savana Santos said. “We just threw it up on TikTok, not thinking that anything was going to happen because we’d never had a video really take off before. We went to bed and we woke up and the next day it had 4.5 million views.”

The music trio Avenue Beat worked with their record label to release “F2020” on streaming platforms after an early version of the song blew up on TikTok.

Delaney Royer/Avenue Beat

TikTok isn’t the first social-media platform to leave its mark on the music industry.

YouTube has long been a key promotional tool for record labels and artists alike (Justin Bieber was a YouTuber before he became a pop star). And artists have recently used other social platforms like Instagram and Twitch to perform shows remotely for fans as live performances have come to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic.  

But music is at the core of the TikTok experience.

The short-form video platform’s song-friendly interface (adding a “sound” is part of each user’s video upload process) harkens back to the app’s roots as the dancing and lip-syncing app, which TikTok’s parent company ByteDance acquired and merged with TikTok in 2018.

Some of TikTok’s biggest stars are dancers who can spark the creation of millions of user-generated videos and streams of a new song by posting a single dance video. And TikTok’s content recommendation page (the “For You” page) serves up an algorithmically determined assortment of posts that can make any song go viral, whether a track is being used in a paid promotion by a top influencer or in an original dance routine conceived by a non-famous teenager.

One need look no further than the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50 to see the app’s imprint on popular music in recent months.

To understand the power players driving music on TikTok forward, Business Insider compiled a list of the music marketers, artists, digital creators, record labels, and other industry insiders who are using TikTok to define popular music in 2020.

The list was determined by Business Insider based on our reporting and the nominations that we received. We took into consideration how a company or individual has used TikTok to grow an artist’s, song’s, or label’s prominence in the industry.

Here are the 24 music industry players that are using TikTok to reshape popular music in 2020 (listed in alphabetical order):

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