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How TikTok is forcing singers to search for a viral moment

"It's here to stay, so you have to work with it." 
Jay Lewn is an independent singer trying to carve a career and he reckons TikTok is his likely path to achieving that.
The app's rapid growth has influenced what we listen to and stream for years but there's now a sense among some new artists that they can't do without it.

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The 29-year-old has been teasing a snippet of his new single, Ruins, on the platform every day.
"I want the world to know my name," he says.
Each video is coupled with the caption: "Another day of me posting my song so it blows up and I have to release it and I can do music full time."

Jay says it's labour-intensive but consistency is key and he knows it only takes one video to go viral. "There's a balance between not compromising your art and making the most out of what is potentially a huge stage."

As well as new artists, established singers also feel if they're not present on the platform, they'd be missing out on a big part of their audience.


"I don't think people know the pressure there is on artists to go viral," says Becky Hill.
"When TikTok first came out I think all us artists rolled our eyes slightly because it's another platform we had to put content onto."

She says it's a "very important" part of her social media, but can be difficult to navigate at times. But fellow Brit nominee Joel Corry says his mindset "is never to make music that works on TikTok" and he feels a track going viral "happens organically and naturally".

Not all artists are quite as passionate about the app, with Adele recently saying she wasn't prepared to make TikTok-orientated music for her album, 30.

"If everyone is making music for TikTok, then who is making the music for my generation?" she told Apple Music in a recent interview. "Who is making the music for my peers? I'd rather cater to people on my level."

The tactic of teasing music paid off for PinkPantheress and, more recently, Hazey, whose freestyle verse for Packs And Potions blew up on TikTok, leading to a full release and remix.

Obviously it's not the first social media platform to work well for musicians (remember MySpace?) but it's forcing up-and-coming artists to be even more creative in search of success - and that can create huge pressure.

"Ultimately, you want to make content that people want to watch," says Jay Lewn.

"It can be frustrating, like anything, if you're working really hard day and night, but not necessarily seeing the results that you've seen for other people."

For many, TikTok has disrupted - and mystified - others in the music industry, especially when it's been tricky to work out why one obscure song blew up over another by a prominent artist.

It's also helps reinvent classic songs, which is "good news" for an artist like David Guetta, who's had 26 UK top ten hits. He says TikTok works out well for him because it allows his back catalogue to get a "second life".

"At the same time I love new sounds and I know we don't want to get into a system that's too formatted or only using old records."

Paul Hourican, head of music operations for TikTok in the UK and Europe, says the platform has "excited, not frightened" people across the music industry.

"It genuinely has revolutionised music discovery and the way artists can communicate with fans."
He denies TikTok wants more power but does want to amplify voices from the UK music scene, which he says is in a good place at the moment.

Paul says the key to going viral is the combination of the "right creative, the right part of the song, and being genuine".
He uses Sam Fender as an example of a singer who harnessed his fanbase through TikTok to power his track Seventeen Going Under.

Even though TikTok views don't count towards the chart position directly, it can push users to seek out the track on streaming services.

Still authentic?
In late 2020 and early 2021, TikTok announced it had partnered with the three major record labels (Universal, Sony and Warner) in deals which allowed users to use clips from their full catalogues.

Paul Hourican denies that spontaneity has been replaced with major labels using the platform to stage-manage certain songs and trends. "Absolutely not," he says. "I think authenticity, serendipity and surprise is what makes TikTok awesome and that will continue."

There will also be renewed focus on how much artists get paid for their own music.
One Twitter user claimed she made 19 pence from 360,000 plays of her song on TikTok.
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View original tweet on Twitter
Last year, there was criticism from a committee of MPs who said artists were seeing "pitiful returns" from streaming services. TikTok wasn't scrutinised in the six-month inquiry.

In a statement, TikTok said it has "worked hard to become fully licensed and we have agreements in places with a range of rights holders, including record labels, music publishers, collecting societies (such as PRS for Music) to ensure those that create and perform music can earn when their music is used on TikTok."