Music Business

How TikTok messed up music marketing forever

TikTok has revolutionized the way artists promote themselves and engage with fans, but not every change has made marketing easier.

by James Shotwell of Haulix

With over one billion downloads worldwide and an average monthly use time of well over an hour, TikTok is a remarkable global cultural force. Every day, millions of people upload countless videos covering all areas of creativity imaginable, and hundreds of millions more log on to see what has been made. It’s the greatest marketplace for ideas since Twitter, and anyone discussing music marketing in 2022 has not gone a day without thinking about TikTok for longer than they can remember.

Over the last several weeks a number of high-profile artists have begun publicly complaining about demands from their labels to create TikTok content. The controversy reached a boiling point when Halsey shared a clip of an as-of-yet untitled new track with a message alleging her label was essentially holding her music hostage until she could create a viral moment on the platform. The pop musician then doubled down on her allegations by sharing a second video where a man can be heard explaining that the best way to begin teasing the single would be to share it on TikTok. Both clips remain online as of this posting.

TikTok’s influence on music is undeniable. Since Lil Nas X and “Old Town Road” took off in the early months of the app’s stateside debut virtually every label on the planet has held meetings on help embracing the video-sharing platform may help their roster. In 2021, more than 75 musicians who charted on Billboard for the first time got their start by being discovered on TikTok, and many more artists credit the platform for helping them achieve their first song with over one-million streams. 

But there is a dark side to TikTok and its influence on the industry. Namely, the platform has made it easier than ever to play with objective reality. Viewers no longer know whether the artist complaining about their label is doing so organically or because someone in a marketing department thinks people love artists that hate their labels. Is the girl you see performing a demo in her bedroom actually an unknown talent, or is she already signed to a manager and publisher? Does authenticity even matter, and if so, how do you convey it?

These are just a few questions marketers and artists alike are now asking themselves. In the latest Music Biz update, host James Shotwell examines how we reached this point and what actions artists should take in response. Through numerous examples, James explains how misdirection and deception have fueled an age of discovery where every success story has another, often far less surprising, truth behind it.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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