The Influencer to Artist Pipeline
Social media content creators with no previous music background are becoming singers on TikTok and YouTube—and some are becoming commercial successes.
Name a social media influencer in any non-musical field and odds are they have released an original song or a cover before. From socialites like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton to makeup influencers such as James Charles and Abby Roberts, everyone with a large following in the digital world seems to have a musical project under their belt.
While most non-music content creators are unable to successfully transition to the music industry, that isn’t stopping them from trying. The influencer-to-singer pipeline is a growing phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down. After all, many content creators have achieved profitable music careers and international recognition, proving that transitioning from social media to streaming platforms is possible, regardless of musical expertise.
From Social Media to Music Charts
Charli and Dixie D’Amelio are two of the earliest TikTok creators to build successful careers as a result of their popularity on the platform. The Connecticut sisters rose to fame in 2019 thanks to their dance videos to trending songs. As their accounts grew bigger, the sisters went beyond social media and developed successful ventures in fashion, beauty, book publishing, and podcasting, among other fields.
In 2020, Dixie released her debut single “Be Happy” and signed a record deal with HitCo Entertainment. Since its release in June 2020, the track has been used in 2.1M TikTok videos and has accumulated 101M Spotify streams. Following the commercial success of her debut single, Dixie went on to collaborate with artists such as Liam Payne and Wiz Khalifa and was the opening act for Big Time Rush’s 2022 Forever Tour.
The youngest D’Amelio, Charli, has made her own jump into music with her debut pop single “If You Ask Me To” released in October 2022. In its first three months, the song obtained 4.2M YouTube views and 7.3M Spotify streams. The D’Amelio sisters join a growing list of social media influencers utilizing their online fame to launch music careers.
The influencer-to-singer pipeline isn’t a phenomenon happening exclusively in the United States. Influencers from around the world are following suit. Take, for example, Mexican media mogul Kimberly Loaiza. Loaiza is the seventh most-followed user on TikTok and a veteran in content creation. She began her career in 2016 as a YouTuber making beauty tutorials and then transitioned into vlog-style content. She soon became one of the most followed creators in her country and took a leap into music in 2019. She has collaborated with Latin music stars Zion & Lennox and Ovy on the Drums. Loaiza ranked in the Top 100 artists in the world in August 2022 and now has 5M Spotify monthly listeners, making her one of the most successful influencers-turned-singers.
TikTok has become a driving force in the music industry, bringing undiscovered artists to overnight stardom and turning old hits into chart-topping tracks. Since influencers already have strong fan bases and experience making viral content, it is more likely that any song they release will gain a lot of exposure, regardless of quality.
However, after that initial boost in popularity, many tracks fade away, as does the popularity of the influencer as a singer. Such was the case of Addison Rae, the fourth most-followed user on TikTok, who released her debut single “Obsessed” in 2021. Rae’s Spotify monthly listeners peaked that month at almost 3M but since then, her numbers have only been decreasing and she now has 440K monthly listeners. The song and music video received negative comments, putting Rae’s music endeavors on hold.
“It’s crazy how money can literally buy you a music career,” a comment with 51K likes reads.
Pivoting to Music Is a Strategic Choice
For many influencers, making music is a way to prove themselves as something other than social media stars.
“I think I want people to see me for me as a person and what my character is, and what I’m made up of rather than my TikTok videos — which aren’t always spot on for who I am all the time. I think with this song (“If You Ask Me To”) and the show (The D’Amelio Show) that my family and I have, you see a little bit more of kind of the process,” Charli D’Amelio told Billboard.
British makeup artist-turned-singer Abby Roberts, the opening act for Halsey’s latest tour, expressed similar sentiment. A content creator since age 11, the 21-year-old influencer started making music professionally in 2020 as a therapeutic art form. Her most popular track, “Pink Champagne,” has 2.38M streams and is featured on 600+ playlists on Spotify. Her first music video “Paramaniac” features her donning different creative makeup looks and hairstyles reminiscent of the beauty content that made her famous.
“It’s a little frustrating as people think they know the full picture about my life from a 15-second video,” Roberts told NME. “Making TikToks and doing makeup was just one interest that we focused on initially, but I do a lot of other things off-camera, and I think people are still quite new to that.”
Influencers are also attracted to building a music career as an additional income stream considering how volatile internet fame can be. After all, if their songs find success, influencers can aspire to have prolific music careers like many artists who started off sharing their music on social media like superstars Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber.
Building a name for themselves as musicians can also open up new opportunities for partnerships, awards, touring, etc., which can help them stay relevant in the entertainment industry.
“The secondary career paths influencers choose tend to compliment the skill set they have already demonstrated – self-branding, presentability, ability to story tell – and social media and their new jobs tend to exist in a symbiotic relationship. It’s helpful in most creative career paths to have a ready-made ‘audience’ who will consume whatever they are producing,” social media analyst Olivia Yallop told Vice.
Not everyone is thrilled by the rising popularity of influencers on the music charts which is putting pressure on undiscovered musicians who aren’t social media savvy.
“To be blunt, as someone who has been making music since I got my first instrument and trying to book even a small gig, it’s really damn hard to even make a living off of it, much less get a stable fanbase. So yes, it’s extremely frustrating to see people with very little dedication to making good music get opportunities that would change most artists’ lives,” a Reddituser wrote on the popular music subreddit Popheads.
A shared sentiment throughout the comments is that influencers should be allowed to build music careers if they want to, but their musical talent should be the metric of success, not their massive follower counts.
“I don’t think music should be gatekept from anyone. If someone famous for doing cringey dances on TikTok wants to try singing, let them. But I just think it’s terrible when influencers try to start a music career and don’t even pretend to care or put in the bare minimum amount of effort,” another Reddit user said.
Despite the backlash, the influencer-to-singer pipeline promises to keep growing with more and more creators hoping to make a name for themselves in the music industry. This phenomenon aligns with TikTok’s increasing impact on the music industry as it has opened up the field for anyone to share their music and have a shot at stardom.
Appendix: The Influencer to Artist Pipeline
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 440
- Genres: Pop, Dance
- Hometown: Norwalk, CT
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 415
- Genres: Pop, Hip-Hop/Rap
- Hometown: San Fabian, Philippines
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 438
- Genres: Pop
- Hometown: Lafayette, LA
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 222
- Genres: Latin Pop
- Hometown: Mexicali, Mexico
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 791
- Genres: Pop, Hip-Hop/Rap
- Hometown: Norwalk, CT
- Chartmetric Artist Rank: 1265
- Genres: Pop, Dance
- Hometown: Pottstown, PA