How to go viral on TikTok?
Love it or hate it, TikTok is changing the music industry. The rapidly growing platform that now has over 1 billion (yes a billion) active users worldwide can have a huge impact on your music career. But before we get started, let’s talk about the platform: What is TikTok and why is it booming? (We don't think it needs any explanation nowadays, but we still want to get everyone on board with a short explanation).
The app lets you create short videos that are usually 10-60 seconds long. Music plays an important role in the creation process of their videos as many users perform dance moves or lip syncs. When users create their videos, they will usually choose a song and select a short clip, often the catchiest bits of a song, like the chorus or beat drop.
TikTok emphasizes the importance of music on the platform here:
“Music is at the heart of the TikTok experience. It's the glue that connects TikTok's disparate threads, providing a throughline between individuals and communities who bring their own spin to the latest trend.“
Users can upload sound clips that are authorized by music distributors. This means that every time your song appears in a video, it will be recognized. So the more people use your track in their videos, the more times it will be streamed and your reach of potential new listeners will automatically increase.
The reason why some tracks go viral often has to do with so-called ‘Challenges’. Millions of users create their own versions of a visual story or dance choreography to the same music clip and the whole challenge is promoted on the platform through dedicated hashtags.
One example is the #yeehaw challenge that made the hit-song ‘Old Town Road’ famous. The challenge was about people who danced in standard clothes until the beat changed and they turned into cowgirls or cowboys.
So what exactly makes a song viral on TikTok?
The hook/chorus has to strike a nerve with the listener and should catch a specific feeling. It's also preferred if the lyrics are simple so you can easily translate what's been said into a video.
Music today is a way of self-dramatization. The artistic creation moves into the background. Music has to work in a way that leaves as much room for interpretation as possible. So maybe it's not about the song itself in the first place, but about everyone else and what they do with it.
The track "I am Woman" by Emmy Meli for instance shows another great example for a track that blew up on TikTok. Before the track was even finished she uploaded an 18 second snippet on TikTok and it went viral overnight. Many girls and women felt attracted to the lyrics "I am woman, I am fearless, I am sexy, I'm divine" and showed their strong moments of empowerment in their TikTok videos.
However, a good track does not automatically end up in the trends. You have to try to make sure that the video your music is being used is suggested a lot. The algorithm suggests especially videos that have been viewed for a long time and have been viewed several times. TikTok also says that the number of followers does not matter and theoretically anyone can go viral overnight.
So what exactly is TikTok's impact on the music industry?
In their annual music report TikTok has published that in 2021 430 tracks have had over a billion click through video views. Over 170 tracks that are trending on TikTok have made it into the Billboard Hot 100 and Spotify's playlist of the most viral tracks worldwide. In a study conducted for TikTok, 67% of TikTok users said they have streamed a track they first heard on TikTok on other platforms.
Videos on TikTok have a significant impact on the success of tracks in the charts. There is a direct connection between a song going viral on TikTok and its increasing popularity on music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube, all of which contribute to the Billboard charts.
Songs can rise organically on the app, even if they've been outside the mainstream for decades. In addition, marketers can hire influencers to try to help a song break through by triggering a wave of user-generated posts from their fans.
And some artists even write songs that relate directly to TikTok trends in hopes of finding success on the app.
TikTok is a great platform for listeners to learn about new and different music. TikTok's self-learning algorithm delivers new videos in a seemingly endless stream, so users can quickly be exposed to a large amount of new music because the videos are very short. If a user likes a particular song, they can instantly watch more videos for the same clip with a simple tap.
So we can see that users have a great influence on the TikTok algorithm and theoretically anyone could reach a massive audience with their songs on the platform.. However, as with almost every other platform, it’s hard to predict if a song eventually goes viral or not. In any case, TikTok is a platform for musicians that should not be underestimated.