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How TikTok is shaping the future of the music industry: Bella Poarch, Olivia Rodrigo, and more

How TikTok is shaping the future of the music industry: Bella Poarch, Olivia Rodrigo, and more

Listen closely

Text: Brandon Alexius Chia


Image: Instragram | @justinbeiber

Come on, admit it. We've spent many nights scrolling through TikTok until the wee hours of the morning. We've tried the recipes; laughed hysterically at memes; and attempted the dances (keyword is attempted) with exceptionally catchy tunes. We got so used to listening to hundreds and hundreds of the same songs to the point where even the first few seconds are recognisable enough for us to name the title and artist. This begs the question: is TikTok is changing the music industry as we speak?

Think about it: a large number of popular singers can credit the app for propelling them to stardom. Take a look at Olivia Rodrigo's Drivers License and Bella Poarch's Build a Bitch, for one — both hits were circulated widely within the TikTok sphere before landing in the Billboard Hot 100 chart just days from their respective releases. In 2020, Savage Love–singer Jason Derulo was the number one most followed celebrity on the platform with 40 million followers (we can already hear the chorus in our heads). How did this even happen?

It's no secret that TikTok's licensing agreement with Warner, Universal, and Sony's music divisions are a starting point. Since then, snippets of different singles caught the attention of the TikTok elites such as Charli and Dixie D'Amelio, Addison Rae, and Bella herself. While creating trendy dances or lip–syncing to the music for millions of viewers, they created an entire army of people who were hooked on the songs too.

Bella might be the biggest name at the moment, but she wasn't the first to parlay her million views into a career. According to a report from TikTok last year, dozens of singers on their platform were signed to major music labels due to their success such as Tai Verdes, Corpse, and Tate McRae.

Yes, they deserve every bit of their success but this opens up a whole new territory for musicians as TikTok now serves as a low-cost form of marketing and streaming. It used to be an industry standard for the label and producers to hustle their artists onto the radio — TikTok bypasses this entirely.

Although music labels won't be going away anytime soon, we may hear a drop in quality in the future. Virality doesn't always translate to a banger (Friday by Rebecca Black is a good example). Yet, the more accustomed we are to such songs, streaming algorithms will inevitably pick up on it and push out similar music. Let's be honest, the lyrics of these TikTok creators aren't the most inspiring.

Aside from that, we have already started to witness tracks getting shorter in length as compared to the early 2000s — many hits are barely going past the three–minute mark. A 2019 study by Microsoft in Canada showed that people will lose interest in something if the first eight seconds did not appeal to them. While it is still too early to prove that TikTok is a contributor to attention deficit, it certainly doesn't help with pre-set 15–second clips.

Can artists consider this and put out music without compromising on their writing? Again, it is too early to tell but unfortunately in this industry, money makes a lot of decisions.

TikTok does pay a handsome amount of royalties to the creators – just like Spotify, Apple, and Tidal. But the thing that sets them apart from their competitors would the livestream concerts happening periodically. Justin Beiber's Valentines' Day performance was a massive win for the singer as the buzz skyrocketed his follower count from 700,000 to 20 million and his album Journals amassed over three billion streams.

Without a doubt, the numbers will definitely add to Justin's revenue but it is also changing the way we treat concerts from now on. Having your favourite musicians serenading you in the comfort of your own bedroom is pretty hard to beat. While many of us would love for the world to return to normal so that we can party at concerts again, would singers and their teams want to pay millions for a venue, lights, decorations, and more? Perhaps. Or they might just stick to small–scale productions that rake in big bucks. The future of the music industry proves tumultous, as it is — we'd simply have to see where it have to go, from here.