Going for a song: TikTok is the hit factory that the music industry needs right now

by Jolyon Varley
Social Media TikTok

· TikTok has become a vital component of the hit-making ecosystem

· Artists can leverage more power when dealing with labels after blowing up on TikTok

·  An alliance between the social network and Universal Music Group shows how digital platforms might coexist with record labels in future


Landing a record deal used to be the holy grail for musicians. A big album or publishing deal marked the beginning of a life spent marinading with swimsuit models on learjets and providing tours of your considerable property portfolio on episodes of MTV Cribs.

Not anymore. With the arrival of downloading and latterly streaming, the jacuzzi dried up. Further squeezes were placed on musicians’ contracts. It all got a bit harder. But with the arrival of TikTok as the preeminent place to discover music – from sea shanties to pop punk – more clout might be handed back to artists.

Consider the recent alliance between TikTok and Universal Music Group. Last month the pair announced an expanded global alliance that would allow creators access to the record company’s deep catalogue of hits. This is a clever move and one that illustrates how vital a component TikTok has become to making hits. If a new song goes viral on the platform, it’s guaranteed to see a boost in the charts.

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The fanfare associated with this new alliance belies the tricky relationship that music labels have had with social media up until now. Last year a number of music companies (including Universal itself) threatened to sue TikTok over unlicenced use of tracks. So this new deal means many in the music and digital industries will be hopeful that this model represents an equitable way for everyone to benefit. Musicians get royalties, creators get tracks to use, TikTok continues to be an appealing proposition for users and UMC gets access to the network.

Although the above represents a tricky balancing act, it might signify the start of a new era when artists can negotiate with labels from a position of power. In some scenarios TikTok has already provided musicians with more weight. Consider the story of singer Tai Verdes: after unsuccessful attempts to break into the music game his fortunes were reversed when break out song Stuck in the Middle became a hit on TikTok. Verdes attributes the favourable terms of his current record deal with Arista Records, to TikTok. “TikTok gives you leverage as an artist, which is something artists back in the day didn’t have,” he tells business title Quartz. “You didn’t just have a 50-million-stream song out of nowhere…”

We’ll have to wait and see how TikTok and the music industry continue to rub along together. But the power that companies like Universal used to wield is under threat from the influence of the network’s audience and algorithms. The question facing everyone is ‘who needs who more’?


Culture, creativity and artistry have never been more crucial in how we market brands. OK COOL is enlisting the deftest talent with our newly launched TikTok Studio, connect with us to find out more.

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