As I was doing my daily morning scroll through my FYP on TikTok, a video from Halsey popped up. The "Bad at Love" artist explained why they were currently frustrated with their record label. The reason? Halsey was not allowed to release new music unless it went "viral" on TikTok.
“I’ve been in this industry for eight years and I’ve sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying I can’t release [the song] unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.” -Halsey
"Everything is marketing. And they are doing this to basically every artist these days. I just wanna release music, man. And I deserve better tbh. I’m tired."
Ironically, the 30-second-video complaint did exactly what Halsey's label wanted - it got them their viral moment, gaining over 8 million views in 24 hours.
Other artists like FKA Twigs, Charlie XCX, Florence, Ed Sheeran and Adele have also shared their frustrations. In an interview with Apple Music, Adele said she had had enough of TikTok being the decider of hits. In a now deleted video, FKA Twigs complained that she was "told off for not making enough effort" in an attempt to go viral. So let's take a look, what is the nature of the relationship between the platform and artists?
TikTok is an essential promotional platform for musicians and record labels.
Whether it is by influencer usage or organically, songs can rise in popularity overnight. The company has a global team that works with artists and record labels, negotiates licensing deals with rights holders, and builds new ways for TikTok to convert its cultural influence into recurring revenue. Some artists and labels work with TikTok's team to host private listening sessions with creators in order to promote a song ahead of its release.
In the summer of 2020, as Miley Cyrus was preparing to release her single "Midnight Sky," her team partnered with TikTok to schedule two private
Zoom calls with around 15 creators to give them an early listen to the track.
"These creators are needed in the process," Olivia Rudensky, founder and CEO of Fanmade, a marketing and fan engagement upstart that works on digital strategy with clients like Cyrus and Hailey Bieber, told Insider. "They're just as important as all the relevant stops when you're doing promo or when you're going to tastemakers because they really are the audience that's making or breaking music right now."
It is apparent that TikTok can be a major benefactor to artists, but at what point does it become dangerous?
Singer Grimes took to Instagram to weigh in on the issue, saying: "This is really real. It's hard to focus on your art when you now have to be an influencer too." The issue has grown from being just about promotion, it now affects the quality of music too. Artists are more consistently releasing shorter and shorter songs, increasing the odds of creating a trending sound on the platform. TikTok's algorithm pushes shorter videos, so if artists can make a shorter song they have a higher chance of going viral. Artists are forced to make "TikTok friendly songs"-- songs that are clean and do not mention any off-limits topics (sex, drugs, the very foundation of music).
TikTok trend cycles are also incredibly short, meaning that artists are forced to churn out song after song rapidly. Record labels are pushing quantity over quality, releasing large batches of shit music. The app has undeniably caused a major shift in the way we consume music. Some artists have less control over what they create than ever before, and it seems like labels are less concerned about the music and more about social media views and likes.
I think it is a cheap and lazy alternative for record labels to take. Instead of focusing on producing good music, they put their efforts into releasing songs that they think will go viral and then prey the app will magically work in their favor. When did we stop holding record labels to higher standards and allowing them to withhold music from the public? It makes you wonder how much good music is currently written and produced, trapped inside a desktop, waiting for their singer to go viral on a silly app.