One saving grace for artists and songwriters alike has been the growing popularity of TikTok, a Chinese short-form video sharing service owned by ByteDance. With over 800 million active users worldwide, TikTok has become an essential tool for talent and music discovery for both industry professionals / record labels and the average music lover. Most notably, Lil Nas X, famous for his 2018 hit “Old Town Road” which peaked at number 1 on Billboard Hot 100, went viral due to the video app. Although controversial in the past due to the lack of royalty payouts within the platform to songwriters and publishers, TikTok has begun entering into licensing agreements with major publishers and independent distributors.
The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) struck a global, multi-year agreement with TikTok effective May, 2020. This agreement gave NMPA members the ability to opt-in to a licensing framework with the short-form video app, allowing the songwriters and publishings to collect compensation for the use of their work on the app. This came a year after the NMPA showed support for a formal investigation against TikTok for copyright infringement.
TikTok recently announced an agreement with Sony Music Entertainment, allowing the creator community to have access to sound clips from Sony’s catalog. Dennis Kooker, President of Global Digital Business and U.S. Sales at Sony Music Entertainment, stated “Short form video clips have developed into an exciting new part of the music ecosystem that contribute to the overall growth of music and the way fans experience it. TikTok is a leader in this space and we are pleased to be partnering with them to drive music discovery, expand opportunities for creativity and support artist careers.”
What are the benefits of allowing content creators on TikTok to tap into your catalog? Outside of the obvious added revenue stream from royalties via TikTok, access to catalog allows for the potential of music well known in older demographics to be introduced to younger audiences. “Catalog is my bread and butter,” says Danny Gillick, TikTok’s senior manager of music content and label partnerships. “There’s so much opportunity out there for all these legacy labels, even for songs that are out of cycle, to have another life. There’s a whole treasure chest of these earworms that I grew up with that you can see now are having a second life.”
“There’s so much opportunity out there for all these legacy labels, even for songs that are out of cycle, to have another life.”
– Danny Gillick, TikTok
A perfect example of music having a second life is Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit single, “Dreams.” After having his truck break down two miles away from the potato warehouse where he works, Nathan Apocada grabbed his longboard and bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice and began commuting to work. Logging on to his TikTok account, @420doggface208, Apocada began lip-syncing to “Dreams” while longboarding and sipping Ocean Spray. The video went viral. With over 35 million views on the original video and 134,000 user generated tribute videos being made, this trend has garnered over a half billion views, sending Fleetwood Mac back on the charts. After 42 years, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album “Rumours” returned back to the top 10 on the Billboard 200 charts. “Rumours” earned 33,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in the week ending Oct. 15 according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. Each unit equals one album sale or 10 individual tracks sold from an album. To account for streaming, each unit equals 3,750 ad-supported or 1,250 paid/subscription on-demand official audio and video streams generated. Fleetwood Mac’s entire discography has benefited from this viral attention, further proving that TikTok is giving older music a second life.
Songwriters and their publishers look to the continued success of timeless hits on TikTok as inspiration to take advantage of the platform as well. In June, TikTok announced a licensing deal with the Prince Estate to bring Prince’s full catalog to the platform, as well as promoted playlists on the “Sounds” page and a “Purple Rain” filter for content creators to use. “It is our hope that a new generation of global fans can find meaning in Prince’s music, and be inspired to create,” said Troy Carter, the Prince Estate’s entertainment advisor.
TikTok is a driving force for music discovery, bringing millions of streamers to outside platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music to follow and listen to both signed and independent artists’ music. If you’re thinking this is too good to be true, you are not wrong. Brands on TikTok, such as sports teams, beauty companies, and fast food chains, have amassed millions of followers on the platform. Previously, brands have been able to use whatever song clips they wanted, similar to the average user. That being said, publishers have become growingly concerned with having their content associated with brands without approval. TikTok has now barred commercial use from their licensing agreements with distributors, but now offer a Commercial Music Library available to verified businesses to access royalty free music.
TikTok states, “We recently rolled out the Commercial Music Library. This new library enables verified businesses or organizations on TikTok to access a pool of royalty-free music for promotional content, and provides the tools and resources to help them further embrace the creativity and authenticity of the TikTok community.” TikTok goes on to further explain that the Commercial Music Library will provide “high-quality, free-to-use music” that will “also save you time and investment in sorting out music licensing”. That being said, brands do not have full access to the music library regular users do.
The average TikTok user spends 52 minutes per day on the app, with 41% of users aged between 16 and 24.
Brands are now getting creative – finding new ways to become involved with the content creator community through branded and viral worthy original music. The average TikTok user spends 52 minutes per day on the app, with 41% of users aged between 16 and 24. These impressive statistics further prove the need for brands to have a strong presence on the platform and in trends to stay relevant. E.l.f. Cosmetics, a fan favorite beauty brand for Gen-Z and Millenials, created the most-viral U.S. TikTok campaign, contributing 5 million user-generated videos, amassing over 6 billion views. The original music track that was written specifically for the TikTok campaign was later released on Spotify and iTunes, garnering over 20 million streams, as well as 1.5 billion impressions in media coverage.
Why do these original songs matter for brands in the TikTok ecosystem? Their branded sounds move quickly on the platform. Since this original music sounds more like a trend that users want to get in on and less like a commercial, celebrities and influencers prominent on the platform use the sound without it being a paid partnership – saving a lot of money! On the e.l.f. Cosmetics campaign, celebrities such as Lizzo, Ellen, and Reese Witherspoon joined in on the trend, making it the first-ever ad to gold the #1 trend spot on TikTok.
Consumer behavior and content creation has shifted in response to the pandemic, with consumers now having the “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” mentality. It is understandable why brands and publishers alike have adapted to marketing their product via short-form videos and why this type of content performs so well among consumers. Platforms beyond TikTok are integrating this new trend. In August, Instagram hopped on the trend and introduced “Reels”, 15 – 30 second clips set to music on Instagram. It will be exciting to see what this means for music publishing and music discovery as more platforms adapt to TikTok’s business model.