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How TikTok Is Boosting Unknown Musical Artists

Lil Nas X, Blanco Brown, Ambjaay, and Ant Saunders are just some artists who went from virtually unknown to famous thanks to TikTok

Lil Nas X, Blanco Brown, Ambjaay, and Ant Saunders are just some artists who went from virtually unknown to famous thanks to TikTok. TikTok, a short-form video-sharing app that lets users upload 15-second videos of any topic, has helped catapult these musicians to the fame they enjoy now. But how did TikTok change the lives of these fledgling artists to become Grammy-award winners recognized all over the world?

An app called Musical.ly launched in Shanghai in 2014 inspired the birth of TikTok. Tech giant Byte Dance — the parent company of TikTok — launched a similar service called Douyin, which became famous in China and Thailand, reaching 100 million subscribers in only one year. Inspired by the success of Douyin, Byte Dance bought Musical.ly in 2018, relabeled it under their brand TikTok, and started the app’s expansion worldwide. 

Fueled by youth’s narrowing attention span and a unique algorithm that gives users content unique to their preferences, TikTok reached 2 billion downloads from Apple and Google Play and enjoyed 698 million active monthly users

For musicians to succeed, they need people to listen to and like their songs, and TikTok provides this audience. The massive 698 million TikTok users that cut through the cultural and geographic divide is exactly the jumping board that budding musicians need to jumpstart their careers. One of the famous examples of this is Grammy-award winner Lil Nas X, who got his start by going viral in a TikTok video meme with his hit song “Old Town Road.” 

Lil Nas created the meme on December 3, 2018. TikTok’s massive user base noticed the song, and within months, people on TikTok were sporting cowboy outfits and doing the “Yee-Haw Challenge” with “Old Town Road” as the background. This challenge played a big part in catapulting Lil Nas’s song to the top 100 of the Billboard charts. Since the song’s release, Lil Nas has signed up with Columbia Records and collaborated with Billy Ray Cyrus on a remix. 

TikTok allows aspiring musicians to stay true to their artistic roots by giving them a platform to promote their brand of music and bypass the music labels — the traditional gatekeepers of the music industry. In fact, 17-year-old producer Joshua Stylish is one musician who has found his niche followers for his unique style of music.

Early in 2020, he uploaded Laxed Siren Beat Loop, an instrumental track from his bedroom in Manurewa, New Zealand. The music that features his Polynesian roots inspired the “Culture Dance Challenge.” In this challenge, TikTok users celebrate their heritage by dancing to the song in their national costumes worldwide. 

The track quickly went viral with millions of hits and caught the attention of singer-songwriter Jason Derulo, who created the hit song “Savage Love” using the Siren Beat Loop. Following the success of his first track, the teenager signed a worldwide deal with Columbia Records and continues to make beats, this time with his management team to back him up. 

The app’s ability to slingshot a virtually unknown musician to fame in a short amount of time has caught the attention of the record giants as well. TikTok signed worldwide licensing agreements with the big three — Sony Music, Warner Music group, and Universal Music Group — and the Pan-European licensing hub ICE for music under the ICE Core. These deals cemented TikTok’s undeniable influence on the music industry by giving new artists a chance to shine on their terms. The app’s agreements with these companies provide thousands of artists just starting with the encouragement that their turn to shine might be literally just a meme away. 

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