Concerns over Chinese surveillance and inappropriate content led to a crescendo of voices supporting a ban on TikTok in the US, which would then follow bans on using the app on government-issued devices in the US. and in several other countries, as well as a total ban in India. While it’s far from clear how the US government might implement such a ban, the possibility is leading many industries to consider how it would affect their business. Near the top of this list is the music industry.

After six years of lightning-fast growth, at least one source shows that TikTok currently has the third-largest number of users of any social network, behind Facebook and Instagram (both owned by Meta) and ahead of Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat. . While entertainment is by far the largest content category of TikTok videos, it’s unclear how specifically this relates to music. That’s partly because ‘entertainment’ categories are blurry on TikTok: Many TikTok stars rise to fame through their lip-syncs, dance routines or other videos set to someone’s music else, while a much smaller number of people are artists who distribute or even promote their own music on the app.

To understand the impact on the music industry if TikTok were to disappear from the US market, it helps to understand the effect it has had on the business so far. To do this, it helps to look at TikTok in light of its natural predecessor: YouTube. YouTube took the music industry on a journey that TikTok continues today.

YouTube is currently the largest distributor of music of any kind in the world. Its use specifically for music is far greater than Spotify, for example, although the greatest hits tend to be listened to more on Spotify than their official videos are viewed on YouTube. The main reason for this is probably that YouTube’s core service is free, while Spotify’s core service charges subscription fees and is constantly trying to direct free users to its paid service.

But another big reason for YouTube’s popularity is its relative independence from the music industry. Although Spotify only accepts music streams from record labels (or digital distributors like Distro Kid and CD Baby), anyone can upload videos with music to YouTube. And while Spotify didn’t launch in the US until it had signed deals with major record labels, YouTube, for the first two years of its existence, didn’t address copyright issues. copyright or royalties related to the massive amounts of music that users were. Download.

The same was true for TikTok, except TikTok specifically had music in mind from the start when it acquired, another Chinese app that allowed users to create lip-sync videos. Otherwise, TikTok’s early disregard for music copyright issues helped it build a huge user base while negotiating with record labels and music publishers. And just as YouTube struck licensing deals with major labels around 2011, six years after its launch, TikTok had licenses from majors in early 2021.

Even so, TikTok has moved further away from music industry control than YouTube. For example, while there are many “official” artist channels and label releases on YouTube, TikTok gives no special status to major music stars let alone labels. TikTok users can give themselves whatever usernames they want, and the app doesn’t verify actual identities. So, for example, there are TikTok users with names like Lady Gaga, ladygaga, Ladygaga, LADY GAGA, Lady Gaga Daily, etc. ; and it’s unclear which of these is Lady Gaga’s real account. This makes it harder for true artists to establish their identity on the service; the focus is on users, not musical artists. TikTok also treats sound clips much like hashtags on other social networks: it groups together videos that use the same music clips, and it allows users to easily create new videos using the music from the clips they watch. Such features help increase the exposure of music videos, but they distract from the artists making them.

Another sign of TikTok’s added autonomy is its ability to create its own music stars independent of the record label system. YouTube has produced several megastars, such as Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, PSY, and Luis Fonsi. Still, most of them had the backing of major labels or management in the first place; YouTube mainly helped them gain exposure in markets beyond their home country, including the United States. In contrast, the biggest music stars on TikTok (based on income, at least), such as Bella Poarch, Dixie D’Amelio and Loren Gray, are more likely to have been discovered on TikTok before being signed to record companies.

TikTok has also had an arguably greater effect on the creative output of music artists than YouTube. YouTube’s most pervasive effect on creative output has been the explosion of artist collaborations, such as pop songs with rapper drop-ins. Music discovery on YouTube relies more on search than playlists or other forms of browsing, and collaborations increase an artist’s chances of being listed in search results. As a result, at least a quarter of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 today tend to be collaborations. Otherwise, YouTube’s effect on creative output hasn’t been much different than Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services.

In contrast, artists are doing more to create TikTok-compatible music content. The main impetus for this is TikTok’s emphasis on short clips, whereas YouTube has allowed up to the length of most songs since its inception. Some artists post clips of their full songs on TikTok to promote them and direct fans to Spotify and other streaming services as well as vinyl purchases. Sometimes these clips take on a life of their own: for example, R&B star Steve Lacy discovered that audiences on his live shows didn’t know the lyrics to his #1 hit “Bad Habit” beyond those of the brief clip that has been used on half a million TikTok videos. There is also evidence that TikTok influences songwriters to start songs with choruses or other hooks so they can grab attention within those 15-20 seconds, i.e. change structures. songs instead of just shortening them, which has been the trend. for decades.

Importantly, however, there is growing evidence that maintaining a consistent presence on TikTok is becoming a necessity for artists looking to build a fan base. It just hasn’t been as crucial on YouTube. And some artists don’t like having to feed this beast every day (in addition to every other social network), so this trend will increase the proportion of social media-savvy artists who reach the top of the charts – and increase the amount of harass that labels and artist managers have to do to keep them there.

Conversely, the explosion of new music on all these services makes it increasingly difficult to discover new music; and the unparalleled ease of posting original videos to music videos of well-known songs on TikTok has resulted in greater exposure of old “catalogue” music – such as the stunning revival of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams” in a TikTok video in 2020 that resulted in the song re-entering the charts and the Rumors album reaching No. 2 in sales in 2022. It’s a trend that major music companies and private equity firms that buy back catalogs of legacy music artists would like to encourage.

So what would happen to the music industry if TikTok were to disappear? The big powerhouses in the industry might be happy about this, given that TikTok has continued the trend of YouTube taking control of them. But otherwise, not much. First of all, a ban in the United States does not mean a global ban and, as YouTube’s experience has shown, popular services can help artists go global with much less effort than before.

More generally, the forces that TikTok has set in motion will simply continue elsewhere. Google
and Meta both launched competing TikTok services, YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels respectively. Last month, Google claimed that YouTube Shorts had surpassed 50 billion daily views, and Meta is making Reels available to Facebook’s massive audience. And other apps like Triller and Likee are also available. All of this has already weighed on TikTok usage: Edison Research’s latest Infinite Dial consumer survey, released two weeks ago, shows that TikTok usage peaked in 2022 and is now trending upward. decrease. It’s hard to imagine that it’s because users are tired of addictive apps that push enticing music videos on their phones. Users can and will go elsewhere for the same kinds of experiences, and the effects on the music industry will continue.

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