22 – 04 – 2021

How artists are using TikTok to build authentic personas

With more music than ever being uploaded to streaming services each day, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Many artists have taken advantage of the viral potential of TikTok to build an engaged audience and establish a narrative around their music, leading to bigger fanbases, more streams and a higher likelihood of making music their full-time career.

The evolution of TikTok from niche dancing app to hit making machine was one of the biggest music industry success stories of 2020. Artists like Lil Nas X, Doja Cat and Olivia Rodrigo have become household names thanks to trends on the platform, while classic acts like Fleetwood Mac and Matthew Wilder have seen a resurgence in popularity off the back of viral moments.

In October 2020, TikTok reported 732m monthly active users (which is more than double Spotify’s), watching an average of 89 minutes of content a day (Source: Music Business Worldwide). Clearly TikTok is now a huge part of people’s social media diet - especially young people, with 18-24 year olds making up 42% of the user base - and brands are already starting to take notice. 47% of users admit that they’ve bought something they’ve seen on the platform, with TikTok themselves implementing new e-commerce tools in the near future.

With that level of influence in mind, TikTok has become the social network for new artists looking to promote their music in 2021 - but how do you convert a viral moment into a genuine fanbase? Through our algorithms and Hot Artist Alerts, we’ve noticed an interesting trend on the platform that seems to be an effective way of creating momentum around a track launch, whilst also establishing your personality as an artist.

The trend involves one of the oldest music marketing trends in the book: creating a story around the song. This isn’t a new concept, everybody knows audiences are more likely to buy into an artist and a song if there’s a great story behind it - but in a world where 60,000 new tracks are being added to Spotify every day, standing out from the crowd is more important than ever.

Pop singer-songwriter katie MAC went viral on TikTok explaining the meaning behind her song ‘Not My Ex’ three weeks before the track was released. The video racked-up 1.5M views before the song dropped, driving viewers to MAC’s Spotify page, where her followers increased by over 150% in the following week. Continuing to tease the track in the run up to its release, ‘Not My Ex’ reached 10k streams in its first day, and is currently pushing 140k on Spotify alone.

When we caught up with katie MAC about the success of ‘Not My Ex’ last month, she had this to say: “If you want to go viral, it's important to go viral doing something that you actually identify with, otherwise your audience may not love your other content!” Authenticity is a key part of success on TikTok, with the algorithm tailoring content to each user. Often, the more specific content is, the more likely it is to end up on a user’s For You Page, where it can gain the likes and comments required for the algorithm to serve it to a bigger audience.

By creating a relatable narrative for fans to latch onto, MAC created a natural and authentic buzz around her track - like a trailer would for a film. Rather than a simple teaser with no context that might get lost in TikTok’s algorithm, the video had personality and a story, giving people who had never heard of katie MAC a reason to check her out.

This strategy has worked wonders for other Hot Artists, such as Laur Elle and Erin Bloomer who have both amassed hundreds of thousands of streams from tracks they teased on TikTok (they also both posted videos sat in their cars - maybe that’s the secret!).

It’s not just pop acts either; pop-punk band Magnolia Park recently topped our Rock Chart thanks to continued success on TikTok driving fans towards Spotify and Instagram, while Canadian Indigenous artist Jayli Wolf launched her music career off the back of TikTok videos raising awareness for the indigenous people separated from their families in the 1960s.

Wolf’s initial TikToks did not mention her then-forthcoming track ‘Child of the Government’, but she capitalised on the momentum behind the video and the interest in its harrowing subject matter by teasing the song soon after. In a world with literally thousands of new tracks released every day, putting a face - or even just a story - behind a song can be the difference between finding an audience and falling into the shuffle.

While past social platforms like Instagram and Twitter required you to build an audience before launching new music - a time consuming process that required constant adaptation to new trends - the viral possibilities of TikTok are seemingly limitless. Yes, the algorithm can be unpredictable and nothing is certain, but over the past year, TikTok has proven to be a platform worth investing considerable time and effort into - with the rewards often far greater than any other social network.

Why not also check out our guide on how to make money on TikTok?


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Further reading

17 – 03 – 2021

Interview: katie MAC

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16 – 03 – 2021

How To Make It In the Music Business: An Essential Plan For New Artists

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27 – 10 – 2020

How to make money on TikTok

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