The Music Industry, TikTok Ban, And Congress, Oh My!
April 2, 2023
If you’re an avid TikTok user or even just a casual scroller from time to time, you’ve probably noticed that thousands of people are using the platform to promote their music. Everyone from the smallest SoundCloud rappers to the next Taylor Swifts of the world are using TikTok as their go-to platform for getting the word out about their music, and there is a lot of music to be listened to. With 100,000 songs uploaded daily to DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music, it’s not easy to stand out in today’s music industry, and yet so many emerging artists are finding success through TikTok. Of course, if you’re an avid TikTok user you’ve probably also heard that Congress is trying to ban TikTok over data and privacy concerns regarding the platform’s parent company ByteDance. While Congress may have legitimate concerns, I can’t help but worry about the widespread effects that such a ban could have on the music industry.
A little background on TikTok– Though initially released in 2016, it wasn’t until 2020 that the app nabbed the spot as the most downloaded app of all time. According to Statista, over 672 million people downloaded the app in 2022, contributing to TikTok’s now over 1 billion active users.
So how would a TikTok ban affect music? Well, it should come as no surprise that with TikTok’s widespread popularity, many industries have seized the opportunity to advertise and market to the platform’s audience. The music industry is no exception, and a TikTok ban would jeopardize this opportunity. Many artists, labels, and fans have joined the app specifically to discover, promote, and propel new artists into the music space.
For example, twenty-one-year-old Katie Gregson-MacLeod from was working part-time at a coffee shop when her original song “complex” went viral on a TikTok. The original video, which now boasts over one million likes on the platform, featured Gregson-MacLeod singing for roughly one minute alongside soft piano chords. The song received so much attention that she rushed to release a demo recording of the track on Spotify (26M streams) and within months had signed to Columbia Records, joining the likes of Haim, Harry Styles, and girl in red. Gregson-Macleod recently embarked on her first European tour, and while she’s certainly made a name for herself via TikTok, she’s far from being the only artist to do so. Household names like Doja Cat, Magdalena Bay, and Lil Nas X have all had songs that become major hits on TikTok, sparking dance trends and challenges that push the songs up the Billboard charts.
According to a study by MRC Data, a data and analytics company specifically for the music business, “songs that trend on TikTok often end up charting on the Billboard 100 or Spotify Viral 50. And 67% of the app’s users are more likely to seek out songs on music-streaming services after hearing them on TikTok.” Take Lola Young, whose song “Don’t Hate Me” went viral on TikTok after Bella Hadid found the track and used it in a video of hers. Since Young released the song in February it has garnered 8M+ streams on Spotify.
It’s clear that the music industry has greatly benefited from TikTok as a tool for discovering artists and promoting new releases. Record labels seem to have embraced TikTok as a method of music promotion, with artists like Halsey and Lewis Capaldi somewhat satirically posting videos alleging that their labels are forcing them to post TikToks in an attempt to go viral. TikTok on the other hand hasn’t been as welcoming to the labels.
Recently, TikTok launched an experiment in Australia where they limited some users’ access to major label catalogs to use as sounds for videos. The official statement from TikTok for the reason behind the experiment was to “analyze how music was accessed and used” on the platform, which many have interpreted to mean that TikTok was trying to see if they could get away with discontinuing their license agreements with the major labels. The consensus from the experiment was negative, with users declaring that TikTok was trying to ruin itself by preventing its users from accessing popular songs to use for their videos. In another move by TikTok to be more independent from record labels, they also recently announced the launch of SoundOn, a platform specifically created for music marketing and distribution. TikTok is currently advertising the platform as a way for artists to “grow their fanbases, harness their creative voice and get their music heard worldwide.” This new service allows artists to upload music directly to TikTok, after which the company then distributes the songs to DSPs.
It appears to me that TikTok and the music industry have formed a symbiotic relationship. Music companies and creators alike need a way to spread songs to the masses, and social media giants like TikTok need a way to keep their audience entertained. This delicate yet flourishing relationship between the two entities must be nurtured to realize its full economic and artistic potential, something which Congress has overlooked in its attempt to ban TikTok.
I’m no politician. I have no say in the matter. I do, however, have optimism regardless of the outcome. Let’s say, hypothetically, that TikTok does end up being banned (which I’m still skeptical of). I have no doubt that the music industry will continue to do what it always has– evolve. Before TikTok, it was YouTube helping artists like Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and 5 Seconds of Summer get discovered. After TikTok, if such a time comes, artists will find new ways to promote their music.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be an easy shift, but I have faith that this wouldn’t be a serious deterrent for artists. After all, those pursuing a career in the music industry understand it’s not an easy path by any means. They choose to pursue it anyway. That’s the beauty of music. Wherever it goes, the industry will follow.