You might say that TikTok has driven the music industry since the platform was released worldwide in 2018, revolutionizing the music world and becoming one of the most powerful and fastest-growing social media platforms just a couple of years after its launch.

Whether you like TikTok or not, if you are a musician in 2023, you simply can’t ignore the platform. (Or you can, but you might miss out on tons of opportunities).

If you are still considering whether you should be on TikTok, make sure you check out this short (pun intended) piece by Jon, explaining what are the reasons to use TikTok as a musician.

TikTok is evolving, and although the short-form vertical videos that are perfectly designed for endless scrolling are still the main tool to attract new audiences, there is much more that you should be aware of if you want to publish and promote your music on TikTok.

In this article, I’ll give an overview of how to make the most of TikTok in 2023 as an independent musician.

What is TikTok? 

You might know that already, but let’s start from the beginning.

The mobile short video-sharing app was first launched in China by ByteDance, a Chinese tech giant, in 2016 as and then renamed Douyin for distribution in China and Thailand. In 2017, it was made available outside of China as TikTok, but it wasn’t until it merged with Shanghai-based that it started getting attention. Its effective algorithm, making discovering new music easier than ever before, ensured its almost immediate success.

Not long after, a rapper from Atlanta named Lil Nas X uploaded a song, “Old Town Road,” on TikTok, which, to everyone’s surprise, broke the record on the Hot 100 chart for being the longest number-one song. That’s when the music industry realized TikTok was worth paying attention to. Similar success stories followed, including Olivia Rodrigo, Dojo Cat, and PinkPantheress.

Lil Nas X – Old Town Road (Official Video) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

The platform has since faced scrutiny for data breaches and privacy issues, leading to its ban in India and calls for its outlawing by some US and Canadian politicians. Despite these challenges, TikTok continues to evolve, driving many creators and musicians alike to promote their music in the hope of gaming visibility and creating a shortcut to the top charts on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Billboard charts. Making your music available on TikTok can help you reach a wider audience and create new opportunities for career growth. It’s not unheard of for major labels to go to TikTok charts to weigh out new artists’ potential for a successful album release.

Main features and what is new on TikTok in 2023

TikTok first became known for its viral dances and regular challenges, but it has grown to be much more than just that. Today, many younger and older users are turning to TikTok to learn and search for tutorials and inspirations or even use it as a search engine. Thanks to its remarkable ability to allow the discovery of recent trends, there is a significant chance that even as a niche creator, you will find your dedicated audience on the platform.

There are some distinctive features that make TikTok stand out.

Let’s have a quick catchup:

  • Short video format, usually between 15 to 60 seconds.
  • Videos are vertical, presented in 1080Ă—1920, and adapted to smartphone screens.
  • TikTok is more of a social media platform than a video streaming app. The emphasis is on participation, sharing, and collaboration rather than the performance in itself.
  • Perfection is not that important – videos don’t necessarily have to be polished, so long as they’re authentic.  
  • Comments section is almost as important as your content – don’t underestimate it.
  • The ability to record in small segments can make even brief videos feel like a story with a clear narrative structure.

There are also a few new features that you should be aware of if you use TikTok in 2023.

  • TikTok increased the maximum video length to 10 minutes (up from 3). Forms longer than 60 seconds can’t include someone else’s content.
  • TikTok analytics have been made available with a TikTok Pro (free) account. Previously, only paying users had access to more detailed analytics, so that’s a significant improvement.
  • New revenue streams: In February 2023, TikTok introduced the Creativity Program in the US to replace the Creator Fund. They also introduced live gifting, giving creators the option to receive payment bonuses during their lives. On top of that, TikTok Shop is a new feature that allows creators to sell physical products directly from their TikTok accounts. The new model has recently launched in the US and is currently available in selected countries worldwide.
  • TikTok launched TikTok Music, a separate app that can be connected to your existing TikTok account, in August in 5 countries, including Australia and Brazil. The app allows users to share, like, and download music. Although there is no information yet as to when it will be available globally, the company representative said they will share more news soon. Will TikTok Music become a rival to other music platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music? It remains to be seen.

How to promote your music on TikTok as a musician in 2023?

TikTok’s outstanding AI-powered algorithm, which is what made the app so successful, provides personalized content to each user in their #FYP or ForYouPage section. The more the user interacts with the app, the better the algorithm gets at identifying and recommending videos they may like or find inspiring.

TikTok makes it extremely easy to interact and react to music videos, engaging users to create new songs using the tracks they enjoy. This is how songs blow up on the platform and what makes TikTok different from any other video streaming platform, including YouTube.

So, how do you promote your music on TikTok in 2023?

Before you put your music on TikTok, you should know how to prepare your tracks so they have more chances of getting noticed and decide whether you want to publish your music yourself or use one of the available distribution services. I wrote a comprehensive guide on how to get your songs on TikTok earlier this year, so go and check it out if you have any doubts.

1. Understand how the platform works.

Start by making your music available in the TikTok library so that other creators can use it in their videos. I recommend that you follow other musicians to see what they are posting and what works for them. Use their content as an inspiration, but remember, being authentic is one of the most crucial assets on TikTok. Before you focus on developing your own profile, spend some time on the platform to understand what works and what doesn’t.

2. Choose your niche

You probably know by now who your audience is. As in any type of marketing, focus on addressing your ideal audience and making music they will want to hear. It’s unlikely everyone will like what you do, but identifying your niche also helps you decide which artists and influencers you would like to collaborate with to reach new listeners.

3. Choose the best 15 seconds in your song

If you are a musician, your aim should be to showcase your music on the platform in the best possible way. Choose a 15-second clip that might spark a new trend and use it as a soundtrack in your video. While you can create longer videos, the 15-second clips are the ones that usually make the “TikTok moment.” Your snippet should be distinctive yet leave enough room to inspire interpretations. It could be the rhythm, dynamics, or the lyrics. There is no script for what will make your track spark attention.  

4. Treat it like a fun game

TikTok challenges are an integral part of the platform, and they should be part of your strategy, too.

Be creative but also relatable. Keep up with the trends. Challenges should inspire other users to take part in them, so don’t overcomplicate things. TikTok is not about taking yourself too seriously but about having a good time. If you’re enjoying yourself, chances are your audience will too.

5. Plan your artist journey.

Getting viral on TikTok shouldn’t be the main goal of your career: plan ahead of time how to leverage your TikTok success to have a lasting impact on your journey as a musician. It can help you make money, create a fanbase, grow on other platforms, get gig offers, or sign a record deal. Think about TikTok as a part of your strategy and what it is that you’re trying to get out of it, so if you happen to succeed, you are not caught by surprise.

If you are considering whether or not you should use external services to promote your music on TikTok, check out this guide to the best TikTok promotion services.

6. Focus on your community

Whichever way you choose, remember TikTok is a global community. You can collaborate with other creators globally and go local and focus on a particular area by referring to local trends and using hashtags. Whatever you do, try to connect with other users, start a conversation, or engage in a discussion. It’s the people out there that will make it worthwhile, after all.

Who made it on TikTok, and how can you do the same?

So, do you want to go viral on TikTok? While it sounds like the dream of many artists, going viral could turn out to be just smoke and mirrors. First of all, you are competing not only with other indie artists but with many big stars who are releasing their songs on TikTok and generating a lot of engagement. So, how can you grow in the music industry after starting off on TikTok? A couple of music journalists decided to break down the numbers, and what they found out was extremely interesting.  

Only in 2020, around 1,500 songs went viral on TikTok, resulting in over 100,000 new videos. These also include established names like Drake, Cardi B, or Fleetwood Max. Out of these 1500, about 125 were newbies in the industry, little to completely unknown musicians, before the song started trending on the platform.

Following the TikTok fame, about half of these 125 artists signed a major record deal, and a third of them played at least one live gig, but what’s interesting is that almost all of them got to the top of Spotify charts. This laborious data report also included all the songs that charted for the first time on Spotify’s Top 200 in 2020 and 2021, and out of all 332 new artists on the list, 25% had their break-out moment on TikTok.

Is that a lot? Well, I leave it to you to decide. 

Let’s pick some artists who made it on TikTok:

After JVKE’s song “Upside down” spun out on TikTok, generating 14 million new videos, only within a month of the official release, his follower base on Spotify went from almost zero to over 3 million. After the song started gaining momentum, he was approached by Charlie Puth to work on a remix. In October 2022, JVKE was named the MTV Push Artist of the Month, resulting in multiple performances around Europe.

JVKE – Upside Down (Official Music Video)

Tai Verdes released “Stuck in the Middle,” singing it from his car in 2020 as he didn’t have any other quiet space to practice in, and millions of views on TikTok quickly turned to a similar number of streamings on Spotify. Shortly after, the song was played on major radio stations, and the artist was on stage at Lollapalooza.

Tai Verdes – Stuck In The Middle (Official Video)

These seemingly overnight success stories are spectacular but maybe not as rapid as they look like. What’s behind the scenes are years of practice, a music education background, and many hours of sounds that they recorded before hitting the charts. However we look at this, it’s noticeable that TikTok can help you be discovered by major labels and also make a career as an independent musician. 

Artists like Medium Build or the brother/sister indie-rock band Durry became popular on TikTok without going off the charts. Still, the platform did play a decisive part for them in building an invested fan base and establishing a sustainable career.

Who’s Laughing Now (LC Version) – Durry

This is where the beauty of TikTok lies, and while I could also elaborate on why I’m not the biggest fan of the platform (the infectious dances, silly trends, and addictive format are not my thing), the music industry has never been more democratic in terms of who becomes popular and when.

Final notes on TikTok for musicians

Whether you want to sign a record deal, connect with new audiences, or make it as an indie artist, TikTok is where you might find your path. The short, hooking videos can spark a new trend and help you put your music out to the listeners worldwide. If you’re starting out hoping to get to the Top 100 Billboard chart right away, chances are you’ll end up being disappointed. However, as we’ve been experiencing for the last few years, there is a space for every small niche out there.

I don’t know if TikTok will still be here in 10 years. However, in 2023, if you’re dedicated and consistent, you can build a sustainable music career and connect with your fans by doing what you like the most and using TikTok as your starting (but not the final) point.