What’s next for TikTok’s music industry revolution?

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Paris (AFP)- With one billion users, TikTok has quickly become one of the biggest players in the music industry and now aims to revolutionize the way artists are discovered and paid.

Hit stories such as Lil Nas X – whose “Old Town Road” became the best-selling US single of all time after going viral on TikTok – demonstrated the power of the short-form video app.

Major labels, which at first panicked over TikTokers using their music without a license, quickly realized they had to get on board.

“When a disruptive technology platform appears, it’s understandable that rights holders are uncomfortable,” TikTok music director Ole Obermann told AFP.

He was brought in from Warner Music in December 2019 to do some label deals.

“Obviously we had to shell out substantial sums. The good news is that we’re totally laid off now and talking to them every day about new things that haven’t been done before.”

“Change Everything”

Meanwhile, TikTok continues to create viral sensations that are reshaping the music landscape.

Sometimes it’s old songs that find new life, like the recent craze for “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac or “Rasputin” by Boney M.

But often, they are new or independent artists, who no longer need the support of record companies to find a massive audience.

“It’s hard to overstate how much this changes everything,” said Tom Rosenthal, a London-based musician whose songs have been used on 1.6 million TikTok videos.

“Major record labels kinda suck because traditional marketing systems don’t apply anymore. (TikTok) is a great leveler. You can do it yourself,” he said.

The viral success of American rapper Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ was arguably the moment the power of TikTok became clear Giorgio VIERAAFP

Some artists become huge without even knowing the application.

This was the case with Nigerian popstar CKay. Her 2019 single “Love Nwantiti” was a decent-sized hit in her home country, but then TikTok users grabbed it, and by November 2021 it had surpassed 15 billion streams and topped the charts of Asia to Europe via North America.

“On the way to something”

TikTok is already thinking about next steps.

Its latest service, SoundOn, offers unsigned artists an easier way to upload songs, get paid and find distribution.

Obermann hints that this could see TikTok becoming more of a record label.

“We think we’re onto something,” he said, pointing to recent viral successes from unsigned acts Muni Lang and Games We Play.

“We are only at the beginning of deciding exactly how we work with these artists to build their careers. But we see that we can play a much bigger role in the process of discovering artists in a very practical way. “

Pent-up request

Obermann also hopes to revolutionize the way songs are used for commercials — a part of the business that’s currently worth around $500 million a year worldwide, but could be worth much more.

“Traditionally, that meant something like a major car brand firing Celine Dion’s ‘I Drove All Night’ for their TV commercials,” he said.

“But we have about a million small and medium businesses that want to do TikTok ads using music. And that’s an absolute nightmare because our licenses don’t include commercial use.”

Currently, every commercial use requires TikTok to obtain special permission from the label and all songwriters, which can take months.

TikTok has quickly become one of the biggest players in the music industry
TikTok has quickly become one of the biggest players in the music industry Drew Angerer GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

“It’s extremely inefficient. If we could redesign the way it works, (the global licensing business) would grow from $500 million to billions in a few years. There’s such pent-up demand. We’re really working there -above.”

Other ideas include live gigs and direct sales, with some artists already whipping up vinyl and merchandise through the platform.

But will TikTok disappear as quickly as it arrived? The ghost of MySpace, a former revolutionary force in music, haunts its successors.

“It’s something we think about every day when we wake up,” Obermann said.

“We’re confident that TikTok has shifted hugely into the cultural zeitgeist at this point. But it’s still day one and you have to keep reinventing yourself to stay relevant.”

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