TikTok on a phone screen

Breaking through the noise

How can TikTok algorithms be manipulated to promote new music?

Techniques of promotion that were previously accessible to only a select few people have, in recent years, expanded to anyone with access to the internet. Using internet trends to manoeuvre through the algorithm; independent artists and newcomers to the industry can attract a fanbase, promote new music and network in the industry. This is inherently a good thing. It makes a career path that is usually seen as out of reach much more achievable, but with that comes a much larger sphere of content artists need to conquer. The need for individuality and a unique sound or image becomes much more important than ever in order to stand out.

If you remember growing up hearing about people like Justin Bieber, who was discovered by Scooter Braun through a video of him singing on YouTube, or Shawn Mendes who captivated an audience through Vine, I’m sure you were also conditioned to believe that these were “once in a lifetime” instances, because we have always been taught that the arts are not realistic career options. But with the growth of TikTok, whose content almost fully relies on music and sound clips, artists from all over the world have flocked to social media to grab the attention of other music lovers looking for something new. 

Continuing the traditional method of posting a video of your singing to the internet, Katie Gregson-MacLeod uploaded herself singing an original song to TikTok, it gained global reach and success, and it has now been signed by Greg Kurstin, a Grammy award winning producer. She transitioned from a student at Edinburgh University with a part time barista job to an overnight sensation. Similarly, Leith Ross posted a raw original which would soon amass over 1.2m likes and have artists such as FINNEAS, Alessia Cara and Ricky Montgomery praising them in the comments. 

It’s undeniable that the arts have almost always been about luck. No matter how talented you are, there always needs to be a certain amount of luck on your side to be able to catch a crowd’s attention. People on TikTok have managed to find unique new ways of attracting this attention, by finding their way through the impressive algorithm.

Think about one of TikTok’s biggest success stories, PinkPatheress, a 21-year old self-produced artist from Kent who quickly rose to stardom after a snippet of one of her songs went viral on TikTok in 2021. She stated that it was really “quantity over quality” in the beginning, that the aim was to release a short clip of something every day in the hope that one would reach its way out of her sphere of followers and into the mainstream. This happened with her first hit single, Just for me, a song using popular slang behind a hyper pop beat in a short catchy snippet which users grew to love; putting it as the soundtrack to anything and everything. She capitalised on the success of this to expand and release an EP in October of that year. Now with a cult following, she used TikTok to build hype around her new tracks like Where you are, featuring WILLOW (an artist she had dreamed of working with). A short clip of the track wouldn’t leave people’s minds or “for you” pages for weeks, before the full thing was even released. 

This is a technique seen popping up all over the app when an artist – established or not – is promoting a new song and will do so by creating video after video using the same 5 second clip, usually in an attempt of making a trend. Conan Gray did this when promoting his song Telepath by creating (one might say an excessive amount of) videos to the lyric “You’re just so predictable”. Further, Lydia Martin from The Regrettes did the same thing to promote their song Barely on my mind, using that exact lyric. The key really is to find a snippet from that song that is diverse enough to be moulded into different jokes, skits, aesthetic videos, dances and really anything else people can think to put on the app, so that people can use it as a base for their own creation. Now that this has worked on many occasions, it is what attracts artists and record labels to push for this method of marketing. However, this has begun to backfire when people become sick of a song before it has even been released; only for it to lose its hype that the artist had spent so long creating. Creating music which is so clearly intended to fit into the mould of a flexible 10-second video, only for the rest of the song to be neglected, creates the potential for fans to be severely underwhelmed. It is almost as if the marketability of a song is being mistaken for having a good sound. 

Although it can become irritating to see people abusing this format for reasons that are not so aspirational, it’s a joy to hear about the success of independent artists who many can relate to. It’s inspiring and motivational to see normal people with talents which deserve to be displayed on a grand scale, who can turn that into their career amongst the abundance of nepotism baby career paths that otherwise plague the music industry.


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