Where TikTok goes, music follows

Caroline Hendrix, Opinions Editor

The future of TikTok for U.S. users continues to hang in the balance as concerns over user privacy and data heighten. The app has made an impact on a variety of industries and how people or businesses are able to engage with a broad user base. Considering that TikTok began as Musical.ly, it makes sense that the platform has drastically influenced the way in which artists and users engage with music, on and off the app. 

TikTok gives users a front-row seat at concerts and festivals. Users post entire songs or pivotal moments in performances. This provides users who might not be able to financially or physically attend shows of their favorite performers the ability to catch some of the action. They are able to watch the show by putting hundreds or thousands of videos together by multiple users into one cohesive performance that they have access to from their own living room. 

But posting shows online on a seemingly free platform is not all well and good. The most obvious setback is for artists whose entire setlists are posted and shared as they happen. Many of the major artists we see on TikTok are on tour, meaning that their shows have a certain level of repetition from one city to another. And this is reasonable, considering how long it takes artists to prepare albums themselves, in addition to the choreography and staging that is necessary to transform their music into a performance. 

Medium, an online platform, outlines all the major components of a tour that viewers don’t necessarily think of. Major tours have massive amounts of equipment that need to travel from one location to the next and Medium explains that artists hire cargo companies for transport, who typically need 3-6 months to send the artist’s cargo. Therefore, decision-making about lighting and activations needs to be settled much in advance. Equipment needs to be transported, and the entire staff working on a tour and the artist themself can be over 100 people. 

Posting it online immediately takes the magic out of the performance and devalues all of that hard work. Before, concert-goers at a New York show would have little to no clue what a show looked like during a Philadelphia show the week prior. Now, there’s a possibility they’ve strung together TikTok videos to watch the whole thing. Then, they go to the show, where it’s less exciting and fresh than it could have been. This may put pressure on musicians, who might feel like they owe their viewers something new and fresh, that they would not have seen online from past events. The act of posting concerts on TikTok takes the agency over the performance out of the musician’s hands and into concert-goers, but this is a hindrance for concert-goers as well.    

Even the act of posting videos is problematized. Nylon talks to professional artist Maia, who goes by Mxmtoon, and finds that the connection between artists and audiences has been intercepted by phones. Maia explains that concert-goers are not simply tasked with watching the show anymore. Now they have a responsibility to create content, putting their attention towards their phone and away from the show itself. 

Concerts aside, TikTok has transformed the way emerging artists get their voice heard. New and emerging artists have access to a large audience with the opportunity to grow a fanbase before even releasing music. NPR explains that TikTok allows users to respond to music directly through stitching and sharing their opinion or singing along. Fans are able to engage with artists using short-form video, which is much more personalized than written Twitter and Instagram posts. 

TikTok has even changed the actual music that is being produced. According to Forbes, songwriters are incentivized to start their songs with hooks that grab the listener’s attention at the beginning of the song, as opposed to the more traditional structure of a song that puts a first verse before a chorus. 

TikTok’s impact on the music industry is important to remember if the app gets banned. We have an opportunity to take the beneficial aspects of posting videos online, including direct engagement and a platform for emerging artists, and incorporate them into whatever app goes in its place. But, we should also consider what facets of TikTok need to stay in the past, particularly the pressure that it puts on users and artists to push out organic and viral content, when they should be focusing on the music. 

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