If you’re not already on TikTok, then you’re probably at least aware that its content is causing the world to burst into dance, buy up all the cranberry juice in stock, and is responsible for Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit, “Dreams” charting at No. 2 some 43 years after its release. Everyday people are going viral on TikTok, making the short video-making app an effective way for musicians to get their music discovered. Berklee students Rosie Scher and Brandon Harris are just two of the many who have recently earned TikTok fame, and examining the details of their stories will help you get your music discovered on TikTok too.
Rosie Scher’s TikTok Story
Rosie is a singer/songwriter who joined TikTok in hopes of getting her songs out to a larger audience. At the beginning of September 2020, she started a campaign that involved posting a new song to the platform every day. Her clever songwriting and consistent posting got her the larger audience she wanted. By day five, her page blew up in popularity.
To date, she has more than 4.5 million likes and 358 thousand followers and has received praise from well-known artists on TikTok, such as Meghan Trainor, Andy Grammer, Russ, and many more. As her TikTok took off, so did her other social media pages, including her Spotify, which currently has more than 114 thousand monthly listeners. Rosie’s songwriting professor and Berklee Online instructor Bonnie Hayes was there to watch her viral moment unravel.
Lesson 1: Post Consistently
“She posted a song every day, and on the fifth day, it just freaking exploded,” says Hayes, who also uses TikTok. “TikTok is turning out to be an incredible platform for breaking music. Just the speed with which you can gather traction; it’s 100 times faster than Instagram. First of all, it’s worldwide, which is really different from most of those other platforms, which really focus in the United States. Worldwide . . . there’s a lot of people in the world.”"#TikTok is turning out to be an incredible platform for breaking music. Just the speed with which you can gather traction; it’s 100 times faster than Instagram." —@bonnie_hayes Click To Tweet
Brandon Harris’ TikTok Story
Brandon first joined TikTok to see what the hype was about and gain some understanding of the app. When he posted the first video of him singing on TikTok in June 2020, the timing and content was just right. Introducing himself to the world through the captions, he covered “I’m Here” from The Color Purple, using the 15 seconds to show off his incredible range and vocal ability.
Lesson 2: Put Your Best Foot Forward
His video was short and packed with his best vocal tricks, making it hard for people to scroll past and easy to watch until the end: two elements that are important for TikTok discovery. The biggest factor that contributes to the TikTok algorithm is user interaction, more specifically, video completion. If someone watches a video all the way through, it’s more likely that the algorithm will push it onto other users’ feeds.
To date, the video has more than half a million views. Brandon kept the momentum going because not long after that, he went viral again after posting an a cappella arrangement of Miguel’s “Girl with the Tattoo,” which garnered another half a million views and earned him 33 thousand followers.
“Those two videos still show up on peoples’ For You page and are still getting likes today,” Brandon says. “It’s insane. Honestly, they have the most views, more than any other videos on my other social media pages, and it happened so fast.”
Because TikTok fame can happen so quickly, it’s important to be sure you’re ready for it when it happens. Here are some additional tips to help you prepare for a viral TikTok moment.
How Does TikTok Work?
First of all, let’s go over the basics. TikTok is a short video-making app with 800 million active users across the globe. Users can upload up to 15 seconds of content per clip (up to 60 seconds if the clips are strung together), or even longer if the video is not created natively. The app gives users a huge database of sounds and music, and a myriad of editing options that allows them to put their own creative touches on videos without getting too caught up in the process of production.
For You Page
What makes TikTok really stand above other social media platforms is its aforementioned For You page. Much like Instagram, TikTok’s algorithm serves up content on the FYP that users engage with most. The first thing you see when you open the app is an endless stream of content that is tailored to each user. The app feeds its users content based on the interests and disinterests they express.
Lesson 3: Plan Your Content
As you learn about the various ways to help you garner TikTok fame, keep in mind that having a plan in place is the best way to prepare to go viral on TikTok. Planning out your content a few weeks in advance is a good way to ensure that if you go viral, you won’t have to scramble to push out videos or worse, go dark. Take it from Brandon who knows how overwhelming it can be when you suddenly have thousands of followers waiting for more content.
“Being on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, TikTok moves the fastest,” Brandon says. “I have never seen an app move that fast in terms of people finding you or finding out about you and hearing and sharing your stuff. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing sometimes. The good thing is that it moves fast and overnight so many people have watched your videos but it also moves fast in a way where you have to keep creating or nobody will care anymore.”
Lesson 4: Get to Know Your TikTok Community
More than 60 percent of TikTok users in the US are between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. Therefore, this is the primary demographic of people seeking out new music on the platform. The TikTok community takes pride in knowing about TikTokers before their rise to fame. Don’t be afraid to get to know your followers and familiarize yourself with the content they want to see from you.
Lesson 5: Engage in TikTok Trends … with Your Own Spin
TikTok’s algorithm is more likely to push content onto users’ FYP that they are searching for, meaning hashtags go a long way on TikTok. Partaking in challenges that are trending is an excellent way to land on potential fans’ FYP.
One of the biggest examples is Lil Nas X’s 2019 smash hit “Old Town Road,” where a user uploaded a 15-second snippet of the then unknown song to the platform and started the #YeeHawChallenge. People would drink “Yee Yee” juice and magically transform into Western attire. Millions of people were dressing up in cowboy hats and boots just to dance to the song. “Old Town Road” rose to popularity quickly and soon reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The song held the No. 1 spot for 19 consecutive weeks, still holding the record for the longest time leading the chart as a No. 1 single in Hot 100 history.
Take part in challenges that are trending, but be sure to put your own unique twist on them because you are competing with thousands of other users who are also doing the challenge. If there’s an opportunity to use your music into the challenge, then even better!
Lesson 6: Incorporate Your Music into Your Videos
This should go without saying, but let’s just say it anyway: Sharing your music on the app is vital. With the ability for TikTok users to upload their own sounds and use other users’ sounds from their videos, artists have an advantage by uploading their music, especially if it’s relatable. When your video inspires another user to create a video using that sound, not only is your work being shared to that person, but their followers too.
Former Berklee student, Salem Ilese, gained major traction with her hit “Mad at Disney,” inspiring TikTok users to share the track in their videos. Rosie also experienced this with thousands of people using her songs as the soundtrack to their videos.
Another key piece of information is that many music distributors have deals with TikTok. If your music is on streaming services, like Spotify, Apple Music, or TIDAL, make sure to have your catalog available for use on the app. As you are getting seen, more people will discover your music and share on TikTok if it resonates with them, which could also put some extra cash in your pockets.
Lesson 7: Plug Your Other Social Channels
TikTok fame can be short-lived, and it doesn’t help that the app’s existence in the US has been up for debate. For now, TikTok is likely here to stay, but as you’re growing your presence, make sure you are plugging your other social media handles and are finding creative ways to funnel your TikTok followers over to other platforms whenever possible. Brandon even made a video of himself asking his followers to follow him on Instagram in song.
“Over the last three or four months, there have been scares of TikTok becoming banned so we have these trends of people posting saying, ‘Follow me on here, follow me here!’ so my follower count on my other pages have actually risen,” says Brandon.