TikTok – The New Record Store

by Jette-Mari Anni

TikTok, a short video app that has teenagers and young adults all the way to lawmakers, and even the President, going crazy (for different reasons), has taken over the entertainment world in the palm of your hand. You may have seen Gen Z using it for creative expression, and you might be like the many adults who don’t understand why or how TikTok has reached its popularity. In many ways, TikTok has become the main way young people find new music these days.

Back in the day, you’d run to the record store to look for cool new music and buy it without having ever heard any of it. Since the 80s, teens would turn on MTV to discover the hottest tracks, and radios in cars and living rooms has been common for decades. Recent college graduates and people currently in their 20s had the revolutionary experience of YouTube taking over the world, and together with online streaming services like Napster, Apple Music, and Spotify, they opened the doors to sharing, streaming, and discovering artists from all over the world. What made them successful and how does TikTok compare?

The driving force behind the online music services was, for one, the ability to sample the music you were going to purchase. Even in the early 2000s when artists released new albums, teenagers would storm the stores to buy them. You paid for the whole album, got all the tracks that went with it, and probably played the whole CD because you couldn’t carry the complete collection of all your CDs with you at all times. Then came MP3 players and burned CDs with just a few favorite songs, combined with the best songs by other artists. Napster, the early single sharing platform attempt, tried to provide the opportunity for music lovers to sample songs through free downloads and by sharing files with others.

Unfortunately, the website failed due to legal reasons. Apple, however, picked up the concept and created a store for singles to be sold individually, enabling interested customers to listen to a thirty second snippet. Spotify later revolutionized the industry again by making a library filled with millions of songs available at full length through a subscription model. However, despite the large selection of playlists featuring songs suitable for different genre lovers, or even for people in specific moods, many artists simply drown in the sea of more popular songs. Here’s where TikTok comes with their superpower: exposure.

One big trend is for TikTok users to create a short 15-30 second dance to a song clip. The dance would then be imitated by hundreds, even millions, of other users, and all of their followers will be exposed to the song without realizing they’re consuming it. Even in videos that have nothing to do with dancing, you can hear a song playing in the background. If a song becomes popular, creators will use it in hopes of getting their videos more views, since someone might look for other videos made to the same song. The popularity of these songs creates data for the whole music industry, and will spread the songs over all different platforms.

You know those songs you listened to so many times you couldn’t stand it anymore? TikTok has 30 second clips generating the same feeling. Many young people turn on a radio and recognize the tune instantly because of the popular app. Even though they might be hearing all the other parts of the song for the very first time, the familiar part can already be intolerable. Will this set a future trend for songs to be shorter? Will it create a new niche audience for full feature singles and albums? Time will tell.

How are you finding new music these days?