For pop music to chart these days it pretty much has to go viral on TikTok.
It’s a key platform for reaching new audiences on social media.
For me, it started with Lil Nas X’s breakout single “Old Town Road”.
Ever since he proved that tapping into meme culture is the key to modern success, the mainstream music industry has followed suit.
Today, we still see Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” trending on the app’s “For You” pages weeks after its release.
K-pop stars Blackpink are also dominating the platform right now with “How You Like That”.
There’s no doubt about it. TikTok is a critical marketing strategy for today's biggest stars.
But what about independent artists? What’s the secret that helped an unsigned and unknown artist like Lil Nas X achieve success?
Here's how three lesser-known artists made the platform work for them.
Salem Ilese’s debut release dates back to 2018. But it was her viral single “Mad at Disney” that broke her into the mainstream.
When the single reached the top of Spotify’s global “Viral 50” chart it broke out of its underground bubble and landed on the platform’s “Today’s Top Hits” playlist.
The song only just came out at the end of July 2020, so we might be witnessing the early stages of a massively successful single.
TikTokers love simplicity
@illumin_artyPOV Disney characters get a not so happy ending! Video ib @katesjamboree ##pov ##disney ##sfxmakeup (blood is fake)♬ Mad at Disney – salem ilese
“Mad at Disney” has a certain innocence in it’s lyrics. Each line evokes childhood nostalgia contrasted with a degree of adolescent naivete:
“I’m mad at Disney, Disney
They tricked me, tricked me
Had me wishing on a shooting star
But now I’m twenty-something
I still know nothing
Bout who I am or what I’m not”
The lyrics catch your attention right away, backed by a minimalist electric guitar arpeggio.
The bare arrangement highlights Salem Ilese’s naive-yet-charming vocals.
Unsurprisingly, this is also the part TikTokers seem to like the most.
Perhaps the song wasn’t designed with a viral destiny in mind.
But it certainly provides the perfect backdrop for anything and everything cutesy.
@taiverdesWatch me quit my job. ##stuckinthemiddle♬ Stuck In The Middle – Tai Verdes
Tai Verdes is a completely independent newcomer.
With his first single “Stuck in the Middle”, he hit the top of the US “Viral 50” chart on Spotify, almost out of the blue.
Now he’s on global “Viral 50”, too. 10 million streams and counting is not a bad look for a debut single.
TikTokers love vulnerability
There’s one similarity that’s noticeable between the case of Salem Ilese and Tai Verdes’s TikTok success.
Both artists highlight the lyrics through expressive, vulnerable and engaging vocal delivery.
“Stuck in the Middle” is about the ugly realities of the beginning and ending of modern romantic relationships.
Here’s Tai’s top line over the modest arrangement:
“'Cause we're stuck in the middle of lovers and friends
And we're losin' every part of the benefits
You hurt me more than I ever knew
But it's shitty 'cause I'm doin' the same to you”
But even more than the lyrics—it’s the accessible, feel-good bass line the song starts with that’s attractive to all TikTok users.
Just scroll through the thousands and thousands of drawing, cooking and tutorial TikToks featuring “Stuck in the Middle” and you’ll see what I mean.
@curtiswatersdancing to my song everyday untill it goes viral tbh ##music ##nc ##foryou ##curtiswaters♬ Stunnin' (feat. Harm Franklin) – Curtis Waters
North Carolina-based artist Curtis Waters got on TikTok before officially releasing his hit, “Stunnin’” earlier this year.
It all started with a deliberately awkward dance routine Waters came up with for the song.
But it didn’t take long before fashionistas of TikTok took notice of the lyrics and paired it with a “What I would wear…” challenge.
TikTokers love dances and challenges
The key to this song’s success is pretty obvious—once a song gets paired with a TikTok challenge, there’s no stopping it.
After all, TikTok was originally imagined as a platform for social games, challenges and lip syncing.
So try and invent something fun like a special dance move, challenge or lyric idea to go along with your single.
Get your music on TikTok
One thing’s for sure—you'll never find any viral success on TikTok if your music isn’t available online through a digital distribution channel that has access to the platform.
Not only do you get lots of good exposure from putting music on TikTok, you also get paid for each stream. So definitely make sure your music is available on the platform.
TikTok music is important
While growing in popularity around the world, TikTok has also somewhat leveled the playing field for big stars and independent artists.
But knowing exactly who your target audience is is important.
@bludetigerhad to try this one out @charlieputh♬ original sound – Charlie Puth
Any genre can be successful on TikTok as long as the song’s concept is easy to follow.
Just make sure that you grab the attention of the listener right away.
Short and sweet hooks are essential.
Offering listeners a relatable theme through your lyrics is definitely one way to get ahead of the curve, too.
It’s important to recognize the significance of dance challenges and memes.
But you should also set some time aside to better understand the unique tools this app has to offer.
For instance, the duet feature allows users to easily lip sync and collaborate.
The standard “upbeat songs make it big” rule doesn’t always apply here either.
But it is evident that TikTok users enjoy tracks that are playful and uplifting.
Above all else, what TikTokers want is songs they can easily adapt to their own world.