By: Wendy Day
By, Bob Lefsetz
This is a music business issue.
Despite the corroded infrastructure of the twentieth first century music business, based on terrestrial radio and a small number of top of the chart records, the best way to reach the target demo, the youth of today, with music, both old and new, is TikTok.
We heard about gaming. Music is secondary at best, background noise.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band? A limited number of tracks, you couldn’t play EVERYTHING!
But on TikTok, the uploaders use a cornucopia of songs and many see traction elsewhere, on Spotify, YouTube, et al. Some even become gigantic hits.
Not that this is an unknown paradigm. There are big acts like Drake feeding songs to the service, trying to jump-start or enhance their trajectory in traditional music media.
But on TikTok, the public, the users, pick the songs. And successful clips can be viewed triple digit millions of times, and more than one person can employ the same tune, this is oftentimes the case. TikTok is a hotbed of track development, it can not only make careers, it can bring the ancient back to life.
But the conversation in the music business is always about the past. Those with power want to preserve old systems and keep bitching about their cheese being moved, they abhor change.
First and foremost TikTok illustrates that breaking records will move more and more into the hands of the public. And the public decides what is a winner and what is not. And the gap between what is employed and what is not will be even greater than it is on streaming services. In other words, gatekeepers lose power, and the music business loves gatekeepers, that’s what streaming service playlists are all about! Get the company to insert your track and…most people using playlists are listening in the background, it’s hard to convert them into active listeners, to pick out a track, it’s not vastly different from Muzak in the office. But when a song is used on TikTok, it’s frequently integral to the action, without the song there is no clip. And the hook is key, demonstrating the axiom that hooks are nearly always necessary for great success in the music business. It’s a free-for-all, and the music business HATES free-for-alls, it wants to control and constrict the narrative, isn’t this the history of music online, starting with Napster?
And then the old artists and the ones working in the old manner, a few years to make an album which drops all at once, can’t stop complaining about social media, they keep telling us they’re artists, and you’re impinging on their creativity if you make them do anything other than sit in a studio and record twelve tunes. But the history of music on the internet is it blows up via word of mouth, which is hard to control, if people like something they pass it on, and if they don’t… This is very different from radio, where you’re trying to convince the programmer, online it’s straight to the customer/listener.
And Donald Trump wants to shut TikTok down.
Here’s where music and politics merge. Here’s where you’re out of the loop if you’re not reading the headlines. Because you have no framework, no sense of reference.
Donald Trump wants to shut TikTok down because it’s a haven of anti-Trump activity. It is hard to gauge TikTok’s effectiveness in this area, but one thing is for sure, the arena wasn’t full in Tulsa, could that be as a result of all the TikTokkers asking for tickets they were never going to use, the president to promise an overflow crowd that did not appear? Did you see the second stage outside the BOK Center, they started tearing it down during the event inside, there was no one there.
But if TikTok shuts down, the music business is collateral damage.
But the music business is silent. Used to be the music business was cutting edge, where you went to get the news, now it’s caught flat-footed. Don’t you defend your turf? Everybody else in America does.
So sure, Trump doesn’t like China having control of TikTok, hoovering up all that data, but why does TikTok have to shut down NOW?!
TikTok is a community. Of youngsters. And anti-Trump fervor is rampant on the service. Which assembles its army to fight Trump in the real world.
Meanwhile, Microsoft says it’ll buy TikTok.
But this is not good enough for Trump. Because this won’t solve his problem! Which is less about China and more about him and his election prospects.
The TikTokkers were all in a rage, downloading their content, crying in their fruit juice. That’s the difference in the Trump era, in the sixties users would fight back! But today’s youth are used to having their freedoms taken away.
Then again, one of the great things about social media, including TikTok, is its effect is essentially unmeasurable. All the data won’t tell you the ultimate reach and adoption. The service can’t be controlled and…
TikTok is not Facebook. All the conversation has been about disinformation on Facebook, not realizing that its users skew older.
As for Snap… Snapchat made its bones on an evanescent service. But its hook was Stories. But before Stories had mindshare outside a small coterie, Instagram copied it, stealing the momentum. That’s the narrative of the internet, there’s a first mover advantage, but you can never rest on your laurels, you must not sleep, you must keep on pushing. Which brings us to the strange case of Travis Kalanick. Travis employed this strategy to turn Uber into a behemoth. So, he was lauded by the same people who ended up criticizing him, and the end result was that Lyft gained traction and now Uber is not the leader it once was. It’s a jungle out there I tell you.
So, Facebook and Google can’t buy TikTok, no way. The only thing accomplished in last week’s hearings was to spread the word that these entities are duplicitous monopolists. Don’t expect any change to the existing services, but don’t expect it to be business as usual going forward. The government would never allow these two entities to buy TikTok. But Microsoft?
Zuckerberg can’t compete with TikTok, even though he’s trying. You see TikTok has critical mass. It was small once, when kids used Musical.ly in the U.S., but then that service was merged into TikTok and became a behemoth. TikTok was not secret, but somehow Zuck missed it. It grew too big right under his nose. And now there’s nothing he can do about it.
Is TikTok forever? History tells us social media sites are fads. Even Facebook itself, now the company’s main driver is Instagram. But TikTok’s growth proves that despite the footprint of the tech majors, there are still holes, they can still be beaten.
TikTok won’t be shut down. The public won’t stand for it. Microsoft will purchase the service.
Then again, Trump has done so much with little consequence. And as stated above, the youth have acquiesced in many cases. But the youth are activated, that’s what the anti-Trump TikTok rebellion is all about. And Trump should remember, every action has an equal reaction.
But the music business is looking at this from afar, hands-off.
People were file-trading and the music business was up-in-arms.
They came for the record stores and the music business was up-in-arms.
But somehow, when it comes down to what might be the best way to expose music today, the business is silent. Talk about being ripe for disruption…