TikTok has a unique ability to drive music trends. Because short, catchy sections of a song can be isolated for video remixing, unfinished hits like Doja Cat’s “Boom” or SZA's “Shirt” can still go viral. Emmy Meli, the singer behind “I Am Woman,” went from unknown to mainstream in a matter of days thanks to the platform.
But audio clips of an artist’s song don’t appear any differently than a voiceover narrating a DIY crafting video. Anyone can upload audio to Tiktok for remixing, and thousands of users can dance along to a song without a musical artist cashing in. Sure, the platform does pay royalties to some artists — but those royalties are dictated by market share, not views, and not everyone knows how to capitalize on them.
TikTok changed that Wednesday, with the announcement of a music marketing and distribution service called SoundOn. The service will allow musicians to upload songs directly to the app and receive royalties for plays, managed through a designated artists' platform. The platform also includes analytical tools to help artists leverage virality.
TikTok is essentially taking out a loan on the feature, paying musicians 100% of royalties for the first year, but then splitting royalties 90:10 every year after. SoundOn was already released in beta last year, but is open to all music-makers as of today.
The response from musicians has been muted (pun slightly intended) so far. As much as many streaming artists love to point out the low payouts in online listening, it would be surprising if the SoundOn rollout isn’t taken as mostly good news. Sure, it’s more of all the good and bad that comes with streaming — low pay, high exposure — but it’s been hard for musicians to make good money off TikTok at all.
The move also brings to mind the mission of early SoundCloud, designed to revolutionize music-making by integrating social networking with music distribution and creator autonomy. And if the rise and fall of that company’s hopes for profitability are any lesson — well, maybe TikTok should start shaving away some sliver of royalties now.
After all, no matter how large a portion TikTok takes, creators will likely still scramble to make their music popular on the platform. Making music in the 21st century means cooperating with streaming platforms and social media, no matter how unbalanced the relationship may be. Just Google “How to make a song go viral on TikTok” and you’ll find dozens of videos and blog posts made by creatives who have supposedly cracked the code — and that’s under the current royalties format.
One can only assume they’re editing those posts now.