‘The platformization of the music industry, influenced by TikTok’

On: October 29, 2021
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Social media has been critical in providing information. The media object under review is TikTok, which seems to have all focus shifted to its platform. Launched in 2018, TikTok joined the ranks of social media giants in record time, having more than one billion active monthly users worldwide by the start of 2021 and has been downloaded in the U.S. at least 200 million times, according to Wallaroo Media (“TikTok Statistics”, 2021). As one could imagine, in such an enormous new platform every user would get to not only grow fast but also post everything they felt like posting. But, later on TikTok started having some early scrapes with foreign governments. In 2018, Indonesia temporarily blocked it for hosting inappropriate content (Zhong, 2020). It was then when Tiktok started filtering its content like other platforms were already doing. 

Most users have thought of using TikTok in a profitable form. Some are showing off their personal brands and asking other TikTokers to promote their products in creative ways, and some others are thinking of the audio tunes that people record their videos. And yes, music may be the most important part when creating a TikTok Video. It is because of this, that “TikTok is an essential promotional tool for music artists and record labels.Songs can rise up organically on the app even if they’ve been outside the mainstream for decades. Marketers can also hire influencers to try to make a song take off (Whataley, 2021)”. Musicians’ entire music catalog is tracked on a daily basis. Famous record labels are also keeping up everyday with the latest trends. Sony Music admitted that they are constantly monitoring actions, reaction, and trends that happen on TikTok (Whataley, 2021). Which is fascinating as now we can clearly see how this platform has managed to  influence and include everyone, starting from small users to large corporations. 

This research paper aims to review how and in what specific ways the music industry has been influenced. When it first started out and how it has been growing up to today. By conducting a survey, this paper aims to find out how people react to trends in music, and whether this has affected their taste. Data has been showing that TikTok exposes audiences to new sounds and music that corporations accompanied by the latest trends, furthermore, TikTok has been said to inspire people to break outside of their existing music bubbles (“New research reveals how TikTok is changing the music industry for brands, artists, audiences, and the industry”, 2021). 

The main concept discussed in this paper will be tik tok and its form of influencing top charts. Tik tok as a platform has become one of the main social platforms for young people creating content. A common phenomenon that appears on this platform is creating dances for viral songs. These are not necessarily the songs known in advance and known to the general public, but of newly formed performers trying to stand out on the tik tok in particular. These songs are not necessarily innovative, but they fit the concept of fast dances and viral content posted on this platform. For this reason, young singers excelled and their songs were on the top charts. In this paper we would like to discuss this issue and show why it works this way and can affect the rankings of the most famous songs. Why is the topic of this discussion relevant in this day and age? Tik Tok helps users to express their uniqueness and at the same time giving them the privilege of being the creators of their content (Burton, 2012). Tik Tok changed the traditional outlook on popular culture  (Naisbitt, Naisbitt & Phillips 2001). People on tik tok are expressing themselves by lip-syncing to viral music and enjoying this app, having a high level of satisfaction thanks to it (Sorells, 2015).

This particular type of research on the platformisation of TikTok is not only relevant in the sense that it shows how fast TikTok is growing and what its influences are on the contemporary music industry, it also functions as a great example of the platformization of our society through online connectivity – something that is of great interest to Media Studies scholars. For instance, the notion of ‘platformization’ is one that is covered in depth by Poell et al. (2019) and many other scholars interested in the online media landscape. However, in order to analyze platformization, it is important to define what exactly is a platform. As written by Gillespie (2017) “Figuratively, a platform is flat, open, sturdy. In its connotations, a platform offers the opportunity to act, connect or speak in ways that are powerful and effective […] a platform lifts that person above everything else”. Considering this quote, Poell et al. (2019) argue that a platform should be considered “productive” in its own right. It should prompt users to “organize their activities around proprietary, for profit platforms” –the platform in question should thus (from a media studies perspective) function as a market force. However, the media studies perspective on what defines a platform is not the only one that should be taken into account. Another important understanding (as mentioned by Poell et al (2019)) of the concept ‘platform’ is that generated through a computational perspective, namely; the notion of platforms as “(re-)programmable software systems that revolve around the systematic collection and processing of user data (Helmond, 2015; Langlois & Elmer, 2013; Plantin et al., 2018)” (Poell et al. ,2019). To briefly recapitulate; there are two aspects that make a platform a platform. In a computational sense, a platform must be a programmable infrastructure that can be built on by others through API’s (application forming interface) (Helmond, 2015). In an economic sense, a platform must function as a multi-sided market in order to attract stakeholders. In the case of ‘platformization’, the digital platforms extend their technological and economic (the two aspects) growth beyond their current boundaries (Helmond, 2015) which can include societal domains, markets and industries. This is what is also happening to TikTok, its music is extending its current boundaries on a technological as well as economic level.

In order to correctly conduct the research, it was decided to plan out a structure of a few research methods. The methods used are: desk research, case study, and secondary data which can point out the qualitative side of the research. By analyzing data found on the web our research became a combined study. By using each of these methods it was possible to draw out conclusions presented in the last part of this research paper. 

Desk research, also known as secondary research, is carried out through content analysis, cross-sectional analysis and comparison of historical data. This method helped to analyze data before and after the research, creating an organized collection of information and was used in order to understand the economic side and boundaries of the platform. 

Case study is one of the most important parts of our research. The main feature and at the same time the reason for choosing the case study method is the fact that the chosen ‘case’ becomes the basis for a deep, holistic, and in-depth exploration of the aspects you want to learn about (Kumar, 2011). In the extensive literature on methodology, it is recognizable that this method is useful for exploring an area where little is known which can be said about our research problem. This method can provide an overview and in-depth understanding of a case, helping focus the study on “extensively exporting and understanding rather than confirming and quantifying” (Kumar, 2011). This method was used in order to understand and analyze the changes happening on music charts in the example mentioned below. 

Secondary data is data that has already been collected and made available for researchers to use. The purpose of collecting it in the first place does not have to be for specific research purposes (Baker, 2006) but what’s important is the use of it after the collection. Sources of secondary data go from traditional ways like books, published sources, journals and newspapers to unpublished personal sources, diaries, and podcasts – all depending on the research. In the case of the research contacted here, the data was collected from academic and non-academic journals, tech websites and necessary articles. 

By using all this information, it was possible to conduct a successful research pointing out the intended purpose and answering the stated research question. 

Matthew Allen argues that  “the computing industry attempted to change the way we think of the internet” (2013), from publishing channel to software development platform. Tik tok is a “platform” that can be reprogrammed and therefore customized by outside developers—users—and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated. Users of tik tok are changing the content by themselves, from showing viral songs to viral dances. They are the ones changing the vision of this platform, by making viral content according to their needs and preferences. Furthermore, TikTok extends its computational boundaries onto other platforms by allowing shares onto other platforms (for example the option to share TikTok videos on Whatsapp). The data from the other platforms can then also be traced back to TikTok. 

Tik Tok works as an app for creating and sharing short videos and is used from the beginning to build an online entertainment community. Video creators have access to a variety of tools, filters and effects of augmented reality (AR) to create their own videos or participate in various “tasks” that mimic the game tactics of other users. (Zhang, 2020) Managed and organized by Hashtags composed of different “challenges”, creators easily search for people with a common interest and present themselves as lip sync, dance or trick, from 15-second clips. Beyond the public perception as an entertainment community, the real strength that makes Tik Tok unique is its use in artificial intelligence technology. Unlike the habits on other social media platforms, users choose the app to watch videos by scrolling down as a news feed, but without touching from page to page. Zhang Yiming, CEO of Bytedance, announced that the company will not be a data collection and distribution platform, but rather a technology company (Wang, Yang, 2021). He appreciated the algorithm-based approach and thought that a machine could perform better than humans when exchanging information.

The economical boundaries of tiktok are quite simple. One way to make money with Tik Tok is to place ads. In June 2020, the app launched for businesses the ability to place their own advertising within the app. There are several types of tik tok ads, including ads as Native Video, brand takeover, and brand hashtags/hashtag challenges (Alscher, 2019). Ads are shown between videos when users scroll through their pages (similar to how ads are shown in Instagram stories) or shown immediately after opening the app. The brand hashtags allow users to create their own hashtags and challenges and then pay to display the tag in Discover users ‘ channels (Olafson, 2021). By understanding the recipients of the app it is easier to understand the marketing strategies : ((SCREENSHOTS))

The interesting part of it all is that even before the advertisement was possible on TikTok, the app was still making money. That was happening because of TikTok Coins (“Virtual Items | TikTok”, 2021)f. These are currencies in the app that users could buy with real money (provided they are at least 18 years old). You can then use coins to buy virtual gifts for the popular creators of TikTok, and these creators can exchange gifts for real money. Of course, Tik Tok takes a discount from this money, which otherwise makes the app a profit.

When another company buys Tik Tok from ByteDance, it can introduce more ways to make the app profitable or simply return to what the app is already doing. .

The sociological  aspect of the platformization on TikTok can be seen on music charts throughout the years and music promotion in general. The For You Page (FIP) is one of the biggest sources for artists. When a 15-second snippet of a song is used in a video, that video is displayed on the page for another user, and that user likes the video so much that they want to create their own similar video (Ditto Music, 2020). TikTok users have a very simple way to use an audio clip they’ve heard elsewhere and create their own new movie.

This simple audio copying process is what makes a song so easy to go viral in TikTok. If a dance prompt or lip sync inspires a single user, you’ll probably inspire more people to create their own videos. The chain reaction based algorithm has helped many missed songs get into a viral tick. There have already been many cases where artists with little observation have had a great impact on the platform. In 2016, when the app was launched, you could only come across viral videos or billboard hits. Today, Tik Tok’s popular songs influence the Billboard Charts and not vice versa (College of Contemporary Music, 2021). For example, driver’s licenses went viral after famous creators like Charlie D’amelio reproduced them to their followers. Rodrigo released the song in early January and teased it without knowing it would be such a hit. Since the release of the video, Rodrigo’s account has garnered over 10 million subscribers, for a total of ten videos. The driver’s license is still in the trend with more than 880.000 applications. It is worth noting that the app helped manage Rodrigo’s music to place it on streaming platforms like Amazon and Spotify.

The song was released on the 8th of January 2020, but not long after that, copolations of tik toks created the sound were posted on youtube (17th of January). Not a week after the song started appearing on several music charts, and stayed number one until the week of 12 of March (College of Contemporary Music 2021). 


TikTok key statistics
TikTok generated an estimated $1.9 billion revenue in 2020, a 457% increase year-on-year
TikTok had 837 million monthly active users in Q2 2020 and is expected to reach 1 billion by Q4 2020
In China, TikTok is accessed by over 600 million users daily
TikTok has been downloaded over three billion times

source: https://tinyurl.com/47hzcm8d 

AgePercentage of users
Under 1828
39+        19

Note: These are global values. Individual country demographics are available in the TikTok Report

source:  https://tinyurl.com/47hzcm8d 

GenderPercentage of users

source:  https://tinyurl.com/47hzcm8d 

This is just one of examples of how the TikTok platformization is changing the music industry

There are a couple of things which make this platform much more favorable when it comes to analyzing it from an economical perspective, for businesses and marketing purposes. TikTok encourages its users to be creative. Furthermore, “TikTok has implemented an effective algorithm to show users trending videos relevant to their interests, making it easy to create content that is relevant and on-brand to one’s industry without having to do too much research (Halpern, 2021)”. This platform will give business owners easy access to their desired audience, which other platforms wouldn’t do. What else makes this platform economic, is that users can make profit out of their accounts. Payments varies based on factors like the number of video views, the level of engagement and the authenticity of users engaging with the post, in some cases brands might pay a popular influencer to create videos, but TikTok’s highest-paid users usually monetize their accounts through multiple income streams⁠. (Evan, 2021)”. That said, all of the above income streams coming from TikTok makes us consider this platform in an economic sense too. 

Based on the case study, as well as the information provided from desk research, the conclusion can be made that TikTok is well on its way to becoming a true platform. It extends both its economical and computational boundaries and even has a great influence on social structures by influencing the global music charts. 


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