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TikTok versus music: A new Revolutionary War

Graphic by Ethan Nelson

TikTok has revolutionized the music industry. Popularizing the 60-seconds-or-less formula, the platform has changed the way fans consume music.

In the landscape of short-form content, music, beats and sounds are all digested very quickly, alongside what happens on the screen.

Carl Anderson, director of the Music Business and Music and Entertainment Industry programs at Bradley, provided insight to the changing status of media and music consumption.  

“Do we listen to music today, or do we watch music today?” Anderson said.

Listening to music is no longer just an auditory process; in today’s landscape we see music and video connected all the time. The connection can be seen in movies, TV shows, video games and social media platforms. It is not solely about the music, but about artists’ performances.

“If [an artists’] younger demographic is mostly attracted to short-form video … If that’s what’s working, it makes sense for an artist to put that into part of their marketing scheme,” Anderson said.

It is reasonable for artists to focus on what audiences want because that will result in a greater profit. For the last 60 years, the way to create a successful music career has been finding a great band, recording a one-of-a-kind, hour-long album and presenting that music to the public. 

The focus has shifted to making a single hit song, just like in the 1910s. 

“I think right now singles are, and have been the dominant thing,” Anderson said. “…wanting the constant, ‘what’s the newest, newest, newest, newest’ thing, as opposed to waiting for an album … and the forms of consumption lend itself to individual things.”

An example from recent years is Doja Cat’s “Say So.” The track was quick to arrive on the TikTok dancing scene. Similarly, her song “Streets” came with the silhouette trend and “Like That” had the #dojacatsplitchallenge blowing up on social media. Each song that’s gone viral has significantly more streams than the rest of her work, and a lot of her fame came from these singles.

Pop singer Jain’s “Makeba” and French artist HUGEL’s “Mamma Mia” featuring Amber Van Day, known for the lyric “Buy me Prada (no, no, no) / Balenciaga (no, no, no),” have also been enormous TikTok hits recently. However, the artists have garnered very little popularity compared to artists like Doja Cat.

“For every one of those [viralities] you hear about are millions of people that upload things every day that nobody ever hears or sees,” Anderson said.

The Internet changed the way we make and consume content. Now, we watch music almost as much as we listen to it, and the wave of short social media content shows no sign of slowing down.

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