TikTok and social media’s explosion in music is only going to get louder

This MBW op/ed comes from Luka Zak (pictured), Founding Partner of We Generate, a global marketing agency specialising in digital platforms. Working across platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, We Generate has led campaigns for music industry heavyweights such as Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, and artists including Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.


The last 24 months has obviously been a hugely challenging period, not least to many companies working in the music business.

Yet with social media use soaring and screen times hitting all-time highs, it has also provided important new opportunities to industries, like music, who’ve come to rely on digital platforms.

Greater emphasis is being placed on social media amplification across sectors. And this change in mindset couldn’t have come at a better juncture – because a new breed of platform is changing the face of the digital world, and the way we market across it.

Let’s focus first on TikTok, and the headline stat that in September this year it officially surpassed one billion global monthly active users (MAUs).

To put that into perspective, just 21 months prior, it had 508 million MAUs. Aka: TikTok has doubled its global audience in less than two years.
This rate of growth has been evident in the world’s biggest music market, the United States: TikTok had 39.9 million MAUs in the US in October 2019, compared to comfortably more than 100 million today. Nearly 3X growth!


TikTok went from being ‘the app formerly known as Musical.ly’ – famous for its short lip-synced videos, and one of the youngest user bases of any platform – to the TikTok we see today: a platform that hosts live virtual concerts by global superstars like The Weeknd and whose lead creators are releasing reality TV shows, hit tracks and starring in big box office movies.

It wasn’t just the size of TikTok’s user base that transformed during the pandemic period, either – it was the world’s perception of the platform.
Dance routines will always be a cornerstone of TikTok, but it’s become so much more. We now see breaking news pieces, comedy sketches, educational and cooking videos, sports highlights and much more making waves on the platform each day.

“Greater diversity in the output of creators has really allowed TikTok to flourish.”

Gen Z were the first adopters of the platform and certainly the large audience majority sits within that demographic. Therefore content will be through a lens that ensures it’s engaging them first and foremost but it now has a much wider appeal.

This greater diversity in the output of creators, has really allowed TikTok to flourish.


Inevitably, we’ve also seen ‘The Tik-Tok Effect’ across the digital industry – i.e. the ripples caused by the platform’s runaway success.

Not to be outdone by TikTok, Instagram recognised a need for bite-sized content and introduced Reels at the end of last summer.

Since that launch, we’ve seen a rapid global roll-out from Instagram for Reels, as well as a notable focus on greater user engagement on posts. (Fashion giant Louis Vuitton recently reported that all of its Reels had gone viral, averaging nearly seven million views across the service).

“Early data looks encouraging for YouTube, with Shorts now generating more than 15 billion global daily views, up from 6.5 billion in March.”

We’ve also seen YouTube launch its own TikTok competitor, YouTube Shorts.

Although the similarities are obvious, YouTube seems determined to bring its own USP to short-form video, as well as its potential as a springboard for talent. This explains why YouTube recently announced a $100 million Shorts Fund to be distributed this year and into 2022 amongst creators on the platform.

Early data looks encouraging for YouTube, with Shorts now generating more than 15 billion global daily views, up from 6.5 billion in March.


By nature of what We Generate does, we’re looking at these various platforms more closely than most industry observers – and whether it’s TikTok, Shorts, or Reels, what we see are many indications of a constant evolution in terms of offering and functionality.

TikTok, for example, is keen to establish stronger monetization processes for content, providing a greater incentive to keep its top users posting to the app.
As such, we have seen the introduction of TikTok’s own $200 million ‘Creator Fund’ which rewards certain creators directly for their videos. The higher engagement these creators attract, the greater the monetary rewards.

TikTok has also been enabling global music superstars to sell physical merch direct from their channels. TikTok’s Global Head of Music, Ole Obermann, recently told MBW that for a recent merch-selling trial with Billie Eilish and Lizzo, “[the] numbers were massive”, adding that the results “blew us away”.

“This kind of move is at the center of TikTok’s e-commerce strategy, offering in-stream shopping tools and providing a generally stickier experience for high-profile creators.”

This kind of move is at the center of TikTok’s e-commerce strategy, offering in-stream shopping tools and providing a generally stickier experience for high-profile creators, who can generate revenue in the platform in a number of ways.

It’s all part of TikTok parent Bytedance’s aim to facilitate more than $185 billion of e-commerce annually by 2022.

An ambitious goal? Consider that Bytedance’s platforms (largely thanks to its Chinese TikTok sister product, Douyin) sold around $26 billion in make-up, clothing and merch in 2020, according to Bloomberg.


Many companies and brands are beginning to understand the breadth of opportunities this new landscape offers. But the growth is happening so rapidly that it’s not always easy to keep up – and to execute a digital strategy that is fully ‘plugged in’ to new developments.

One of the big realizations to hit the music industry over these disruptive last 24 months is the sheer time and investment it takes to get the most from the likes of TikTok, Reels, Shorts and other competitors like Snapchat Stories and Triller.

“the growth is happening so rapidly that it’s not always easy to keep up – and to execute a digital strategy that is fully ‘plugged in’ to new developments.”

The landscape changes daily: What may have been a good list of influencers, pages or content creators for one song/artist yesterday, may be entirely different tomorrow.

That’s good news for a company like We Generate, of course – we pride ourselves on our ever-evolving expertise in the world of social, and using that knowledge to maximize ROI for our clients.


Adding to the complication is the fact that the most effective type of marketing for artists on TikTok et al today may be a heavily targeted one. So a strategy is required where you’re hitting communities, creators, accounts and pages with syncronized analytics.

Yet the key principles of audience-building on these platforms – from TikTok to Reels, Shorts and beyond – aren’t actually anything new to record labels, music publishers and artist managers.

While, yes, we have seen some creators grow huge audiences following one big viral video, most of the success stories involve a slower build over many months and years – and are simply rooted in well-produced, compelling content.

“the key principles of audience-building on these platforms – from TikTok to Reels, Shorts and beyond – aren’t actually anything new to record labels, music publishers and artist managers.”

Whether you’re starting from scratch or building on top of an established creator/artist’s brand, a consistent flow of this compelling content is the Number One key to growing a page’s audience.

Eventually, as we’ve seen many times, that audience will reach a critical mass – which brings with it multiple revenue opportunities.

As these platforms continue to explode in growth across the world, those revenue opportunities are only going to explode with them.Music Business Worldwide