Music News: TikTok ban or sale? What's at stake for the music world


The Current Music News for Aug. 6, 2020 (MPR Video)

The social video app TikTok is the buzz of the music world in 2020, and unlike, say, MySpace, it's also being drawn into geopolitics. It's owned by a Chinese technology conglomerate called ByteDance, which sounds super cute, but there's nothing cute about cyberwarfare and unwanted surveillance...and that is why companies like Wells Fargo are telling employees not to use TikTok on company devices. That's why the entire country of India has banned TikTok after border clashes with China. TikTok swears it's keeping user data private, but authorities are concerned that the Chinese government could make TikTok an offer it couldn't refuse.

Which brings us to the U.S. government effectively giving TikTok an ultimatum: either sell its U.S. operations to a company based here, or risk getting banned here as well. That's causing a lot of concern in the music world, where TikTok has become more important than you may realize even if you're a TikTok addict. You might know that certain hit songs get their juice from TikTok these days, but the app's influence goes much deeper than that.

Take India: a huge music market, but one that's been tough for international artists to break into without major label backing. In the past year alone, the number of hit songs in India that come from international artists that aren't on major labels has doubled. People hear songs on TikTok, they see people dancing to them, and they don't care where the songs come from: they pull them up on other streaming platforms, they follow the artists, they tell their friends. There may be no technological development in the history of the recording industry that's swept away the gatekeepers like TikTok has, and that's created an enormous opportunity for independent artists.

But it's not just artists like Lil Nas X, who was basically unknown before "Old Town Road" blew up, who are turning to TikTok. Drake was already one of the world's most famous artists when he made "Toosie Slide," but he let it leak on TikTok via an influencer named Toosie, and it debuted at number one on the Hot 100.

TikTok is also great for artists like Jason Derulo: a music star who also has a lot of personality. He has over 30 million TikTok followers, so many that he can make $75,000 a video just from he can then use the platform to promote his music.


I got @jenafrumes a new pet

♬ original sound - jasonderulo

So basically, right now the number one thing you want to do if you have a great song and you want it to be a hit, is get an influencer to dance to it on TikTok. That's true whether you're a Drake or whether you're an Arizona Zervas. Oh, you haven't heard of that Maryland rapper? Yeah, he had a TikTok hit with his song "Roxanne." It became a Top Ten hit and he got a major label record deal.


ROXANNE music video out now! go peep that 👀🐩🐩🐩

♬ original sound - arizona.zervas

Okay, so you're thinking: well, if TikTok is banned, can't another app do the same thing? Funny you ask, because that's exactly what apps like Instagram and Snapchat are thinking. They're both rolling out features that resemble TikTok, with licensing deals to let them use copyrighted music.

TikTok's super secret weapon, though, is its algorithm. More than anything else, the reason this app is so crazy addictive is that its programmers have figured out how to learn very quickly what any user is into, and feed them more of that. Because it has 800 million active users worldwide, TikTok has an enormous amount of data it can use to predict that if you like this video, you'll also like that video. So if TikTok's U.S. operation gets sold to, say, Microsoft, there's going to be a question about whether the algorithm comes with it, or whether the new owner has to start from scratch.

So it's kind of like I sell you the Heinz ketchup brand, but I don't give you the recipe, and you've got to figure out for yourself what to put in the bottle. Except, way way harder.

So, whatever's next for TikTok, it's going to have major implications for the music world. We'll keep following this story, so be sure to like and follow us for more. I guess you could also follow me on TikTok, but so far I just have one video and it uses a karaoke version of "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid, so that just goes to show that not everyone on TikTok can be an influencer.


♬ Kiss The Girl (From "The Little Mermaid") - Karaoke Version - URock

If you're the kind of person who doesn't really care that much about the music business, but you're just glad when musicians have the chance to succeed...that can be your takeaway from this story, that right now, TikTok is allowing a whole generation of young artists follow their dreams without having to wait for someone in a business suit give them permission.

We'll leave you with a clip from Cat Burns, a U.K. singer-songwriter who was slogging it out with 5,000 followers on Instagram when she joined TikTok out of boredom...and got half a million followers there in just a few months. She says, "Being on TikTok completely changed my career...My favorite video currently is a duet I did with my mom. It's a really sweet video to me because she's always been my biggest supporter."


Reply to @jer98om yes she can. ##fyp ##foryou ##trending ##featureme ##viral ##harmony

♬ original sound - catburnss

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