How to promote your music on TikTok

Posted on 3rd June 2021

Snapchat and Instagram’s child bathed in the ashes of Vine and arose as the viral behemoth that is TikTok. An app deeply associated with Generation Z, dance challenges and cute dogs, it has over half a billion users worldwide and nearly all the videos contain music. The platform has already been utilised by many famous artists to grow their fan base and get their music into your phone speakers, examples being Drake with ‘Toosie Slide’ and Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ which have associated dances that users can recreate in videos. A by-product of its reliance/use of music in the videos can also give old songs a new lease of life, Paul Anka’s ‘Put your head on my shoulder’ is a great example and has even led to him releasing new versions of the song to cash in on its revival. 

Understanding the app

TikTok has a flexible format, with videos normally lasting around 15 seconds but can stretch to 60 and with an emphasis on authenticity over perfection, the videos can look as DIY as you’d like and doesn’t need a set length. Although I’d encourage at least enough lighting so people can make out an image without adjusting their phone brightness and just about long enough so it doesn’t sound like a jumping vinyl player.  

The app also offers great options when creating these videos; one feature allowing you to shoot incrementally, chaining short clips together to create a single video, great for outfit or instrument changes. Another intuitive feature is how it allows you to find the song first if you wish, so you can choose the snippet of the song you want and record video to that, in effect working backwards to how you’d edit a song into an Instagram story. Something to also keep in mind is the freedom TikTok gives the user in terms of uploading from other editing programs like Adobe Premiere as long as it’s a vertical video, opening the door to a greater level of visual tinkering. 

The #FYP and looking at the algorithm  

The main page users interact with on TikTok is the #FYP (or For You Page). It’s fundamentally a flowing feed of algorithmically generated content, and the more a user engages with certain types of video, the intelligence of the app shines and will start to tailor certain content to the user's interests. This feed is where popular songs become viral. Due to how simple it is to use another video’s audio, dance challenges, lip syncing videos or duet/play along videos are incredibly easy to create and upload.  

Mastering the #FYP is tricky as it follows a myriad of rules and algorithms, although here are few things to consider: 

It’s skewed locally 

The app is very smart, Liam Neeson levels of smart, and knows where you are. It is more likely to show you videos from local creators and in turn, show your videos to local users. So an idea on how to easily relate to your audience would be to utilise local landmarks or local trends. Is there a really famous local busker, artist or personality? A local venue? Or even local slang or an in-joke which will appeal to those in the know? Remember TikTok was made for very frequent posting, so don’t be afraid to hone certain posts to just locals. 

Hashtags 

This one has already been hammered into us by nearly every other platform, but just like the rest, TikTok uses hashtags. Use a mix of hashtags for the best results, so for example if you’ve posted an in-pocket Dilla drum cover, try using a hashtag that relates to ‘slum village’ as well as a broader ‘drums’ one. 

Collaborate and engage with other creators/users 

Collaborating with more established creators has a variety of obvious benefits and advantages including increasing the chances of your own solo videos appearing on the feeds of your collaborators. Engaging with posts which relate to your content, in terms of commenting or sharing on to other platforms, is a great way of getting your profile onto the screens of others and increase your fan base. To expand on this idea, sharing your own posts onto other platforms may feel narcissistic, but it’s a great way of trying to get your fans to follow you cross platform and rack up your views.  

Look at the time of your post uploads 

Study your audience and where they live, targeting your uploads to high online traffic times. Below are some of the best general posting times for TikTok, they work by considering when people will first wake and check their phones, scroll in downtime and before bed etc. Although always remember to double check for country specific ones to fully maximise your market: 

  • Monday: 6 AM, 10 AM, 10 PM 
  • Tuesday: 2 AM, 4 AM, 9 AM 
  • Wednesday: 7 AM, 8 AM, 11 PM 
  • Thursday: 9 AM, 12 AM, 7 PM 
  • Friday: 5 AM, 1 PM, 3 PM 
  • Saturday: 11 AM, 7 PM, 8 PM 
  • Sunday: 7 AM, 8 AM, 4 PM 

It’s important to also engage and learn where your audience is based, and their location may surprise you. TikTok has dominated Thailand where 1 in 7 people have the app downloaded, 20 million users in India and 140 million in China, dwarfing America’s 14 million. With all these users, your audience may be more global than you think… 

Uploading music and sharing original material  

Using CD Baby or Vydia is a quick and easy way to get your music into the TikTok library, allowing your music to be found and used in videos on the app and more importantly get you income. What could also be important to note is that due to TikTok having a relationship with CD baby, you won’t need to separately opt in for social video monetisation. The music will also be automatically uploaded to Resso along with TikTok. Resso is an affiliate of TikTok and is currently only available in a handful of territories, like Indonesia for example (a country boasting 3.5% of the world’s population), but will still generate you income when your hit meme themed single breaks the app. 

Using TikTok to promote original music is easy and fun to do, considering the tips above, let’s look at some ways we can advertise your music: 

Participate in trends or challenges 

Watch your own feed and research similar artists, look out for current trends in video ideas or themes. Is there a certain dance challenge you could participate in (or maybe utilise a more athletic friend if just the thought gives you a minor heart attack)? Is there a challenge like the ‘Bow Wow’ or ‘Ice Bucket’ challenge that you could do and soundtrack with your song? Is there a new trend developing in people's videos, like filming content in the ‘golden hour’ that your song would suit? 

Film fun skits 

The video starts following a busker on a busy high street, the audio is just background noise, the busker thanks the crowd and counts into the next song, as the busker starts singing the audio switches to that of your song dubbed over the video, the video quickly jumps to running crowds from an apocalypse movie. However cheesy such an idea sounds, it might make a few chuckles and would only require some (even fake) busking footage. Would your music be amusing over cats chasing laser pens or staring longingly out of windows? Funny animal clips are low effort and serves as great filler content. 

Perform your music live 

Maybe slightly harder to do in shorter videos, fans would still love to watch a raw clip which captures an earlier version of the track with alternate lyrics or a vocal run you only normally do live. What is going to make this 15 second live clip special? 

Selling yourself as a general musician  

Maybe writing the next ‘Careless Whisper’ isn’t your calling in life, maybe being an insanely gifted educator, session aficionado or influencer personality who just so happens to shred a mean panpipe is? In this case, let’s look at some ways you can sell your talent: 

Duet/Jam videos 

Post a cover of a track, maybe with a tricky run in it, then encourage users to duet - following your lead or harmonising your lines, then comment or re-share them to engage with the fans. Another idea, especially for instruments, is to play along to a backing track or play an accompaniment (if taking this route, possibly using a tricky progression) and asking fans to trade lines with you over the track or play over the changes of your comping.  

Post covers or videos of you playing 

The classic Instagram style video, now on TikTok. Aim for current trending songs with the right hashtags for more exposure. 

Fun re-harmonisations or gimmicky ideas 

Want to hear what ‘God is a woman’ sounds like to the changes of ‘Giant Steps’? If ‘Roxanne’ modulated up a half step every time Sting sung the name? Or if ‘Watermelon Sugar’ had been produced by J Dilla? Well, someone does and tying this to a meme or a funny video which draws on artist stereotypes is only going to help.  

Lessons 

Maybe break simple ideas down into mini tutorials. Ruben Wan is a master of this on his platforms, check out his Instagram for some very smart ways of condensing theory or big ideas into very short inspiring videos. These videos may be better suited as the juicy main course 60 second content considering they’ll be slightly longer, with the 15 second appetisers luring the users in. 

Closing thoughts 

Some final aspects to consider are: 

  • ART – Audience Retention Time heavily impacts the algorithm and averaging at least 85% ART will greatly help your videos get on the FYP of users, therefore gaining more views. The magic 15 second mark is an average ART, so having a few great videos around this time that can generate the views and pull people onto your profile can work wonders for building your audience. 
  • Upgrading to Pro – A Pro account on TikTok is great if you’re a serious creator, allowing you to view key statistics on your videos and where your viewers are mostly located. This can help you pinpoint a good average length for your content and more importantly, will help you decide the best posting times for your content.  
  • Carving a niche – Aiming for a certain niche audience will help you spend your time more wisely, create more targeted content and maximise your audience. It can take a while to find your niche, so maybe spend a few months analysing your stats, engaging with fans and finding what content works which you also enjoy creating. Once you have your audience, look for USPs (Unique Selling Points) or just generally new, yet accepted, ideas you could incorporate into your content. Maybe you’re a gifted dance music singer-songwriter but with a penchant for vintage/analogue gear? This could be played on with a matching look and videos which are juxtaposed to the audio or emphasise when the new sounds are made with old gear. 
  • Upload regularly – The average TikToker will post between 3-5 times a day, maybe even more. With the app focusing on authenticity and spur of the moment uploads, this isn’t an unrealistic amount. Create an implementable plan, possibly one high quality longer video, a pre-planned shorter one and two filler videos a day? See what works for your content and, more importantly, your lifestyle. 
  • Lighting – Contrary to the talk of spontaneous real-life quality videos, good lighting will add a professional edge to your longer or more focused content. Look into good ring lights for effective backlighting, essential if your videos are going to be mostly you in your room serenading the neighbours with your panpipe covers of Dilla produced Harry Styles songs.   

In conclusion, TikTok is a relatively new, yet invaluable platform to utilise when looking to gain a wider audience. Great for harnessing a younger audience and for using in tandem with Instagram, it offers a way to gain a viral hit fast. You might already have the perfect song to kick off a dance challenge. 

To find out more, check out our courses here.

by Will Francis
Performing initially around central Essex in quiet, rain-soaked jazz dives, Will now resides in the windy-indie city of Brighton, finding his place in the growing RnB and Soul scene. Having played guitar, bass and synth for numerous acts over the years, in numerous venues and at a variety of festivals, he is an experienced session player, composer and guitar/theory educator.
View all posts by Will Francis

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