The TikTok Backlash

“Halsey Is the Latest Artist Complaining About the Music Industry’s Reliance on TikTok”:

TikTok is the new MTV.

The world runs on information. And he or she or they who knows the most triumphs.

But wait you say, doesn’t the world run on relationships?

Yes. But those relationships run on information. Did you see the HBO Max series “Tokyo Vice”? I don’t recommend it. It’s too slow and not quite good enough, but it all comes down to who knows what and how they use what they know in negotiations, to secure an advantage.

But the old concentrated sources of information are no longer delivering for us. I’m not talking about the big outlets, the NYT, WaPo or WSJ, but the trade papers/magazines. Used to be the best info was from the trade press because they had access, which the hoi polloi did not. They knew the players. But they were also beholden to their advertisers, the industry itself. So to find out negative information required further research, mostly being on the phone with others.

And then “Billboard” went consumer instead of industry. And “Variety” hired insiders, but not being known for music coverage, most people never see it. And “Rolling Stone” went monthly and its news is behind a paywall and…

I just researched to see if “Variety” is behind a paywall. And finding it is not, I clicked on the publication’s “Music” tab I found a story on the same topic:

“Halsey Claims Label ‘Won’t Let Me’ Release New Song ‘Unless They Can Fake a Viral Moment on TikTok”:

But I would have missed all of this if Apple News+ hadn’t featured the “Time” article in my feed. I’m paying for this information, you should too, because without it you’re a second class citizen. And while you’re at it, subscribe to the digital edition of the “New York Times,” irrelevant of your political persuasion, the U.S., if not the entire world, runs on the “New York Times.” Did you see the article about the resurgence of the clubs in Ibiza?

“Making Up for Lost Time as Ibiza’s Clubs Reopen – After more than two years of pandemic-mandated uncertainty, Europe’s nightlife industry is hoping for a return to the days before Covid-19.”:

Young people are being infected with Covid at a much higher rate than oldsters, who are at a greater risk of dying from the virus. Do youngsters just not care, how will this affect the live business?

But what I’m talking about here is TikTok.

The gatekeepers are gone. Do you know what it’s like trying to sell in an era sans gatekeepers? Very hard. Much harder than in the past when you controlled what was played in the radio station (only major label records because of a legal judgment supporting indies, I know, confounding), and the relationship was even stronger at MTV.

But MTV is essentially history and terrestrial radio is a vast wasteland of oldsters and it’s young people driving the new music business and the hot place of exposure is not streaming services, although Spotify’s custom made playlists and genre playlists help (youngsters are on Spotify, active music listeners are on Spotify, much more than on Apple or Amazon, its two significant competitors), it’s TikTok.

TikTok not only grows stars, it makes them!

And conventionally musicians have signed to major labels for the check. But what they’re giving up more and more is control. Because music is a business, and the people running the labels need to make money. Mazuma always trumps art, never forget it.

So what you’ve got is the signed artists complaining, and the unsigned having a free-for-all, and TikTok can aid the labels, but they cannot generate views, which is the essence of the platform.

I know, I know, you don’t post on social media and think TikTok is the devil. Well, it’s gonna take a long time for you to break, and that’s another point, how hit music has detached from the rest of the industry, it used to be one continuous continuum, now they’re completely separate. The majors don’t want you if you’re roots-oriented, musically and/or marketing-wise, the development is too slow, they can’t get paid. So if you’re doing it independently and succeeding, that’s great, but don’t complain most people have never heard of you, that requires TikTok. Print isn’t even close. That’s right, information comes from print, but the youth don’t read, they follow trends, go where their buddies do and gain critical mass oftentimes before traditional media even knows.

So, we’ve had a complete flip from the seventies, when the artists took control from the labels. Now the label is king. You do what they say. They’re your own personal gatekeeper, as Prince said back when, you’re a slave to the company.

But the game is different now. The cycle is so much faster. And is it really about maximizing the short term or having a career? THE SHORT TERM! The label doesn’t care about your career!

And the labels are undercutting the credibility of the artists, of the whole music sphere. The Kid Laroi staging a fake feud with Scooter Braun? That’s closer to WWE than classic rock. When they asked for people who would do anything to make it, they didn’t mean this, they meant dedication to your craft and working 24/7, not manipulating the audience with falsehoods.

So if you go viral on TikTok you can blow up, even though you were hiding in plain sight, even if the label had marketed your track years ago. That’s the story with Glass Animals. And of course there’s the Fleetwood Mac/cranberry juice story. The Mac video was spontaneous, but the labels would like more control, they’d rather circumvent the process by paying people, but ultimately the audience is in control, and there are essentially unlimited offerings. The music business is always a harbinger of what comes next in not only media, but the general marketplace. Your competitor is not the usual suspect corporation, but some individual maybe in the middle of nowhere using the new tools to put a spin on the item you didn’t foresee. You have to constantly reinvent yourself, or have a monopoly, and even then you’ve got to have your eyes attuned to both the rearview mirror and the future.

Will the artists win this battle against their labels?

Note, Capitol didn’t say Halsey was wrong.

But history tells us protesting against the entity paying you beaucoup bucks never works. As for consumers, it’s only a hard core attuned to your plight, and one thing we’ve seen over and over again, especially with the Tidal launch, is no one has sympathy for wealthy musicians complaining about their income.

Food for thought.

Comments are closed