How to promote your music on TikTok

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Illustration: Nhung Lê

Are you on TikTok?

TikTok has seen massive growth over the last couple of years, currently serving over 689 million monthly users across the globe and still growing rapidly. If you’re a musician, you might be wondering how you can use TikTok to help get your music in front of all those eyes and ears.

Of all the social media platforms out there, TikTok is actually your best bet when it comes to promoting your music. In fact, the platform originally started out under the name ‘musical.ly’ and allowed users to create short lip-sync videos. The app was dominated by content related to dance and music, and although TikTok has expanded to videos covering just about any topic you can think of, these two domains continue to drive its popularity and growth.

Even some of the most popular artists have experienced the power of TikTok firsthand. Take Lil Nas X, for example, who gives TikTok a lot of credit for the success of his song “Old Town Road.” He uploaded a clip of the song with a meme and a hashtag, and it quickly grew into a global phenomenon.

Of course, stories like this are rare, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of TikTok to promote your own music. Whether it helps you gain 10 or 10,000 new fans, TikTok is an effective exposure tactic and should definitely be a part of your marketing efforts.

In this post, I’ll be covering the steps you should follow to get started, as well as a few strategies for getting your music in front of more people.

Let’s dive in!

How to get your music on TikTok

There are two ways to get your music on TikTok: 1) using a distributor and 2) uploading a video.

Use a distributor

Most major distributors work with TikTok. If you have officially released a song, chances are it’ll be available on TikTok. If you’re unsure, you can always check with your distributor.

This is the recommended way to get your music on TikTok. TikTok will have the rights to include your song in their library, and you’ll get royalties every time your song is used in a video (whether by you or by anyone else).

Upload a video

If you haven’t officially released the song yet (maybe you want to tease it or share a work-in-progress), you can simply upload a video that has your song in the background. You can change the sound’s title to reflect your artist name and the song title by clicking on your profile picture in the bottom right corner. Note that you can only change a sound’s title once.

Once again, this option is fine if your song hasn’t been released yet. If you use it with a song that’s been officially released, there’s a chance that TikTok will flag your video for copyright infringement. Not to mention, other users won’t be able to search for your song in the TikTok sounds library, and you won’t be able to collect any royalties.

How to get exposure for your music on TikTok

There are two main strategies you can use to promote your music on TikTok.

If you’re comfortable getting in front of the camera and have the bandwidth to pump out content, you can become a content creator on TikTok. It’s time consuming, but it puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you share your music directly with your followers.

If the idea of creating videos and posting regularly on TikTok sounds intimidating to you, you can bypass this option altogether. Instead of being a content creator on TikTok, you can simply get other people to create content using your music.

Let’s explore both options in more detail.

Option 1: Become a content creator

When you go down this route, your goal is essentially to build a following on TikTok – a community of people who like your personality, care about the content you post, and will listen to your music outside of TikTok.

This sounds simple enough, but it does require patience and dedication; don’t expect to become an overnight success after posting a video or two. I would also highly recommend doing a little bit of research into how to gain traction on TikTok. Although not every piece of advice you’ll find on the internet will be relevant to musicians, below are some tips that I’ve heard and found helpful.

1. Stick to a niche

Many creators struggle with this one, but it should come pretty easily to you – your niche is music. The challenge here is to only post content within your niche. In other words, don’t randomly start posting cooking videos or DIY crafting tutorials. You may have many passions, but posting about them will simply confuse the TikTok algorithm.

2. Use hashtags

You’re probably tired of hearing this one, but it’s particularly important on TikTok. Unlike other social media platforms, hashtags on TikTok aren’t really used to search for content, but rather they’re used by the algorithm to help categorize your videos and show them to the right people. Include three or four hashtags related to your niche, and try to avoid hashtags that might confuse the algorithm.

3. Stick to shorter videos

When your video is watched until the end, or better yet, looped more than once, the TikTok algorithm will see it as a valuable piece of content and will push it out to more people. And what has a better chance of being watched until the end – a 60-second video or a 10-second one? Of course, prioritize sharing valuable content first, but keep this tip in mind and ask yourself before you post a 60-second video: “Is this entertaining enough to keep people’s attention until the end?”

4. Post consistently

Think of your TikTok followers as friends. You wouldn’t text your best friend and then disappear for a month, would you? Try to post at least once a day, but two – three times a day will help you grow even faster. If that sounds intimidating, just remember that your videos don’t have to be really high quality. If you can, try to batch create your content, too. Take a day each week and create seven videos that you can post throughout the week.

5. Create unique and shareable content

It may be tempting to promote your Spotify in every video you post, but people will quickly get tired of this and eventually even get annoyed. Instead, create videos that help people get to know you and your craft. You can sing a cover, sing an original, make a parody video, show your beat making progress, show your home studio, film a short tutorial, share the story behind a song – the ideas are virtually limitless. If someone finds your video helpful, inspiring, or entertaining, they’ll be more likely to share it with a friend and help you grow your audience.

6. Create content that leads to engagement

TikTok isn’t a one-way street – it thrives on interactions. That’s why the platform gives its users plenty of tools to engage with each other. Take advantage of this and create videos that encourage people to get involved. You can start a challenge, ask people to film a duet with you, create a response to your video, or stitch their own video as a follow-up to yours. Every time someone creates content in response to yours, you’ll be exposed to their audience and hopefully grow your own following.

7. Use your own music as a sound

Don’t expect to see any results from this if you do it too early. Spend a few months building up your following using the above tips, and when you have an engaged and loyal audience, you can start introducing them to the songs you’ve released.

When using your own song as a sound, you want to showcase the best 10 – 60 seconds of your song. Avoid lengthy intros, instrumental breaks, or outros. You want the snippet you choose to grab your audience’s attention right away and keep them watching the video until the end.

Be sure to also think about how your song relates to what you’re doing in the video. If you’re doing a dance challenge, does the song have an interesting beat or an exciting drop? If you’re making a meme, is there something relatable in the lyrics that you can highlight?

If you’re having trouble choosing the right section, try asking yourself, “What part do I want people to have stuck in their heads?” and go from there.

Option 2: Ask other creators to use your music

If creating content on TikTok doesn’t sound like something you can commit to on a consistent basis, the other route you can consider taking is leveraging other TikTok creators.

The core idea is the same – choose people who have a large and engaged audience and ask them to use your music in their videos.

Now, TikTok doesn’t allow you to message people who aren’t following you, so you’ll likely have to find other ways to contact them (email, Instagram DMs, etc). Remember to be respectful, don’t spam people, and most importantly, don’t get discouraged when you don’t hear back. You’ll be hearing “no” a lot more often than you’ll be hearing “yes.”

Also get ready for the fact that many creators with large audiences will be expecting to receive payment for the promotion they’re doing for you. Whether you choose to go that route is entirely up to you, and whether or not it’s worth the money depends on the creator, their engagement rate, and the price they’re asking for, so evaluate it on a case-by-case basis.

To make the collaboration as appealing to the creators as possible, make it easy for them – offer to choose the snippet of your song that should be used, come up with a great idea for a challenge, a dance, a meme, etc. If they see value in your idea and an opportunity to start a trend, they’ll be happy to work with you.

Once you get a few big creators on board, other people will likely want to jump on the bandwagon. And if you’re not seeing much traction, you can take this strategy one step further and start messaging people to encourage them to take part in the challenge.

The best option

Being a TikTok creator and using the help of other creators are both great options. What’s even better? Using a combination of the two strategies.

If you can, make an effort to establish your own following on TikTok by posting valuable content on a consistent basis. Then, supplement this effort by reaching out to other creators and asking them to help spread the word about your music. The two strategies together will double your chances of getting your music out to as many people as possible.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t expect to be an overnight viral sensation. It will still take time and consistent effort. You may not see any results the first few times you try, but remember that more often than not, success on social media comes down to luck. The more you try, the more chances you create for yourself.

I hope this post inspired you to get your music on TikTok and helped shed some light on what you can do to promote it. Is there anything else related to TikTok for musicians that you’re curious about? Let us know in the comments below!

March 23, 2021

Sayana Sayana is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter based in Toronto, Canada. When she's not making music, she creates content on personal development and navigating life as a musician. Learn more about her at https://www.sayanamusic.com/.