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How We Work Now: TikTok Head of Label Licensing Tracy Gardner

In a series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now. This installment is with Tracy Gardner…

In a series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.

This installment is with Tracy Gardner, the former Warner Music Group senior vp, global business development and strategy who joined TikTok as head of label licensing and partnerships in December 2019.

Tracy Gardner: What’s nice about TikTok is how quickly things move. It’s been really exciting to be part of a platform that is moving so quickly to adapt to the situation. Our team has been really involved with helping set up some of the livestream initiatives, like Happy At Home.

I help spearhead our commercial discussions with the labels, as well as more of a strategic view as to how they can optimize their artists’ exposure on the platform. [Now] we’re all taking on a different twist to our role. Our team is mostly involved with the licensing behind what is needed to have those livestreams. And then we work closely with the music ops team, which is working directly with the artists, to make sure those [livestreams] get off the ground.


We are working under accelerated timelines. Not being able to be in the room and everyone working via Zoom does add a different layer of complexity. But everyone, including the labels, has all pivoted very quickly. Ultimately, the labels understand and the artists know that what we’re doing is to help. If anything, it’s been a positive to see how quickly everyone has come together. What might have taken weeks and weeks to get approvals in a pre-COVID-19 world, people are recognizing how important it is that we work closely and make it an easier path. These things are tricky to execute, and can take layers of different approvals. Now, everyone is on board and saying, “Let’s just move forward.”

For me, because things are moving quicker, it’s a lot more of making sure that everyone is connected. We’re pulling in people from different teams, even if that means an abundance of people — more than necessary — because having everyone on the same page has been more important than ever. We have such global teams, we were already pretty set up to work remotely.

But as we move into this new world, conversations are different. It used to be, “Hi, how are you?” and one or two minutes of small chit-chat, but now, I’ve found that calls are taking up to 10 minutes for people to just check in. That’s important: asking people, “How are you doing, how are you feeling?” and allowing that banter to go on.

It’s been great to see how artists can engage with fans [on TikTok] in a way that perhaps isn’t as produced and polished as other performances. It’s the imperfections that come with that, and everyone working together, that makes it a bit more human and organic.


We worked on a big TikTok graduation to help celebrate the class of 2020 with many livestreams, and seeing the kids on there all dressed up was really sweet. That culminated with a dance party with Dillon Francis. And then we even did TikTok prom. Sound Off is the latest initiative that we’ve taken on, which allows fans to engage with artists in ways other than their traditional music performance, so artists can go live with other sides of their lives, such as cooking or crafts.

Everyone is doing what they can to support artists. Because of the nature of our platform, the content is more authentic and organic. That’s what people are looking for right now. Instead of having to have a polished music video that would’ve taken months and lots of money to produce, creators and artists can turn to us and get it out there as quickly as they can.

People are on TikTok cooking, doing education; we’re seeing diverse content categories, as people’s everyday lives are changing. Comedy has become a very important category. Obviously, anything related to being at home is trending, or the common connection that we’re all going through. We’re looking to focus on those types of content.