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TikTok Is Making It Easier for Artists to Leak Their Own Songs

SoundOn artists can now use the platform to upload snippets of unreleased music to TikTok using a new "pre-release" feature.

Among the countless viral hits that have taken off on TikTok over the last few years, many haven’t actually even been out yet. Lil Nas X did it with “Old Town Road,” Jack Harlow did it with “First Class” and GAYLE did it with “abcdefu,” to name a few. Now, TikTok is aiming to make it easier for artists to test out their material on the app and build up hype before a broader release.

On Thursday (July 28), the app’s distribution and marketing platform, SoundOn, launched a new feature dubbed “Pre-Release.” Artists who signed up for SoundOn can now use the platform “to give TikTok listeners exclusive access to clips in advance of releasing their tracks.”

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“Pre-releasing a song is a great way to test a track before its full launch,” TikTok’s announcement notes. “Artists can gauge audience reaction and find the most viral song clips to maximize sharing, listening, and interaction.”

Many artists were finding ways to do this already, of course, including Jack Harlow, SZA, Charlie Puth, and GAYLE, among others. Prominent label executives now see this as a key part of marketing, and the music industry relies on “pre-save” technology to harness fan demand as soon as a piece of a track earns interest. TikTok users can click a link, log into their streaming service of choice, and pre-save a track so that’s it added to their personal library immediately upon release. A high pre-save count is widely seen as a sign of an unreleased song’s future commercial vitality.

The practice of teasing parts of songs on TikTok is so commonplace among big-name acts, in fact, that it’s become controversial, especially in the songwriter and producer community. If a teaser doesn’t do well on TikTok, the track might be shelved completely, even if writers and producers spent weeks crafting the record. “Sometimes you see songs die on a hard drive because of the results of a TikTok that was up for 48 hours and [wasn’t viral enough],” Christian Johnson, Hipgnosis senior director of A&R and manager for production team The Monsters & Strangerz, told Billboard in May.

TikTok launched SoundOn in March after testing it in several markets; it’s available in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico. “We were hearing from a lot of artists that they loved being on TikTok and trying to build their community and hopefully reach really big audiences, but they were pretty overwhelmed,” explained Ole Obermann, TikTok’s global head of music.

“So what we came up with was, let’s have a special entrance into the platform that’s only available to these new and undiscovered artists,” Obermann added. “Then we’re gonna have a chance to work much more closely with them if this is the route they choose to come in. The goal is, really, that we find the promising artist and we walk them from the backstage door right onto the main stage and they’re there, they’re performing, it’s an incredible show and they’ve found their audience.”