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TikTok Will Now Market & Distribute Your Music — To Any Streaming Service

The service's new SoundOn tool will allow creators to upload their music directly — and get paid — in the U.S. and U.K.

TikTok is launching a new tool aimed at helping independent emerging artists navigate its service, upload music and get paid for its use, market and promote themselves on the platform and distribute their music to outside DSPs. The tool, called SoundOn, has been in beta in several territories for some artists and live in Brazil and Indonesia for the past several months, but the company is rolling it out widely to creators in the U.S. and U.K. beginning Wednesday (March 9).

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As TikTok has exploded into arguably the most important social media app to the industry over the past several years, it has become an integral player in the rise of several artists and songs, notably Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” 24kGoldn’s “Mood” and GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” to name a few. And it’s grown into an indispensable marketing, promotion and A&R tool for record labels who are looking to sign and push acts to the app’s 1 billion highly-engaged global users.

Often, however, TikTok’s algorithm, expressed in each individual user’s For You feed, has seemed at times random or hard to navigate for creators, many of whom are trying to build a following and gain exposure for their own works on the platform. Helping them navigate the complex levers of the platform is what helped drive the company to create SoundOn, according to global head of music Ole Obermann.

Ole Obermann
Ole Obermann Courtesy of TikTok

“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, they didn’t really understand how to get onto TikTok, get music onto TikTok, get an account set up on TikTok, figure out how to position themselves in the right way,” Obermann tells Billboard. “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, and 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. That’s what we’re trying to build.”

Essentially, that means building a free music-specific portal for creators on TikTok, which gives creators a dashboard of real-time analytics to view how their music is performing on the app, as well as access to a team of dozens of employees who are working directly on SoundOn who can help identify marketing and promotion opportunities within the app, recommend best practices and key in on what’s working and not, and pair creators with others to cross-promote or collaborate on music. The service will also offer artists exclusive deals on the platform, where creators can upload their music through SoundOn and get paid directly from the platform in the available territories, with what Obermann calls “a pretty flexible exit clause” in case an artist chooses to withdraw their rights in order to sign to a label or outside distributor, for example. (Obermann says the rates are “in line with our industry deals that we have in place with all of our label partners right now.”)

SoundOn
Courtesy Photo

But SoundOn is also a distribution tool that will allow creators to upload their music to any digital service provider, like Spotify or Apple Music, in partnership with a third-party distributor that TikTok declined to identify. That positions the company in a similar space to what SoundCloud announced at the beginning of this year: that it would build a suite of artist and label services tools on top of its existing broad content streaming platform in a bid to help support artists and creators at all levels of their career, not just in the early incubation period. TikTok says that it doesn’t currently have all the capabilities that SoundCloud has on offer, but that it’s working towards adding more services in the future depending on an artist’s needs, as it grows closer to becoming an integral member of the traditional music industry’s evolution in the digital space.

“We’re just trying to figure out, how do we make this better for the musical creator so that we, ideally, have every aspiring musician in the world thinking, ‘I want to start my musical career and journey and I’m gonna do it on TikTok’?” Obermann says. “That is really the strategy, that is the goal and we think SoundOn is the entry point to get them all to come in as we continue to roll this out around the world.”

Already, TikTok has identified a few success stories from its beta launch, most notably Muni Long’s “Hrs & Hrs.” Long, currently unsigned, uploaded her track through SoundOn’s beta program and saw it pick up in TikTok traffic at the end of 2021, eventually exploding on the app to reach more than 1 million video creations and 1.6 billion views of the song, according to TikTok’s metrics, on its way to a No. 16 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. Similarly, British singer-songwriter Chloe Adams released her song “Dirty Thoughts” in November through SoundOn and racked up just shy of 20,000 video creations in one week after its debut on the platform, on the way to 440,000 to date. Bay Area-based singer-songwriter Ashley Mehta, meanwhile, released her song “When I Ride” through SoundOn in mid-October; by January it was seeing 25,000 video creations per day, totaling more than 1 million video creations to date, according to the company.

Moving forward, TikTok will be offering access to analytics dashboards to managers and labels with multiple artists in a bid to “make this into a hub for more services to the artist, but also the wider industry,” Obermann explains. And TikTok also has a creator marketplace, currently still in beta itself, which will facilitate the matching of creators with promotional partners inside SoundOn’s suite of offerings. It’s a big step towards an embrace of the music business for an app that, prior to the pandemic, did not even have long-term licensing deals with the major labels in place.

“I think in the last year, as we’ve come in off the back of [securing those deals], we’ve actually been able to think about, ‘Where do we want to go with this and how do we make music an even more important, more creative and more exciting part of where TikTok is going?'” Obermann says. “And that’s what you’re starting to see now — these are the first fruits of that labor now that we got through that first phase with the industry.”