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Opinion: TikTok killed the radio star

TikTok is stripping the music industry of its spirit.
Image by Ava Weinreis
It’s become easier for musicians to achieve fame on TikTok.

From performing live at local bars to selling CDs by hand at the corner of every busy street, musicians have adapted to the ever-changing ways of promoting themselves and their music.

Back then, all it really took to be shot into superstardom was being in the right place at the right time. One person with the right connections could completely transform one’s life and kick start their career. 

Yet, it appears some of these traditional methods have undergone drastic changes this previous decade — and it all comes predominantly via the social media platform TikTok. 

With the ease TikTok brings to becoming viral overnight, it is no wonder artists have now turned to the platform to boost their music. I mean, how hard can it be to film yourself inside your car, dancing to your own song and adding a caption about how you have  just created the “Song of the Summer?” 

While it is not out of the ordinary for artists to turn to social media to gain listeners, is this the only way to really break through? 

Many of today’s mainstream artists have declared a spot in the music industry thanks to the app. Doja Cat, Lil Nas X and even Olivia Rodrigo have become notable names, having landed a song on the trending lists more than once. While these performers continue to flourish on and off the TikTok scene, do aspiring artists see this success and desire one just like it? One that does not require as much time and effort? 

The app grants opportunities to musicians aspiring to make it in the music industry, according to Lynval Jackson, a first-year student at Dunwoody Technical College and aspiring musician.

“It makes music accessible. It’s easily spread,” Jackson said. “I remember I watched an interview with a member from Destiny’s Child and they were saying how back then it was very hard to get recognized by record labels, it could sometimes take many years.” 

With the power that follows becoming a viral hit on TikTok, artists can spread their music like wildfire, catching the attention of anyone who finds their music appealing within hours, sometimes even minutes. 

It really does not matter what your account following looks like, as long as you can produce as many TikToks with your music that captures the attention of users for more than five seconds, then the algorithm will deliver it to the “For You” page. Once it hits the “For You” page, the video will continue to circle the platform, soaking up views and directing audiences to find more of the artist’s assemblage of songs. 

This approach has the potential to encourage aspiring musicians. 

“With a lot of the new up-and-coming music producers and artists today, they’ll post on TikTok,” Jackson said. “Not everybody has access to a music studio, so there are people who do it at home and show through the app that anybody has the ability to do it.”.

Yet with this sweeping new mode of musical promotion, critiques do unavoidably follow.

In the summer of 1981, MTV first aired, revolutionizing what music and media’s relationship could be. Acting as a radio, the program would regularly rotate songs in the form of visuals — what we now know as music videos. Performers like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Guns N’ Roses were shot into fame, aiding the boost of MTV’s ratings. 

The program redefined pop culture into what it is today and pushed the status of visuals. Soon, it seemed it did not matter the quality or talent of an artist or their music, but the visual appeal and performance one could bestow to an audience. Authenticity within the lyrical and/or productional value of the songs that aired on MTV started to become scarce — killing the radio star.

Is TikTok the second wave? Our generation’s MTV? There seems to be a swell of music that is popular within the app missing a bona fide element. Not only the visuals but also creating what could trend the most among users deems to be of importance for creators. Something with a catchy hook could be sped up and used for a TikTok dance, resulting in an influx of streams for the song and an inflow of prosperity for the musician.

Rapper Doja Cat had even admitted herself her first two albums were merely “cash grabs.” She expressed in an interview with VMagazine she had released music that was “palatable, marketable and sellable,” allowing her to be where she is now. 

So, with all being said, is TikTok ultimately “killing” the radio star? 

It did not murder the star. It brainwashed it.

The app can be used as a way to distribute your musical portfolio, which is incredibly beneficial in finding your niche audience — in that regard, I do admire it. However, the power TikTok wields has invited those with no intention of producing genuine, original work for others alike to enjoy, but instead, something quick and superficial to profit off of, stripping the app and music industry of its spirit.

Because of this, will all music begin to sound similar in the coming years? Have we already begun to see that play out in the mainstream? Will creativity, as we know her today, be tied to a ball and chain and thrown into the avaricious waters of tomorrow?

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  • Luis Salinas
    Nov 16, 2023 at 1:26 pm

    Excellent point of view about how important music is

  • María Ogdalia Alarcón Romano
    Nov 16, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    Muchas felicidades. Adelante siempre!!