Design by Serena Shen

What’s one way to make it in the music industry?

Go viral.

This isn’t an entirely new concept. It happened to Justin Bieber, who was discovered through his YouTube channel. It happened to Shawn Mendes, who first gained a following on Vine. Aspiring artists have taken to social media to promote their music for years, but in the age of TikTok, with its countless niches, amassing attention is all too easy.

Most of what I write for the Michigan Daily has to do with the latest TikTok trends, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I spend far too many hours scrolling through my “For You” page. But the number of songs I have in my playlists that have come from the app make up for the high screen time — just about anything can get stuck in my head, regardless of genre, lyrics or age. 

One of the easiest ways to pitch your music to new fans is to compare its sound to that of artists already in the industry. That’s what rock band Seeing Double is doing, describing their sound as “Fleetwood Mac, ABBA and all around 70s vibes” and calling their first single “Leah” a “70s rock-esque debut.” The group’s promotional strategy is simple — every day they post a video of band members brushing their teeth while “Leah” plays in the background. While some listeners love the song’s Fleetwood Mac-esque style, others have added to the video thread by posting their own teeth-brushing clips. These videos are consistently earning thousands of views and according to one of the band members, “Leah” just hit 10,000 streams. Even the simplest videos can make a big difference.

Some songs that get their start on TikTok are perfect for the radio: they’re lyrically simple, have a great hook and make you want to dance. The songs I usually hear circulating on my page, however, tend to have more complex messages. Take Maddie Zahm’s “Fat Funny Friend,” which has prompted heartbreaking but validating conversations about body dysmorphia in comments sections. Or David Kushner’s “Mr. Forgettable,” released on March 4, written from the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient. While several users took to the comments to express the pain they feel over being forgotten by family members, many others relate the song to their struggles with mental illness, particularly through the line “I’m sorry, it’s just the chemicals.” Songs with these kinds of vulnerable subjects aren’t totally unique, but it’s rare to see them gaining positive exposure in such big numbers. 

TikTok niches even have the ability to make older songs go viral. Composer Cody Fry released “I Hear a Symphony” in 2017, but in 2021 the song blew up on TikTok through trends like “I don’t have a favorite trope,” leading Fry to join the app. Now the song is a part of the Olympics, garnering even more positive attention. This isn’t the only song of Fry’s to earn success on the app — his song “Underground” has over 9,000 videos under it, each with tens of thousands of likes, and his arrangement of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” earned him a Grammy nomination. Alternative band The Walters released their song “I Love You So” in 2014 and had since broken up, but following the song’s TikTok-fueled resurgence through fan edits (among other things), the group got back together last November. 

In terms of success, the sky’s the limit. Sara Kays was inspired by an unexpected text from an ex-boyfriend to write “Remember That Night?”; mere months later she performed that same song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lauren Spencer-Smith first came on the scene in 2020 as an American Idol contestant, but after teasing her single “Fingers Crossed” on TikTok, the song is quickly climbing to the top of charts around the world and earned the singer-songwriter a deal with Island and Republic Records. Of course, success due to social media is not limited to breakout artists — even those already making it in the industry have seen an uptick in popularity thanks to TikTok. Charlie Puth took viewers through the process of creating his latest single “Light Switch,” and though the song wasn’t officially released for months after, within hours, it had hit #5 on the Apple Music charts and reached 100 million streams on Spotify.[ For Doja Cat, almost half of her 32 singles (and several others) have trended on the app in one way or another.

Globally, TikTok has a billion active users, making it the seventh-ranked social media platform. Almost half of those billion are under the age of 30, which means that newer artists are interacting directly with an audience that’s close in age to them. Having a strong online presence and high engagement also proves to higher-ups in the music industry that you’re marketable as an artist, which could increase your chances of landing a deal. Even though it technically has fewer active users than Facebook or Instagram, TikTok separates itself from other social media apps through its many dedicated sub-communities and how quickly those users can pluck something from obscurity and give it new life.

It’s no exaggeration to say that TikTok has a tight grip on the music industry now — Sirius XM has an entire radio station dedicated to songs that take off on the app. While any song by any artist could blow up at any time, if you’re trying to break into the industry, a simple video could change your life.

Daily Arts Writer Hannah Carapellotti can be reached at