TikTok is a valuable platform for musicians and songwriters. In recent years, the ultra-fast-growing social app has rocketed songs into the charts and sent artists’ popularity skyrocketing in the blink of an eye. If a song begins to gain traction on TikTok, it can be everywhere in a matter of days. But with so many tracks out there, how do artists make sure theirs is ahead of the pack?
Here, Jiggle Jiggle production duo Duke & Jones lay out their insights into TikTok hitmaking, with practical advice for artists looking to go viral.
Spend time on TikTok
This is the number one rule. It’s much more irreverent and fast-moving than other social networks, and you need to get a feel for how it works. After a few months of seeing songs trend on there you gain a greater awareness of what kind of things can make a sound viral - whether this is funny lyrics, beat switches, or simply sheer danceability. The other benefit of spending more time on TikTok is that the algorithm will then be able to show you more and more of the particular things you enjoy and/or find funny, which can help you find inspiration and other accounts to interact with.
If at first you don’t succeed…
There is a decent element of luck involved in going viral on TikTok. We have posted hundreds of videos, all of which we felt were of similar quality, with the potential to do well. Some got a few thousand views, some got millions. A number of them sparked dance challenges, which drove those sounds to new levels, but these weren’t always the ones we’d predicted. The algorithm works in mysterious ways, so don’t be afraid to keep posting. The vast majority of TikTok users view videos curated by the algorithm, rather than viewing videos from people they follow. The upside of this is that anybody can potentially reach a gigantic audience, whether they have 10 followers or 10 million. If you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the raffle!
Have a concept or series
This links to the previous point. Our concept of making autotune songs out of viral videos had a number of benefits. It gave us a framework within which we could easily make hundreds of videos almost without having to think about it. That’s a lot of raffle tickets! Another benefit is that if a later entry in the series goes mega-viral, people who have just discovered you can delve into a back-catalogue of similar content, which makes them more likely to become genuine fans.
Find an angle that you’re comfortable with
People on TikTok are quite good at spotting when things feel forced. You don’t have to jump straight in with appearing on camera if you’re not comfortable with it. This was part of the reason we chose remixing viral clips - it was far less time-consuming (and less potentially embarrassing!) to set remixed music to the original clip than to have to constantly think of new ways to film ourselves. If you’re comfortable playing an instrument and ‘performing’ your sound, then that’s great - but it’s also okay to film your DAW, or soundtrack other footage, and work your way towards filming more personal pieces later.
Use familiarity to your advantage
You have a matter of seconds to capture and hold somebody’s attention on TikTok. This is where it can help to remix or reinterpret songs or sounds that people are already aware of. Psychology suggests that people are predisposed to like things that they are familiar with. Starting a video with a sample of a classic song, or a classic bit of dialogue, is a good way to take advantage of this. You can then take the sound in a completely different direction, subverting the familiarity and creating a bit of surprise. Using recognisable snippets in new ways also increases the likelihood of other people using your sound themselves.
Keep your sounds short
In the same vein, it helps to keep things as short and snappy as possible. Something, whether it’s a drop or a hook, should be kicking in within the first 10 seconds of the TikTok, but ideally within the first 3-5. There are exceptions to this, such as if the sound is a comedic piece with a punchline lyric at the end - but there hopefully the setup will be intriguing enough.
Consider the limitations of phone speakers while composing
This is something I’m sure many people consider while making and mixing music, but it is especially important with making music for TikTok. It’s a good idea to add some saturation to bass sounds so that the harmonic overtones cut through. Be sure to check your instrument balance and vocal intelligibility specifically through phone speakers before you do your final export!