How to make your music go viral on TikTok

What makes a song TikTok-friendly? Do I need to start dancing? How can I get influencers to use my sound? The new 'Fender Artist Playbook' reveals all.

by Frankie Dunn
03 August 2021, 9:25am

Images via @bellapoarch, @lilnasx, @bludetiger

It often feels that, in 2021, in order to have any sort of creative success, you must first harness the power of TikTok. And, well, it’s certainly a platform on which musicians are able to achieve huge levels of fame. Virality on the app has impacted the careers of already well-known stars (cc. Olivia Rodrigo’s "Drivers License", Megan Thee Stallion’s "Savage") as well as emerging artists like Beabadoobee (who blew up after “Coffee” was sampled by Powfu), Benee, Gus Dapperton, Beach Bunny and bassist Blu DeTiger.

According to a new study by MRC Data, “75% of TikTok users say they discover new artists through TikTok”. In other words, if you make music and you’re not already promoting it on the platform, you should be. But how? That’s where Fender comes in: the guitar gods have collaborated with Ari Herstand — LA musician, best-selling author and host of the New Music Business podcast — to create a manual for emerging musicians everywhere. With tips on everything from live streaming and making NFTs, to planning release strategies, the new Fender Artist Playbook is a valuable free resource.

Keen to pick his brains a little further — in the Playbook he stresses the importance of dedicating as much time to promoting your music as to making it — we quizzed Ari on how to stand the best chance of going viral on TikTok. Read on as he breaks it down.

How can I get my music on TikTok? 

At this point, most independent distributors (but not all) have partnered with TikTok to get your music on the platform. I have put together a guide on Ari's Take that reviews 17 of the top indie distributors out there, and highlighted on the graph whether they distribute to TikTok or not. Some distributors allow you to select your own preview snippet and others don't. But of course, you can always use your own music (even if it's not on the platform) in your TikTok video and then people can reuse your Sound.

What makes a song TikTok-friendly? 

If I were to outline what makes a song successful on TikTok, it would be outdated the moment I hit ‘send’. TikTok moves so quickly and the only way to keep up with the trends is to be an active user. If you want to know what songs work on TikTok, study what has worked and why. Sure, in early 2020 it was all about dances, but Ritt Momney's recording of "Put Your Records On" caught because a famous makeup artist used it in a tutorial video. The trends of tomorrow cannot be accurately predicted today.

In the Fender Artist Playbook, I profiled some artists who have been successful on TikTok (like Ritt Momney, Ricky Montgomery and Blu DeTiger) and how they cracked TikTok. Fender and I have similar missions to help support the indie music community, so hopefully this Playbook brings you closer to success -- whatever that means to you.

Yes, TikTok is the buzziest platform right now that is driving the most amount of conversation and culture around music, but gaining steam on TikTok does not mean you will be successful in music. Far too often we see flash in the pan artists who go viral and then disappear forever. Remember why you are in music. Is it to be TikTok famous? I'd like to think not. I imagine it's because music is so much a part of your soul that you need to do it for your sanity. And if you can make a living at it, then that's the ultimate success. 

Should I be creating challenges and dance routines for my music, or is it fine to just hope things take off on their own? 

Here's the dirty little secret about TikTok: the majority of the songs that catch because of challenges, dances or trends happened because someone paid upwards of $20,000-$30,000 on an "influencer campaign". Yes, you can DIY these efforts, and if you don't have the money, you can spend the time and build your own network of micro-influencers, but it might be better to focus more on the music and less on the gimmicks of the moment. Ricky Montgomery had two songs blow up on TikTok at the end of 2020 and he wasn't even on TikTok -- and those songs were from 2016! If you try to copy someone else, you'll most likely fail. If you innovate and come up with something that is uniquely you, that will set you apart and get people to take notice. 

How can I get influencers to promote my music? This usually involves lots of money, right? 

So, there are two ways to go about this. 1. Spend a bunch of money on an influencer campaign. 2. I had Austin Georgas from Flighthouse on the New Music Business podcast and he discussed how you can go viral on TikTok and dug deep into influencer campaigns and how you can run your own even without a lot of money. (I highly encourage you to listen to this episode).

Any other tips that’ll give us the best chance of making our music go viral on TikTok?

Above all, what TikTok loves is consistency with your frequency. That's a fancy way of saying post A LOT (like, multiple times a day). The algorithm rewards you if you use the platform. It's best to be an active user. 

Download the Fender Artist Playbook here, then follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more advice on creative careers.

Creative careers