10 ways to be successful as a musician on TikTok in 2021

Image Credit: Franck

Learn how to build an audience, promote your music and beat that relentless algorithm, with our guide to getting the most out of TikTok as a music artist.

Whether you love it, loathe it, or are simply utterly confused by it, it’s time to throw yourself into the TikTok mindset. The short-video app exploded in popularity this time last year, spurred on by the captive audience of the pandemic, and that growth shows no sign of slowing in 2021.

It’s always a good idea as an artist to seize on any opportunity to promote yourself and your music, and TikTok offers a vibrant and valuable way to do just that. For one thing, music is already the backbone of the platform, with users choosing from the millions of tracks in the library to use as a soundtrack for their creations, which makes musicians using TikTok a natural fit. For another, you might hit the big time and have a video using your music go viral overnight.

When you first sign up, TikTok is an instant assault on your eyes and ears, a brightly coloured mess of noisy videos. You scroll through trying to make sense of it, and somehow an hour has gone by. It’s overwhelming but mesmerising. How can your particular brand of music possibly get noticed on the feed? Here are 10 tips for getting the most out of TikTok, with strategies to best promote your music.


Let the algorithm learn about the real you

Get to know the app with no promotional motive for the first couple of days, engaging with content that you genuinely like and following other musicians. Don’t go too leftfield with posts at first, as TikTok is learning from your uploads to work out who to show your videos to. There’ll be plenty of time for random videos of your pet gerbil later.

Use the time to be a detective, learn from musicians who’ve been successful on the app, and work out what form you want your own videos to take. You might find you’re forming a “TikTok persona” without realising, which is great, as TikTok is all about big personalities.


Upload your own music to TikTok

RouteNote distributes your music for free to be used as a soundtrack to your own and other user’s videos on TikTok. The best bit is, you’ll earn money every time your track is used.

Songs from artists have been used on dance challenges, that challenge has blown up on TikTok, and users seek out the origin of the track. You never know who might end up using your track, and its fantastic promotion for your music. When you make videos using your own music pick the catchiest or most dramatic part of your song that you think will inspire others to get creative.


Shorter videos are the way to go

TikToks that look like TikToks seem to perform best on the app. So get to know the rhythms and quirks of what a typical TikTok post looks and sounds like. You can post videos up to 60 seconds in length but bear in mind that TikTok seems to favour shorter videos. The best TikToks shoot in bits rather than one single video, allowing for scene changes and so on.


Don’t forget about the rest of social media

It’s simple to share your TikToks on other platforms with just a few taps, to alert your followers across social media that you’re a TikToker now.

Make sure your TikTok is consistent with your music brand. Your username should be the same or consistent with your other accounts, and make sure to connect your Instagram, YouTube and other active accounts to encourage followers to check out your music and grow your presence over there too.

There tends to be a bleed over from TikTok to YouTube to streaming services, as users seek out the source of the music, so make it easy for your artist pages to be found.


#Hashtagging

TikTok uses your chosen hashtags to categorise what type of content you’re posting, so it’s a chance to start finding the niche your content is going to fit into on the app. The better your videos perform within a hashtag, the faster your videos get picked up in the same hashtag in the future. Hashtag your song, your artist name, any contests you’re running, as well as more general music-based hastags. But don’t spam hashtags – up to four is a good start.


Keep your eye on trends

This is when the cynical part of social media comes into play. Hashtags indicate trends, so you can work your posts around whatever hashtag or sound is trending at the time. You can throw yourself into this if you want – do that silly dance challenge, why not.

Lots of people posting the same hashtag? That’s a trend, so jump on it. It helps you to gain and maintain followers. Everyone’s playing the same game.

You can try generating your own trend if you like – if you’ve got lots of fans, you could run a competition to win merch or tickets to your shows, a challenge based around a snippet from one of your songs (see trends like the “This or That” challenge that uses “Tricky” by Run DMC).


When and where are you?

As time goes on, your location affects what TikToks you see and who your own posts are most likely to pop up to. TikTok loves local, so show off your hometown, and if you’re on tour put location info on your videos and highlight the local scene. Think about when in the day you’re posting, to try and attract as many views as possible.


Keep at it

You probably won’t see many views at first but try not to be put off. View it as an experiment, and keep on posting. Although it’s not so vital for exposure that you post all the time unlike other social media platforms, it’s good for fans to see you’re active.

Post smartly, too – quality over quantity – don’t spam with lots of videos in a slightly desperate attempt to go viral, but instead think carefully about what’s best to post. The enticing thing about TikTok is that you can go viral with only one winning video.


Experiment with your content

Mix it up with what content you post on TikTok. Perform your songs, covers, post your songwriting process. Check out TikTok’s collab tools like Duets, two videos playing at the same time. The #ShantyTok trend is a great example of musicians interacting with each other on the app to get creative with the Duet feature.

Other times just post whatever weird thing has happened to you on that day, in a funny creative way. Once you hit 1,000 followers, you can go Live for virtual concerts and to interact more personally with your fans. TikTok is built to be goofy and off-the-cuff, so relax and have some fun with it.


Stay genuine

Yes, there’s plenty of people on TikTok playing the same game you are, looking to get noticed and build their brand. But most TikTokers are real people who want to engage with other real people and not feel like they’re getting tricked into buying someone’s product.

Keep it breezy. It’s about more than just a big endless cycle of promotion. TikTok is all about personality, so let your real self come through.


The wacky rabbit warren of TikTok means that it doesn’t matter what musician, producer or band you are – from chamber music quartet to techno producer, there’s a niche for everyone. Don’t miss out on millions of potential new fans – give TikTok a go, and have some fun while you’re at it. It’s only your productivity in the rest of your life that will suffer.


Get paid every time your song is used in a video on TikTok by signing up with RouteNote today. It won’t cost you a penny. Find out more here and learn where else RouteNote can distribute your music, for free.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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