Alive Through Sound: Internet Sounds

By: JoAnn Snavely

The internet is notorious for blowing up music–whether uncovering hidden gems or just highlighting hot trash. Over the past few years, since the rise of social media sites that utilize music (TikTok, Instagram’s music feature, etc.), there has been an increase in social media controlling what artists are big right now, and most importantly, what musicians are dominating the charts. 

I do want to preface by saying I am not a hater– although my last article may prove otherwise– I am simply speaking on habits I have seen in the industry, and giving a critique on what I have witnessed over the past few years as someone who uses social media.

Even if you took a gander at the Billboard Hot 100–which I love to reference–you will find songs like Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” SZA’s “Kill Bill,” Pink Pantheress and Ice Spice’s “Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2,” and Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” all falling within the chart’s top 10. These songs shouldn’t be new to you either. If you were to open your FYP (TikTok’s page that automatically plays videos you may enjoy) at any point in the day, you are likely to find at least one of these songs on your FYP. This is further proven as you scroll down the Billboard Hot 100; I could find at least 15 or so songs that were found on my FYP a week ago.  There were even musicians who were practically created on TikTok like Stephen Sanches and JVKE who both have had chart toppers the past couple of months. 

Many of these songs found fame virtually overnight, having found the right niche at the right time and then quickly being reused over and over again as part of a trend. Whether it becomes a viral TikTok dance that celebrities, influencers, and everyone in between uses, it becomes a part of a trend that is being used millions of times. It’s a quick process where one minute you can have 500 followers and then the next you can have 500,000. It seems to be what’s making and breaking the industry in today’s era of technology. 

These 15 second videos are changing lives. I’ve even heard a lot of first-hand experience with the ways social media is impacting the industry; over the past few months I have been doing interviews with up and coming musicians who do much of their promoting on social media. Many of these musicians feel a particular pressure to consistently promote music online in order to gain the tiniest amount of recognition.
This whole social media thing is relatively new to the industry. 30 years ago, you could send demos to a label and then potentially get signed or pushed to radio stations based primarily on talent. There wasn’t radio discovery on your FYP. 

Nowadays, you can’t just be talented. You have to be vocally skilled, consistent in posting on social media, constantly be playing live shows, and even more consistently be pushing out new music that is catchier than the last. All at the same time. 

Now, in order to become incredibly successful, you have to be able to juggle every single side of the industry, and oftentimes, musicians don’t end up getting signed or getting the recognition they could’ve 20 years ago. This new way to make it big has had more negative consequences on the industry as it’s become oversaturated. 

Because of this, many artists are creating music to go viral, not just to create music. It’s about what can be a sound-bytes or what can people create dances to. It has to be bold and stand out- but bold isn’t always a good thing. People are unironically creating songs that sound like they would be used in a cheesy early-2000s film with songs like “abcdefu” or “10 Things I Hate about You”. 

On a completely different side of the spectrum, there’s no longer a craft in making music given every single influencer’s capitalizing on creating the next big song–as we saw with the release of Dixie D’amelio’s “Be Happy.” The algorithm seems to be specific with the way they push music and blow up new artists.

Social media impacting music happens in other ways as well; sometimes social media will randomly blow up a specific song that has been out for a while or that is by musicians who aren’t heavily advertising via social media. Often, when this happens, there is a specific pressure for those musicians to utilize social media and consistently post to maintain the relevancy of the song. 

Usually, when this happens, fans get upset that their favorite musician is getting thousands of new listeners who often only listen to the singular song. There has even been a term coined to describe the changes a band/artist goes through when they blow up online: Tiktokification. Urban Dictionary describes Tiktokification as “A song that was once amazing but is now the worst thanks to TikTok.” A lot of times, TikTok turns a good song bad by overplaying it and pumping it into people’s FYP incessantly, hence pushing it to the charts, and then radios as well, but it also becomes a problem that transcends beyond the social-media realm and into the sacred live music realm.

Last week I wrote about concert etiquette and how it is something that needs to be addressed post-Covid, and one of the things I mentioned is when fans go to a concert and only know one of an artist’s songs because it blew up on TikTok a month ago. I have personally attended a couple of shows that have been like this, shows where the venue is quiet for the most part until the songs that once were trending on TikTok gas up the crowd.

  This has happened to countless songs and artists of all sizes over the past couple of years and I think it would only be fair to discuss songs that found fame or experienced the Tiktokification of their music.

“Are You Bored Yet” – Wallows (feat. Clairo)

Wallows released the song “Are You Bored Yet” as the lead single on their debut album Nothing Happens in 2019. The song had a fair amount of fame due to its role as a lead single; however, it became increasingly popular in the summer of 2020. Its virality led to Wallows becoming one of the most influential indie bands of the decade, and even urged them to create their own TikTok and promote an “Are You Bored Yet Challenge”. The song has become a top single for everyone and has become overplayed for many Wallows fans.

“Bad Habit” – Steve Lacy

“Bad Habit” is one of the most notorious examples of the Tiktokification of music. Lacy released the song early last year as a lead single for his 2022 album Gemini Rights. It instantly went viral and remained viral for multiple months, becoming the soundtrack to dozens of different social media trends. It’s  played so often that by the time Gemini Rights was released, many fans were tired of the song.

“Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” – Kate Bush

Yep. Even songs older than the majority of TikTok’s users aren’t safe. Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was used in Stranger Things newest season which prompted users to recreate lip syncing videos, fan-edits, and other sorts of videos to the decade’s old song. Some fans went as far to say they “discovered” Kate Bush, which would make sense if she was a brand new musician– but when Kate Bush was a musician topping charts in the 80s–maybe we’ve taken it too far. This branding of an older song didn’t come without discourse. Many fans argued both sides of the totem pole and got upset when other songs from Stranger Things 4 found popularity (like Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”). Older music isn’t exclusive to popularity because of television. Recently, even Pink Floyd songs like “The Great Gig in the Sky” blew up on TikTok (of course due to a trend that utilized the song). When the song blew up, there were new implications for a band as iconic as Pink Floyd. The single went from a random song on their iconic album Dark Side of the Moon, into their second most popular song EVER (according to Spotify). This is a prime example of the social media apps control on the industry, especially when it affects hardened musicians like Pink Floyd.

Social Media can be extremely influential in the music industry. It can make or break musicians, but it shouldn’t be the ONLY way we are doing things. It is quite easy to find new music; in fact, there are many TikTok users who are dedicated to finding and introducing people to new music. You can also utilize your music streaming platforms in order to discover new music.

The scariest part of the whole thing is, what are people going to do when TikTok is over? There are already talks in place to ban the app in its entirety, and if that were to happen, what would we do? How would we discover the next top song or the next big band? What will society do when popular songs aren’t determined by the current TikTok dance or trend? TikTok is a very valuable method to the industry, but there needs to be more outlets for music-lovers to discover new music and find the next big band than by scrolling through your FYP and crossing your fingers something good shows up.

‘Alive Through Sound’ Series

This is the eighth edition in the ‘Alive Through Sound’ series where I discuss all things live music and the act of being alive through it. Check out the last article in the series, “Alive Through Sound: The Power of Music.” Until the next edition in the series I will have a playlist published below that will feature many songs- not found on TikTok, ranging in genres.


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