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TikTok Drops an Album, Vows to “Help Musicians Be Heard”

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We’ve spent a bit of ink covering how short video app TikTok (aka Douyin) has come to dominate Chinese social media. Its star keeps rising: last week saw an announcement (link in Chinese) that the app would collaborate with State television network CCTV as the exclusive, official social media partner for this year’s Spring Festival Gala, a program watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese people every year.

This major deal seems to confirm TikTok’s leading market position, synchronizing its more than 500 million monthly active users and 250 million daily active users with the equally numerous Gala viewership. An official TikTok account for the Gala — or 春晚 Chunwan as it’s known in Chinese — already has 3.9 million followers.

Over the last year, TikTok has also overseen another, somewhat more surprising development: it started a record label.

Since the day the app launched, the videos produced by its young content creators have always prominently featured music — dancing or lip-syncing millennials have always been a cornerstone of the app’s virality, regardless of musical style or quality. For example, you must have heard your young Chinese friends singing or playing a delightful, brain-washing rendition of the instant classic, “Meow meow meow meow meow.” (If not, its English version, “Say Meow Meow,” is available on Spotify and embedded below for your viewing/listening pleasure.)

TikTok users can now find a “Hot Music List” of pop, rap, folk, Chinese classical, and other catchy tunes created on the app, many of which are now also getting distributed across other Chinese and Western music streaming services.

This is by design. One year ago, TikTok launched a program called See Music, through which it partnered with big labels including Taihe Music, Modern Sky, Warner, Sony, Universal, and Midi, as well as music streaming platforms such as Xiami and NetEase Music, with the goal of scouting original music talent.

Veteran Chinese rocker Wang Feng, R&B pioneer David Tao, rap stalwart Jeffrey Kung, and five other music industry professionals were invited to be judges in a subsequent TikTok-sponsored music competition. TikTok’s ambition to be a powerful promotional platform — and even content generator — in the Chinese music industry was even captured in a promotional slogan: “In the new era, using video to guide music forward.”

Since the launch of See Music, 14,000 musicians have uploaded more than 80,000 original works, which have then been used by 150 million TikTok users in their 15-second videos. As a final award, ten songs created by nine musicians/bands were produced and published in the first album released by TikTok as a label, Heard, Seen, which officially dropped at the January 14 launch conference for the 2019 TikTok See Music Plan.

Speaking at the event, See Music director Zhu Jie said: “The plan has come to a new stage of output… We hope to push quality, original music to our users through [TikTok parent company] ByteDance AI’s precisely-targeted recommendations, while helping to spread new work from new artists.”

Related:

A Quick Guide to China’s Competing Short Video Apps

Veteran music producer Lin Mingyang agreed, saying: “On a platform like TikTok, it is easy to allow good work to be heard by all audiences, no matter how many seconds it is. A lot of people can be appealed to.” After meeting with many independent musicians, Taihe Music CEO Xu Yi acknowledged that, “maybe at first it was hard, or too simple, but when it comes to a [certain] developmental stage, [artists on the platform] do need industry support to gain more professional achievement.”

Artists Anzi&Jiumei and Wu Jiayu, both of whom are featured on Heard, Seen, expressed their insights on what TikTok has changed for musicians: “Even if you’re not a mainstream star, you still can share your work and attitudes with everyone, and let your music be heard by more people.”

Even pop superstars are taking advantage of the huge traffic pouring through TikTok: mainstream artists such as Kris Wu, GEM, and Dilraba are all present on the platform.

It will be interesting to see what further influence TikTok — once an outsider to the Chinese music industry, not to mention the crowded short video space — will bring to the table, as it continues to change the rules of the game.

Cover photo: 2019 See Music launch conference

Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van