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How the Potential TikTok Ban Might Influence the Music Industry & Smaller Artists [Guest Column]

This move would detrimentally damage a range of businesses, and one industry which would be targeted the most is music.

Photo by visuals / Unsplash
Editor's note: This is a guest story by Laura Mills, a music journalist and reviewer. Laura's stories were published in Independent, Metro, NY Post, The Daily Mirror, The Sun and other outlets.

A potential TikTok ban in the United States has been a hot topic for the past year and while some voters may welcome this change, the colossal affect this will have on the music industry is undeniable. This ban was proposed after concerns around Chinese surveillance and inappropriate content on the app used by 25% of Americans with a majority of 56% supporting this ban.

However, it is unclear how the U.S. government would implement such a controversial ban across the country: a move which would detrimentally damage a range of businesses, and one industry which would be targeted the most is the music industry, including established artists looking to grow their careers, the revival of legendary careers and smaller artists trying to break through. Despite this, a TikTok ban may actually be more positive than many users think, including opportunities on different platforms, better policing of the apps and more protection for artists as a whole.

TikTok currently boasts 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, 150 million of whom live in America. American artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat and Lil Nas X each have had tracks go viral on TikTok and saw their careers explode, sometimes overnight. Likewise, TikTok has also revived the careers of older musicians, including Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who saw ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ reach number two on the charts in January this year after the song was used in the film Saltburn which generated the track going viral on TikTok. Likewise, Kate Bush’s song ‘Running Up That Hill’ reaching number three in the charts in 2022, originally released in 1985, after the song was featured in Netflix’s Stranger Things sending the hit viral on social media.

Fleetwood Mac has also been lapped up by TikTok creators. Their ‘Silver Springs’ was widely received by the TikTok community, in part due to the to novel Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, later adapted into a series by Amazon Prime, and the 1997 live performance by the band, which many creators lipsynced on the app. Their hit song ‘Dreams’ also found recognition and went viral on the app with videos of people living freely, authentically around the globe.

That's why the app has become such a powerful platform for music discovery, and why a ban could be so damaging for artists.

It is key to state that these artists mentioned above who have found career success from TikTok had already started their careers within the music and entertainment industry so TikTok isn’t the sole cause of their success, but merely a tool which assisted them. This is due to the audiences TikTok reaches internationally, including those people who may not listen to this artist’s genre but have discovered them through the app. Without TikTok, each artist would struggle to promote their new art on the same scale as this app provides.

In regards to the artists who had their careers revived through TikTok, many of them have ceased making music and without this platform, their art may never reach generations. Without this app, many legendary musicians may never reach upcoming generations and, therefore, this could eradicate their personal artform as their music may start to appear irrelevant.

However, for some artists who have made their entire careers through TikTok, a potential ban would mean the complete erasure of their journey to success, and for others who are looking to follow in their footsteps, using social media to build a musical career, the ability to be discovered online would be erased and drastically difficult to break through to the charts.

One example of this is the track "F.N.F. (Let’s Go)" by HitKidd and GloRilla that gained traction as a viral challenge on TikTok several months post-release. Despite the decline of the viral trend, HitKidd's individual projects had sustained growth in the months following the viral success.

However, it is key to state that the charts are still dominated by big stars and TikTok’s influence on that is slightly exaggerated. Spotify shows artists like Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd and Drake are consistently topping the charts, none of whom owe this inception or primary growth to TikTok.

An artist who built her musical empire through this app is PinkPantheress. It is almost unbelievable that the singer didn’t post anything on the app until Christmas Day 2020 and has now got 16 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

For PinkPantheress, this app has created so many opportunities, including a way to promote her music, reach listeners on a wider scale as well as being able to use this app to build a rapport with her fan base. So without TikTok, would she have found this success? Unlikely.

A band which has taken the TikTok platform by storm is The Beaches from Canada. It is hard to believe this band started making music way back in 2013 yet only started to receive the recognition they undoubtedly deserved last year when their song ‘Blame Brett’ went viral on TikTok, even being used by singer Nelly Furtado. The band has now gone on to play shows around the globe, even playing on Jimmy Kimmel Live and has an array of festivals lined up across the world this summer.

Another artist is Mae Stephens, a 20-year-old from the U.K., who quit her job at a supermarket and signed to a record label after her song ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ went viral on TikTok. "It's a bit of shock to be honest, I still can't believe everything that happened to me,” She told the BBC. Without the opportunities created through this app’s exposure, it is likely she may not have broken through at all.

However, the potential ban may not be all doom and gloom, and something that could actually help the music industry and artists alike prosper and reach success.

Social media analyst Greg Sterling, co-founder of Near Media, said: “YouTube or Instagram Reels could be the big winners from a TikTok ban” which suggests even if artists lose exposure from TikTok, they can still try to break through using a different social media platform which may reach even more listeners due to its longer existence.

Ish Goel, co-founder and CEO of social polling platform Hunch, spoke on the issue. He said: “The potential ban on TikTok presents an opportunity for the emergence of new social media platforms that offer a different approach to content creation and consumption.

"Platforms could capitalize on this opportunity by offering features that cater to the desire for privacy, AI governance, and a culture that prioritizes authenticity over influencer-driven content.”

This suggests that when artists look to move to an alternative platform, these sites could offer the opportunity to protect their work by heavy policing on these sites to eradicate issues concerning privacy and the use of AI.

Overall it appears if the U.S. government does ban TikTok, it will initially cause quite a big problem for any artists in the music industry, as well as labels and record producers alike.

However, in the long run, just like many other platforms before, it suggests listeners and artists will simply move on to different sites and the ability to discover in the same format they did on TikTok will arise again.

Words by Laura Mills