A surprise sensation: Ashley Anne Belmont freshman music business major Ashley Anne had 2,000 followers heading into winter break. When she returned to school in January, everything changed. Companies sent her free clothes, music industry representatives reached out and songwriters invited her to co-write. How did she do it? TikTok. Before starting her first year at Belmont, Anne set the simple goal of releasing one single. But suddenly, thanks to TikTok, she skyrocketed by garnering over 1.5 million views on a snippet of "Dear Dolly," a song she had written a year and a half prior to posting. "I've been posting for maybe a year, and then this song that I did not expect to get any media reaction blows up," Anne said. "That was the first video I had posted about ‘Dear Dolly.’ It did not take five videos to post,” she said. “I just posted one snippet and then it got over a million views with everyone begging for me to release it right then and there." This is the price of blowing up when you least expect it. Anne still needed to cut the final vocals, master it, shoot her cover art and distribute the song through an independent label. "It's definitely a balance, keeping people on their toes while not annoying them by overly teasing it. I am rushing this song so much, but I'm loving every second of it," she said. The TikTok algorithm is a doozy, constantly changing based on the platform's quick trends. One way to maximize peak performance is to utilize the app's business suite. This allows users to access the times audiences are most active on the app, see which hashtags are trending and even pay to promote videos. With its complicated calculations, the TikTok algorithm is tough to keep track of, and creators like Anne blow up when they least expect it. "I remember being upset when people would post for the first time ever and it would blow up, while I would be posting content that I thought was good quality and it would never happen for me. I would hate when my friends would tell me, 'It just takes time' because I'm someone who wants that now," she said. Despite the frustration, Anne followed her friends' advice and kept posting. This gave her a strong fan base as thousands eagerly await the release of "Dear Dolly.” "You just have to keep going and enjoy every second of it while you're doing it because you never want something you love to turn into a burden," she said. "This is my most me song, and that's why I waited so long to put it out into the world. I didn't think anyone would relate to it, but then, I put it out and everyone is saying they relate. That's just so crazy." @ashleyannemusic_ on TikTok A calculated effort: Emma Ogier Freshman Emma Ogier has a love-hate relationship with the app. "When I started posting on TikTok, it was pretty slow. I was just posting because my friends told me I should,” Ogier said. “I didn't really expect much from it. I was just hoping I'd blow up eventually." Curious to see which videos would blow up, she decided to "challenge the algorithm" by posting 7-15 times a week on the app. Ogier posted a cover of Maggie Rogers and Del Water Gap’s "New Song.” Included in the broader audience were music managers who were impressed by Ogier’s original song and now represent her. "It's so crazy. I mean, TikTok helped me find my managers who have literally helped my career so much since then," she said. Ogier just got back from working on her album in New York. But the downsides of the platform are still prevalent. "It's discouraging because you'll post something you're really proud of, and no one sees it, then you'll post something stupid, and it gets a bunch of likes,” Ogier said. “Or you feel like you have to just go along with what is popular right now, so you feel like you are compromising your artistry for the trends." At one point, she was told to post four times a day. "I've found that my songs, as well as many other artists' music, are, in a way, compromised to appeal to the short attention span of our audience. Also, in being asked to create as much content as I do, I tend to share less thoughtful work. This being said, I do appreciate how having to post so much can result in very vulnerable videos where I basically throw the camera up and let go as I record." The bottom line? The biggest downside of TikTok is the innate pressure it puts on artists to modify their work for a chance to go viral, Ogier said. "The uniqueness of a songwriter's ability to tell a story in a 3-6 minute song is special, and the fact that content that doesn't immediately make sense to the listener causes them to overlook the song is discouraging and only teaches the writer to be more accessible," she said. Ogier says she’s grateful for TikTok and how it helped boost her career, but just like Anne, she knows it won't last forever. "I would say I hate it, but I don't. I have to appreciate it for what it's doing because it is a really cool thing that artists can just blow up in an instant, but it's hard when you're in the place of just medium blowing up, where some people are seeing it and excited but it's nothing compared to what some videos are getting." @immaoger on TikTok An expert’s take: Jodi Marr Belmont songwriting instructor and award-winning producer Jodi Marr shared her professional thoughts of using TikTok as an avenue into the music industry. "The only downside is that TikTok pays in an odd format by the number of shares, and it can get so viral that the original song or snippet gets lost in translation as the trend morphs," Marr said. "I also see it affecting the actual shape of songs. It's becoming a thing to skip pre-choruses and intros altogether and go for the hit-fast-half-verse-chorus TikTok approach in some writing rooms." She also discussed how her artists and repertoire friends view the platform. "They are all hungry to sign bedroom artists and TikTok artists but are not expecting much shelf life out of them,” Marr said. “In other words, there's a shelf life boom then bust." Marr advised artists to stay authentic and to avoid jeopardizing their unique songwriting to fit the mold of a “TikTok song.” "If you do get signed from a viral TikTok event, it's up to the artist to maintain the action by making new content, rising above the noise and showing what's real and not just gimmicky about you." Marr has faced the results of TikTok virality from the shoes of a songwriter. She co-wrote the song "Grace Kelly" by MIKA, prompting the #gracekellychallenge, which included Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell. While TikTok can be a great way for artists to gain exposure, those who have experienced the sensation of virality warn against relying solely on the app. This article was written by Evie Eikhoff
From left to right: Ashley Anne, Jodi Marr and Emma Ogier.