Launching a music career during a pandemic isn’t easy, but a few Belmont songwriters have found viral success posting their music on TikTok.
With over 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok allows creators to post minute-long video clips featuring original audio to a potentially massive audience.
“It has genuinely changed things for me,” said Melina Bertsekas, a freshman songwriting major who found herself with a new online fanbase overnight — literally.
In October, Bertsekas posted the first video featuring her original song “Internet,” a playful pop tune about her roommate’s Zoom crush. She uploaded it for fun and went to bed, with no expectations for her post to get much attention.
But the following morning, Bertsekas’ song had gone viral, amassing over 915,000 views and 226,000 likes.
And Bertsekas is not the only Belmont student whose music has suddenly launched them to TikTok fame.
Zoe Clark, a senior songwriting major, also began posting her original music to the app in October, just to see what would happen.
“I’m going to do this TikTok thing and give it a try,” Clark said.
Clark occasionally posted and slowly gained a small following. But in January, she posted a casual video of her listening to a snippet of her unreleased song “Last One Standing.” When she went to bed that night, Clark had fewer than 200 followers; when she woke up, her video had almost 1 million views.
As a songwriter, Clark said her goal has always been to make people feel seen and “get to people’s hearts,” she said. And her music seems to be doing just that — Clark’s single was pre-saved by over 40,000 fans before its release on streaming platforms.
She’s not the only one who has found new listeners via TikTok: Bertsekas noticed the correlation between the success of a TikTok video and the streaming numbers of her own original music.
“When a video blows up, all of my music on Spotify does better,” she said.
Taylor Bickett, a senior commercial music major, also recognized TikTok to be an effective way to promote her original music and songwriting.
Bickett began posting music on the platform in March, 2020, and now has over 246,000 followers. Her first five or six videos got fewer than 30 likes, but then a video of her singing, snapping and playing piano to an unfinished original went viral in April.
Bickett knew she had to finish the song and get it on streaming platforms. While finishing it over the next couple of months, she continued to consistently post original music, riffing challenges and covers, and her following grew.
The single, “Break My Own,” was released on Jan. 21 and already has over 220,000 streams on Spotify alone.
All three songwriters said TikTok’s algorithm is more effective than any other major video sharing service because it highlights small-time, independent creators who users are likely to identify with.
However, not all of Belmont’s TikTok creators are using the platform to assist in creating a brand. Some, like sophomore nursing major Oluwatoni Akande, see it as a fun way to self-express.
Akande, who began creating on TikTok as a way to kill time in quarantine, has amassed over 130,000 followers with short, comedic — and occasionally musical — sketches.
Though she finds her time on the app is well-spent, she said the way it cultivates a desire for popularity can be negative, creating an environment where every video upload comes with it an anxious uncertainty that the video may not be popular.
“Clout is a disease,” Akande said.
However, she also said TikTok was a beneficial creative outlet — a sentiment echoed by senior songwriting major Annie DiRusso, who uses the platform to promote her music.
DiRusso, who uses the app to showcase singles like “Don’t Swerve,” said TikTok’s huge array of users and capabilities for livestreaming made it a great platform, regardless of the uncertainty that accompanies each press of the upload button.
Although not every video is a viral success, regardless of quality or effort put into it, students like Bertsekas are eager to continue using the platform to post their original music and connect with fans. She encourages other young songwriters and musicians to get their work out there as well.
“All it really takes on TikTok is one video,” she said. “Just post and keep posting.”
This article written by Haydn Nash, Erin Luft, and Sean Phelan.