Artists, Tucker Rivera (@tuckerrivera) and Samara Bradley (@samaraphonic), have found success on the short-form social media platform, TikTok, after displaying their musical talent on the app. This success, though, has also brought along its own challenges like TikTok’s algorithm.
Tucker Rivera is a political science student and athlete at a prestigious university in Chicago who had dreams of making music in the future. Then… during the pandemic … he threw up a snippet of a song on Tik Tok…
”West Coast City” by Tucker Rivera plays: “All my high school friends are getting married young. I’m feeling old as…”
“And then boom, overnight, it’s like, hey, you have a fan base that thinks you’re famous. And I’m like, I don’t know. This is just as new to me as it is to you guys like— And so that’s been really that’s been really interesting.”
The song about dreams of being famous … has now given the 22-year-old his own first taste of fame.
“It got one point one million views, and I went from like twelve hundred followers to fifty thousand followers in the span of a week. And it was. It was. Just surreal. ‘Cause, it’s like everything I’ve been shooting for.”
The TikTok views also led to 5 million streams on Spotify. TikTok is a social media app where people can make quick videos showcasing anything and everything ranging from pet videos to poetry to political commentary. Since the start of the pandemic, the app has been growing exponentially...
L.A. Times pop culture critic, Mikael Wood says music artists have been flocking to the app as well.
“Suddenly you can’t play shows and you can’t do club appearances and you can’t do a lot of the normal things that acts were used to, and so people turned to pretty much the only place they could tune to, which was online through digital space.”
Rivera was one of those artists who shifted gears… and started posting on TikTok during the pandemic.
“The whole plan was to graduate school and then move to L.A. and work a 9:00 to 5:00 and in the evening time, sort of grind out music until something caught on, but TikTok accelerated that plan, to say the least.”
Like Rivera, Samara Bradley was in a similar position of wanting to break into the music industry in the traditional sense. She graduated from Cal Arts as a vocalist in 2019 and had an album planned…
“I felt like 2020 was going to be my year musically, and then I ended up, like, not being able to do anything. Yeah.. it was something.”
So like many others, she joined TikTok. she began by posting her own music, but then realized that wasn’t the way to go. Instead, she said she used her favorite fifth-grade party trick.
“I’d be like, ‘Oh, I know how to sing the song in Simlish.’”
Bradley singing “How To Save a Life” by The Fray in Simlish plays
Yup. That’s a made-up language from a popular role-playing game called “The Sims.”
“No one else is doing that. It’s funny. It’s fun. Some, like TikTok people are so weird like someone else is going to like it.”
And that’s when success happened...
“I got like fifteen thousand followers from like singing in Simlish. And I’m like, this is crazy. And people started looking at my account and then they saw like videos of my song and they were like, ‘Oh, I’m streaming this right now.’”
Pop culture critic Mikael Wood says the difference between TikTok and other platforms all comes down to the algorithm.
“Which is their proprietary algorithm that they’re very proud of. And it just serves up things that it thinks you will like. And so it’s a real tool of discovery. And that’s why you have so many songs by unknown new artists exploding on TikTok. Some of the time it’s because they’ve been proactive in getting their music into the sort of TikTok bloodstream, but other times there’s something a little bit random about it, kind of pleasingly random.”
One of the biggest examples of the hit-making power of TikTok is Lil Nas X, and his song, “Old Town Road.”
”Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X plays: Ride ‘til I can’t no more. I got the horses in the back, Horse tack is attached...
But Wood says that Lil Nas X may be the exception. As for other artists…
“It’s very difficult to imagine them becoming anything other than a one hit wonder, and yet that hasn’t stopped Columbia Records or Republic Records from signing just tons of TikTok sensations because the streams of a big song, there’s so much money to be made that it’s almost like, well, yes, it would be great if this person could make another hit, but if not, we’re still getting quite a bit of money from that one hit.”
For many TikTok users, after one video goes viral, the next videos posted don’t tend to reach the same level of viewership. Creating and maintaining a fanbase on TikTok is especially hard for musicians and singers.
“After that million point two video, right, the next week, you’re on the for you page a lot. And then after that, it’s like I had twelve hundred followers again. And so it’s just a matter of pushing out as much content as possible. And hoping that just by the law of large numbers, you get something that, you know, hit’s it.”
Bradley also has the same problem...
“I’m trying to keep the hype going. So when I noticed it’s finally started to come down a little bit, I was like, oh, no. And then literally for like three days after it started, my videos were not going to get any views ...it was like ridiculous.”
These artists are trying to avoid one-hit-wonder status ... they say they will keep mining TikTok even after the pandemic is over trying to launch their careers into the music industry.
“I’ll keep doing the Simlish songs and the fact that, “The Sims,” followed me and posted my video, like, I guess I’m doing something right. So I just, I hope my account can actually keep growing and that they actually start showing it to more people. And I beat the algorithm”
“My actual fans, right, all came from TikTok. It would be silly for me seeing the success of so many artists on TikTok who have just been able to get genuine deals. And genuine fame in a time where they can’t even meet people. That’s it, I mean that’s a special thing.”
”West Coast City” by Tucker Rivera plays: “I’ma move to a west coast city, so you can fall in love with me...”
In the come and go world of TikTok … reaching genuine fame is sure to be a challenge … both Rivera and Bradley say they look forward to actually seeing audiences and interacting in person, in the real world rather than just in the digital world.
For Annenberg Media, I’m Marlize Duncan.