Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


TikTok till you drop

How 15 seconds of fame can lead to music success in the social media age


Published: 26 Oct 2022

Time taken : ~10mins

Kaung Sit Hein is a Baybeats Budding Writer who was mentored by Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times and Daniel Peters, a freelance journalist and contributor at NME Asia and radio DJ at Mediacorp’s Indiego.

Cover image: Fariz Jabba and Yung Raja performing at Baybeats 2018. Photo by Hoong Wei Long.

The world was taken by storm when the pandemic hit.

Many scrambled to find ways to cope with being cooped up indoors. Entertainment was key to combating boredom—Netflix was our stronghold as we set up virtual watch parties and played Among Us or Call of Duty, but none were as effective in battling stagnance as TikTok (not Ke$ha’s 2009 hit single).

The social media app has garnered an audience as big as YouTube in the video hosting service domain while offering interactivity that rivals Instagram through comments and DMs. Though founded and released in September 2016, it wasn’t until late 2019 to 2020 that the app gained traction.

The content at the time included people making short aesthetic videos of coffee-making and dancing to songs in the comfort of their homes. It has then evolved into uploads of short skits, films, pranks, tutorials—anything you can find on YouTube, but in a condensed form.

Taken from TikTok users @sabsweets and @zoifishh respectively

So what does this worldwide sensation of an app have to do with the music industry and specifically artists nowadays? As long as music has been around, visuals always accompanied it. Platforms were created so music videos can be shared, most notably Music Television (MTV) in the late ’80s, YouTube in the 2000s and eventually, TikTok. However, in its initial release, you could only consume a TikTok video of up to 15 seconds, which meant that full-length music videos weren’t feasible. But that didn’t stop artists.

After snippets of unreleased songs by popular artists were leaked, users quickly took the chance to create content with them. These videos ranged from dance videos and background music for everyday vlogs or even just them reacting to the leaks. This led to artists leaking their songs intentionally or in most cases, unintentionally, which in turn creates hype. If I’m being honest, it is pretty clever as most of the marketing is done by content creators just using the sound.

Taken from TikTok users @hughroberson_ and @chadio respectively

In an informal interview with homegrown record label Zendyll’s very own Jon Chua, he shared that there were people who studied the algorithm and were giving out tips and tricks at local shows on having the best outcome through using TikTok for marketing. I also had the pleasure of interviewing one of Singapore’s very own talents, ahmadjohnson69.


♬ TRAP RAYA AJ 2022 - AJ

Quick fix, unlimited exposure

TikTok's algorithm is a whole different game. It’s proven that the new generation’s attention span gets shorter and shorter. It's 15-second sound limit is somehow helping this as artists can tease fans with only the catchiest part of their songs.

TikTok user ahmadjohnson69

When asked if this marketing method has exceeded his expectations, he replied, “Definitely! Previously, the only way your songs get shared was for fans to repost the songs on their Instagram stories or through Twitter, but TikTok allowing anyone, be it fans or not, to use your songs as a sound to record themselves is a fresh way to gain exposure.”

Ahmadjohnson69 isn’t the only success story. Fariz Jabba and omarKENOBI’s hit single Kalah was also uploaded onto TikTok when Fariz issued a challenge to lipsync to a rapid-fire, almost tongue twister-like verse from the song. The sound had then amassed 28K videos being made as a response. The song now sits comfortably at two million streams on Spotify. So if you’re an aspiring artist and you have no major budget for marketing, just know TikTok can do it all for you at the cost of nothing. 


can you do ???

♬ Kalah - Fariz Jabba & omarKENOBI

Though this has worked for most, there are some who do not reap the fruits of their labour. According to an article by Jumpstart, “not every song posted on the platform will blow up”. Author Kamya Pandey mentions in the article that the songs that caught the most traction always had a similar structure. They are and I quote, “memorable, punchline-y lyrics that people can quote in multiple situations and danceable choruses”. She backs up the statement by dissecting a few of the TikTok hits, such as Heat Waves by Glass Animals and Woman by Doja Cat.

Another point she brought up was that due to the stringent formula that offers virality, artists are pressured into making content that accompanies the song release. While there are those that found success like Cochise, others face backlash, like Lael Hansen. In short, she was accused of guilt-tripping and manipulating her audience into gaining pity streams. As such, this proves that the formula does not have a 100% hit rate.

Having been a part of a local band myself, I am no stranger to such marketing tactics. I will admit we were initially unsuccessful with riding the TikTok wave, but this just proves the existence of the formula further and tying it back to the conversation with Jon, optimising TikTok’s algorithm is crucial. I hope you have gained some insights into the science of viral TikTok songs, and what really goes on behind the scene to get them there.

Contributed by:

Kaung Sit Hein

Sit is a Baybeats Budding Writer and a rapper-producer with a deep interest in music and fashion. He is currently exploring writing as a form of expression in hopes of sharing his deep love and knowledge of the arts with the rest of the world, as well as make music for everyone to enjoy through the local hip-hop collective, YASAI. Follow him on Instagram @kingsithein as well as his band @yasaiofficial.

You have 3 out of 3 articles left this month. Create a free Esplanade&Me account or sign in to continue. SIGN UP / LOG IN