How TikTok & Social Entertainment Are Creating Future Live Stars

Doja Cat
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIDAL
– Doja Cat
Special On Aisle Four: Doja Cat, whose become a viral sensation on TikTok, here performing at the TIDAL X Rock The Vote At Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Oct. 21, 2019.

A few weeks ago, I went to the grocery store with my sixth-grade daughter and her friend who took off to deal with their wants while I picked up staples. Ten minutes later, turning down an aisle, I found the two tweens, not with the expected armfuls of cookies, chips and assorted junk food, but filming themselves on their phones doing oddly intricate dances in semi-unison and whispered lip-syncing. In this case, it was Doja Cat’s hook-laden “Say So.” Later it was K-Camp’s “Lottery (Renegade),” Kesha’s “Cannibal” and Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” Apparently, grocery stores with tall shelving and colorful products are TikTokers’ backdrop of choice. Welcome to 2020.

“You’re going from passive listening to engagement listening and these kids are deeply engaging with the song, they’re creating it, and putting their own twist on it,” explains Active Management’s Chioke “Stretch” McCoy, who’s had several artists under his wing including SOB X RBE, Sage the Gemini, 24kGoldn and Tokyo’s Revenge, achieve TikTok virality.  “Today, everything is just so standard. There’s only so many songs you can listen to in a day and only so many ways to listen.”
And some of the reported 500 million-plus active TikTok users have found another way and are not going away anytime soon.  According to a September 2019 survey by Morning Consult, cited in a December article by eMarketer entitled “How TikTok Transformed Social Networking in 2019,” 42% of 13-to 16-year-olds who use social media use TikTok – numbers on par with Facebook and Twitter ranking only behind Snapchat and  Instagram. Overall, 22% of U.S. Gen Z and millennial internet users use TikTok.
And it’s transforming a portion of these generations into social content producers and consumers. The catchall term is “social entertainment” and users, like on other social media, create a profile and interact with their network of contacts.  But now these consumers, who can swipe through millions of short videos (between 30 seconds and a minute-thirty) are coalescing into unpredictable gatekeepers who can resurrect old songs on a whim or take new songs to levels managers could only dream of. But it takes commitment.  
 “What’s really impressive about TikTok is that there’s a higher bar for creating content and it’s more difficult to produce than on most other platforms,” says Jacob Pace, the 21-year-old CEO of Flight House, a digital marketing and social media company that specializes in TikTok content. “If you want to make a Facebook or Instagram post, you make a post or upload a photo. Snapchat, same thing. But TikTok, you can’t just get away with a simple video, otherwise it’s not going to do well. You have to put a lot of creativity into it, whether it’s dancing or comedy or editing, and those are the videos that tend to go viral.”
But achieving TikTok virality isn’t an exact science. This week’s Pollstar cover subject – the awesome Beach Bunny – destroyed L.A.’s Roxy over two nights but still aren’t exactly sure why their melodious “Prom Queen” exploded on the platform. But the song’s anti-prom queen theme lambasting the shallowness of beauty, “counting calories” and “perfect bodies” is the stuff of teen angst gold and resulted in millions of views.
“There’s a group, SOB x RBE, with a song that had been out for two years,” says McCoy. “All of a sudden it just blew up on TikTok and they ended up getting a gold record because of it.” 

But what does TikTok do for the live business? “The first thing it does is give you proof of concept when you’re trying to get a song playlisted,” McCoy says. “It provides a familiarity, because people usually don’t listen to stuff they don’t know. And that familiarity makes it easier to get on traditional radio playlists and stay on those playlists, which in turn makes people become fans. That turns into people going to shows and increasing ticket sales and size of the rooms.”
McCoy also cites a young rapper named Tokyo’s Revenge, the first act signed to Blac Noise, a label he recently co-launched. “He literally had done no real live shows and hadn’t released anything on any DSPs. He had a song, “Good Morning Tokyo,” that exploded on TikTok and now he’s doing shows all across the country and literally booked a headlining tour across the world. It’s an international tour. That immediately changed from him just being there to getting a booking agent to all these festival buyers saying, ‘Hey, we want this kid’ and then all these hard ticket rooms saying, ‘Hey, we want to do his show.’” 
It’s strange to think that a social media platform would ever value the type of video my daughter and her friend made to a Doja Cat song in the Ralph’s snack food aisle, but apparently there’s an audience looking for just that and, at the same time, it’s helping our business.