If you spend any appreciable time using social media, from Facebook to Instagram to Threads and beyond, you know that all of the good/evil in cyberspace has been wrought by “the algorithm.” It is responsible for offensive advertising pushed to your news feeds, people you can’t stand appearing in your “people you may know” suggestions, and for helping create information silos that may be the bane of present society.
But “the algorithm” also drives creative virality, which can and often does result in discovery of talent that otherwise may have escaped notice of traditional cultural gatekeepers. Whether through YouTube videos, creation of playlists on Spotify, or the “For You” feed on TikTok, the sharing of cool music among friends – and strangers – on social media long ago became “word of mouth” on steroids in the digital age.
TikTok, in particular, has emerged as an important site for music discovery. With its more than 1 billion users worldwide, not only is there potential for creators to reach more eyes and ears, but there is more data to be mined to feed the algorithms, which use the data to find users most likely to be receptive and become fans of creators, and buy their music – and concert tickets.
The TikTok effect is upending the touring business, too. This year, relative newcomers like Peso Pluma, Zach Bryan, and comedian Matt Rife have exploded from TikTok virality into sold-out arenas and theaters.
Latin music phenom Peso Pluma’s first box office report to Pollstar wasn’t from a tiny club; it was a nearly million-dollar sellout at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California, in April. Country music superstar-to-be Zach Bryan emerged after pandemic lockdowns began to be lifted in 2021 and, after a year making the leap to arenas in 2022-23, launches his massive “The Quittin Time Tour” of major arenas and even some stadiums in March, 2024. Matt Rife has taken his homegrown standup routine from TikTok to Netflix to major theaters and performing arts centers, averaging 5,447 tickets per show and gross of $426,279. They all emerged from TikTok.
More than a very sophisticated macro, algorithms require human intervention to be effective and Paul Hourican, TikTok’s Global Head of Music Partnerships and Programming, tells Pollstar that’s a cornerstone of what makes his company especially effective in music discovery, platforming artists and elevating them to stardom.
TikTok has been credited with driving fans to artists including Lil Nas X, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Olivia Rodrigo, Walker Hayes, Megan Thee Stallion, Jack Harlow and many more.
TikTok not only uses the obvious metrics of views, likes and shares, but helps promising artists hone their video craft with tutorials, editing tips and tricks, and effects to bring a professional sheen to their efforts.
A new program, TikTok Elevate, identifies and surfaces artists, and produces a live festival, In The Mix, which takes place Dec. 10 in Mesa, Arizona that will spotlight many of them. In addition to established TikTok stars like Niall Horan, Peso Pluma, Cardi B, Anitta and Charlie Puth, TikTok In The Mix will turn a spotlight on Elevate program artists including Isabel LaRosa, Kaliii, LU KALA, and Sam Barber.
“There have been so many wonderful artists discovered on TikTok, it’s hard to pick just a few,” Hourican says. “Peso Pluma … has been an enormous hit with the TikTok community, which has really turbocharged his career and given him groundbreaking success this year. Another superstar on the rise is Tate McRae, who is a native TikTok user who really understands how to connect with the fan community.
“Another is Iñigo Quintero, a wonderful singer-songwriter from Spain whose track ‘Si No Estás’ has become a huge hit thanks to it going viral on TikTok. ‘Si No Estás’ has seen 12 million creations worldwide, which propelled the track to No. 1 on the Spotify Top 50 Global Chart,” Hourican adds.
It’s important to remember that “the algorithm,” beyond cold program code, requires the human touch, the ears of tastemakers and talented marketing to be most effective.
“We are all music fans at TikTok, and are always on the lookout for what’s trending and popular, with the hope of discovering exciting new talent,” Hourican emphasizes. “Additionally, local music teams work really closely with the local artist community to help support them and work with them to elevate their presence and help them build their communities on TikTok.”
Hourican says user generated content, or UGC, also plays an influential role. When TikTok users employ digital tools (or, say, record themselves drinking Ocean Spray to a Fleetwood Mac track) to pay homage to their favorite artists and songs, that factors in as well. A newer trend is UGC from live shows.
“Interestingly, we have also seen some amazing long-term content trends around tours. UGC content captured at shows is becoming more popular in ways we haven’t seen before – for example, Coldplay’s incredible concert footage that reignited interest in their song, ‘A Sky Full of Stars.’”
And 2023 was a big year for UGC. Creators “shared their best concert moments, featuring pop stars like Taylor Swift and Sabrina Carpenter, R&B legends like Beyoncé, and alt- rock favorites like Paramore,” Hourican says. “Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras Tour’ was of course a huge TikTok trend this year, as was Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance Tour.’ There’s a real appetite for fans to discover artists through concert footage on TikTok.”
TikTok In The Mix brings the whole process full circle in a real way from algorithm, to virality, to stream counts, to artist development. And come Dec. 10, the In The Mix concert will, of course, be streamed live on TikTok.