Is TikTok the new Soundcloud for artists seeking discovery?

TikTok is the newest social media sensation. Developed by ByteDance, this app allows users to share short-form videos of endless content like dance, hacks, DIYs and viral challenges. Because of its large audience and viral antics, people wonder if it’s the new SoundCloud for artists seeking discovery.

One of the many neat features of TikTok is the option to “add sound” to a video, whether it’s an upload or generated sounds in the app. With this feature, TikTok has elevated influencers like Addison Rae and upcoming artists into overnight stardom.

Lil Nasx (photo via wikimedia commons)

In 2020, according to TikTok HQ, over 176 different songs surpassed 1 billion video views as TikTok sounds. Ninety of them made it to the top 100 charts in the U.S., with 15 peaking at #1 on Billboard. In addition, over 70 breakout artists on the platform received major record label deals including Lil Nas X, WhoHeem, Ppcocaine and 24kGoldn.

It’s safe to say upcoming artists have been using TikTok to leverage the app’s high engagement and virality among Generation Z and millennial audiences. Robby Seabrook III of XXL Magazine stated artists should definitely use TikTok to their advantage while it’s here and relevant. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of artists who described their upcoming songs as tracks that will take off on TikTok, and that kind of thinking is smart. It can produce a lot of one-hit wonders, but it also bolstered some acts who have continued to deliver big songs,” he said. 

It’s no secret TikTok has become a launching pad for unknown artists to build momentum for their music. However, with only one minute of content, the app isn’t geared for users to listen to the entire song; instead, users grab soundbites/punchlines that would influence the user to create content.

On the other hand, we have the online distribution platform, SoundCloud, that has launched several upcoming artists’ careers like NBAYoungBoy and created an entire niche of “SoundCloud Rappers” in 2015. Over the years, SoundCloud has introduced the world to greats, but is it declining due to the confusing business model for artists?

Digital Music News founder Paul Resnikoff stated, “It’s not so much declining but there’s always a ton of competition from other platforms. You’ll really have to see how the dust settles over time.”

However, Seabrook thinks SoundCloud is not as prevalent as before because there are other easier and more accessible platforms. “Artists are getting signed and putting everything on DSPs, which is defeating the need for them to upload songs to SoundCloud. On top of that, YouTube has everything, even leaks, a lane that SoundCloud used to dominate.” 

In early March, SoundCloud introduced a new fan-powered royalty system designed to directly benefit independent artists to attract them back to the platform. Yet, many think it would only add another layer of confusion for artists and a useless factor for fans.

Zeplyn Tillman, CEO of the digital artist platform AMPD, stated: “I don’t think fans care about royalties, I think they care about good art [music] and access to art they like. I don’t know how it would correlate to people using the platform more.” 

SoundCloud is friendly to upcoming artists looking to make their music accessible, but TikTok has a stronger pull for artists seeking discovery in our current age. Due to its consistent trends and talent pool, A&Rs, producers and major labels are now using TikTok to find the next breakout star. 

“I think artists should use any app that allows for them to reach a large market at a faster speed. If there is an app that allows you to stand out, you are doing yourself a disservice by not being on there,” Tillman concluded. 

Although we haven’t seen anyone sustain a long-term career from TikTok yet, time will tell.

Dejah Murray is an undergraduate at Florida International University majoring in Digital Communication & Media with a Production Track. She's a native from the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) region, currently residing in Miami, Florida. She enjoys writing about the entertainment industry, self-care, and music.