Top 7 TikTok Ideas for Musicians: Tips to Grow Your Fanbase While Staying Sane
I sat down to write this article 48 minutes ago, and in the name of “research”, I pulled up a few of my favorite TikTok channels to find inspiration.
Yeah, it turns out that was a mistake.
It’s now 48 minutes later. I’ve watched hundreds of videos; currently, I’m scrolling through random duets with Charlie Puth, who’s funnier than I thought he’d be. It’s been almost an hour, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ve learned almost nothing.
Excluding the above, I haven't written a single word.
That’s the power (and, potentially, the problem) of TikTok. This platform is an absolute attention magnet.
And, really, that’s why I’m writing about it. Because it’s an attention magnet, TikTok is an incredibly powerful tool for building an engaged fanbase – and it’s arguably the social media channel you should be paying attention to as a musician in 2023.
Assuming that I can stop scrolling for long enough to write, here are a few proven ideas to help you make the most of the platform while maintaining your sanity.
Is TikTok good for musicians?
Before we jump in, though, I want to make the case for why you should consider TikTok as a musician:
Yes, TikTok can be hugely helpful for musicians.
There are three simple reasons why:
TikTok is distressingly engaging.
I mean, not to beat a dead horse, but I just spent 48 minutes scrolling. The truth is that, once you get on the app, it’s hard to look away.
That’s because the medium (short-form video content) is super fun to watch, and the platform’s algorithm is wicked good. On your home feed, they’ll forever show you things you’ll almost definitely like based on what you’ve engaged with in the past. And there’s no end to the content.
So it’s no surprise that users spend an average of 850 minutes per month on the app. If you’re trying to get your music in front of people, that attention is a good thing.
TikTok is the easiest platform for going viral in 2023.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter (well, I guess we’ll see what happens there), TikTok is in the relatively early stages of user-base development.
They’re still in growth mode.
As a result, they’re still working on penetrating the social media market, which means they’re still focused on organic reach. Once platforms reach a certain level of growth, they usually transition into a monetization stage, and creators have to pay to get in front of new audiences.
This is what’s currently happening on Facebook and Instagram.
On those platforms, you increasingly have to pay to get in front of people. But when you post on TikTok, there’s a good chance you’ll get shown to people who haven’t seen you before.
Translation: It’s easier to go viral.
TikTok is literally built for music.
The third reason TikTok can be good for musicians is that the platform is, quite literally, built with music in mind. It’s current form has been constructed on the back of the since-acquired rival app, Musical.ly, which shot to fame on the basis of lip-syncing videos.
It’s no stretch to say that sounds are the foundation of TikTok.
Sure, other platforms have video content. But, of the big social media channels, only TikTok relies on audio as a primary driver of content – and that makes the platform powerful for musicians.
Okay – with that clarified, here’s how to take advantage of all that power.
1. Find and follow musicians you like.
If you’re just getting into the world of TikTok, it can feel overwhelming, kind of like walking into the high school cafeteria on your first day of school.
Scroll through the app and you’ll probably think stuff like: What’s going on? What works here? And, most importantly – where do I fit in?
Don’t worry – just like in high school, I think the easiest way to make yourself comfortable is to hang with friends.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Search for musicians that you like (and, ideally, who are making music that’s tonally similar to yours).
- Follow at least 10. Probably more.
- Watch what they do and take notes.
Keeping tabs on what other people are doing is kind of the point of social media, after all – but it’s also a great way to figure out what’ll work for you. And keep in mind that TikTok is a remix machine. The chances are high that, as you track with other creators, you’ll find opportunities to create cool stuff yourself.
More on that next.
2. Create “story buckets” to avoid getting stuck on what to post.
This is something Ryan’s recommended in the past – he covers it in detail in “Music Selling Through Storytelling” – and I think it’s a super helpful concept.
Basically, the idea is to identify on-brand themes that you regularly post about, so that when you go to create content, you already have a starting point.
This way, you don’t get stuck.
For example, maybe you’re a folk artist and you’re also into woodworking. Great! That’s one of your story buckets; you can post videos showcasing your finished woodworking projects, give behind-the-scenes looks at what you’re building, or film a quick how-to video on using a claw hammer. (Honestly, I have no idea what a claw hammer is, but hey, Google says it’s a woodworking tool.)
That’s one example. Your dog could be a story bucket. Your Spotify playlist could be a story bucket. Whatever you’re into – as long as it aligns with your artistry – can work.
With 5-10 story buckets, you’ll never be short on ideas, which is crucial.
Because, if you don’t have an idea going in, you’ll probably find yourself scrolling for inspiration. And, 48 minutes later, you probably won’t have posted anything.
I’ve been there. Story buckets can help you avoid the rut.
(Again, if you want to get the full breakdown of this concept and start using it effectively, it’s definitely worth checking out the Music Selling Through Storytelling course.)
3. Duet. Do it.
Story buckets are generally focused on you. That’s a good thing, especially as you’re getting started. To unlock the full power of TikTok, though, you’ll also need to turn your focus outward.
You’ll need to collaborate.
That’s part of what makes TikTok fun. The platform has a cool suite of creator tools that make it easy to collaborate with people – one of the most notable ways to do this is through what TikTok calls duets.
Here’s how they explain it:
“Duet allows you to post your video side-by-side with a video from another creator on TikTok. A Duet contains two videos in a split screen that play at the same time.”
And here’s an example:
@ben_rector #duet with @iamlosleo ♬ original sound - LOS LEO
Another common take on it is to film a reaction video, where one person is literally just responding to something happening in the first post:
@charlieputh #duet with @estefis86 ♬ I Have Nothing - J E F F
And then another cool concept that’s spun out of this is the “open verse challenge”, where one creator starts a song and then leaves space for others to ad lib:
@conormaynard #duet with @Sadie Jean with a different perspective: Even though it hurts, and you don’t want to, the right thing to do is walk away. #foryou #fyp ♬ WYD Now Open Verse Challenge - Sadie Jean
Basically, what you do with duets is up to you, but the fact that you can do this – mix your own video seamlessly with someone else’s, and open up your own videos to be remixed – is one of the key reasons TikTok is such a great platform for going viral.
Do duets. It’s an awesome idea.
4. Hop on trends (but bring your own brand).
As you’ve probably gathered, TikTok is a channel that’s heavily driven by trends. To see what’s happening at any given moment, just tap the “Discover” magnifying glass at the bottom of the app’s screen and check out the trending hashtags.
If you ride the waves of what’s hot at a given point in time, you can drastically improve your reach.
A few tips to do that well:
Get in at the right time.
Just as with riding actual waves, you’ve got to catch the swell before it breaks. (Well, I’ve never surfed, but I imagine that’s got to be the case, right?)
For example, when Sadie Jean’s open verse challenge started going viral, a bunch of accounts hopped on it – and the ones that got in on the trend earlier tended to blow up the most.
Don’t let the importance of timing give you FOMO, though. If you miss one trend, there will always be another.
I’d recommend taking a few moments each week to see what’s swelling up, and then evaluating if the wave is something you want to catch.
Sometimes, that means adding your own spin to something that isn’t an obvious fit – like remixing the “Wellerman” sea shanty to be an EDM banger.
@miiirandamusic This goes so hard #MoneyTok #seashanty #seashantytiktok #wellerman #newyearnewme ♬ ARGULES Wellerman Remix Sea Shanty - ARGULES
Sometimes, it means passing on things that you don’t jibe with. The truth is that not every trend will be something that makes sense for you.
Stay true to your artistry and add your own take at the right time, and good things will happen.
5. Test your tracks with your audience.
This is a cool idea that’s probably best done on TikTok and that I’ve seen a bunch of artists try:
Test out your tracks with your audience before you release them.
For example, Will Paquin (a fingerstyle guitar player) posted like 20 times about his single “21” before releasing it. If the TikToks hadn’t done well, my guess is he would’ve scrapped the release.
And here’s another video from Sadie Jean, basically polling her audience on whether or not she should drop a track:
@sadiejean I have been a mess of thoughts for the past few weeks plS help me decide what to do 🙃 #afterall #sadiejean #wydnow ♬ After All by Sadie Jean - Sadie Jean
This is a really interesting way to approach releases. It can potentially save you a lot of time while drumming up buzz for your songs before they’re even out.
Granted, it really only works if you have an engaged audience. But, if you do, you can basically figure out what will work before you go to the trouble of promoting it.
That’s cool. Try testing your next single – even if you only have a rough draft – and see what happens.
6. Go live.
Next up, a basic idea that’s also really effective: Do a livestream. TikTok, like virtually every social media channel today, has a “live” feature, and it offers a few cool benefits.
(First, it’s worth noting that you can only go live on TikTok if you have at least 1,000 followers. So, if you’re just starting out on the platform, you’ll need to wait until you’ve grown your audience to use this feature.)
When you go live, you’ll likely get in front of new eyes; the data isn’t super clear on this, but best estimates point toward increased reach.
And, just as importantly, you’ll bring your audience into an experience. Marketers frequently trumpet livestreams as one of the best places to connect with fans. It makes sense; just as going to a concert results in a deeper emotional connection than streaming a song on Spotify, live streaming results in a deeper emotional connection than watching an already-posted video.
Fans can actually interact with you in real time. That’s cool.
You can literally do anything on a livestream (well, anything within TikTok’s guidelines, or you’ll get blocked), but some basic concepts to try are:
- Fan Q&As
- Song explanation sessions
- And, of course, livestream concerts
Once you establish your fanbase on TikTok, I’d recommend giving the live feature a shot.
7. Work with influencers to get your music in front of different audiences.
Alright, here’s one last idea that’s potentially the most impactful: Consider working with popular TikTok creators to get your music in front of new faces.
This concept is called influencer marketing, and it can be ridiculously powerful.
Here’s how it works:
- You (or an agency that does TikTok promotion) send your song to creators and ask them to use it in a video.
- Creators use your song to make a video that’s posted to their audiences.
- Your song is viewed by (usually very big) audiences you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
- You have the chance to go viral.
If you’re looking to grow on TikTok, this is an awesome lever to pull. Think of it as a rocket boost for your reach.
Now, there are two caveats here:
- You usually do have to pay for this. Popular creators get tons of collaboration requests and their time is valuable.
- If you don’t have a network (read: existing relationships with creators), this is ridiculously difficult to pull off yourself.
So, you more or less need to work with an agency to do this effectively at scale.
Of course, the challenge with this is that some agencies aren’t transparent, and some are actually outright scams. If someone is promising to get you a certain amount of TikTok followers, for example, you should probably run for the hills – the “followers” they’re guaranteeing are almost certainly fake accounts that’ll destroy your credibility and reach.
TikTok is still kind of a “Wild West” at the moment. But there are options you can trust.
We’ve spent the last three years creating strategic relationships with creators, working to find people whose fan bases are highly active and who will genuinely engage with good music.
This isn’t for everyone; if you have more time than money, for example, you may want to focus on slow-and-steady organic growth, at least for a season. Influencer marketing is best for serious artists who are willing to pay for rocket fuel.
But, again, it can be incredibly powerful. If you’re interested, you can learn more about our service here.
Final thoughts on TikTok for musicians
Alright – I hope the ideas above are helpful as you consider using TikTok to grow your own fanbase.
Two concluding thoughts as you mull things over:
1. Be intentional.
Don’t waste your time and effort; go in with a plan.
No, you’re not going to be able to completely routinize every aspect of your social media. That’s just not the way these platforms work. You’ll need to react to catch waves. (I’ve way overdone the surfing analogy. I’m sorry.)
But you can go in with a strategy.
Create story buckets. Set aside time to check trends. Maybe even set a Screen Time limit so that you avoid inadvertent 48-minute scrolling sessions.
Intentionality will pay dividends.
2. Be consistent.
I’ve seen too many artists start a TikTok channel, only to give up on it after a month. Worse, I’ve seen people who halfheartedly use the channel for a long time – which really means that they waste a bunch of time on it but don’t see any results.
If you’re going to grow on TikTok, then dive into it. Set a regular posting cadence and give yourself time to see if it works. I’d recommend six months of consistent posting, at the very least.
The math is pretty simple: The more at bats you give yourself, the better your chances are to hit a homerun.
With all of that said: You’ve got this.
Your audience is out there, and this is a platform with outrageous potential.
Here’s wishing you good luck as you work on tapping into it.
Written by Jon Anderson, founder of Two Story Melody