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Organic content drives artists’ TikTok success, new research indicates

- Global report by ContraBrand reveals two thirds of TikTok’s viral hits are sparked by organic content, with no spend on advertising or influencers
- Artist-generated content the most prevalent route for tracks to go viral, driving a third of breakouts
- Overnight viral success is rare; half of new breakout artists have been on the platform for 18+ months
- TikTok is lowering the barrier to entry for DIY talent, most breakout artists aren’t signed

A report by creative consulting agency ContraBrand into TikTok music marketing trends indicates that organic content wins out over paid tactics as the main driver for viral TikTok success. 

Analysis of TikTok’s weekly charts in the first half of 2022 reveals that, among tracks that charted in the TikTok Top 200 and then went on to reach over a million Spotify streams, nearly two thirds (63.8%) achieved this solely through organic posting by the artist and other TikTok users. Artist-generated content (AGC) drove 35.5% of these breakout hits, whereas influencer marketing and paid ads were responsible for driving traction in only 9.1% and 2.5% of cases respectively. 

Appearing to support the idea that TikTok is opening up new opportunities for unsigned talent, ContraBrand’s report notes that 56% of the 208 artists whose tracks featured in its report were not signed to a label. Unsigned artists were also revealed to outperform their major and indie label counterparts when it came to the number of times artists posted a breakout track on average before it reached the 100,000 TikTok views milestone.  

With artists’ own TikTok content the most prevalent route to viral success, the report also dives into the patterns in artists’ activity on the platform. With only a few outliers experiencing overnight success, half of the artists relying on AGC had been active on TikTok for at least 18 months before their track went viral, indicating that persistence is key. 

The study, titled ‘How Artists are Going Viral on TikTok in 2022’, was compiled through analysis of all 20 of TikTok’s weekly Top 200 Tracks by Country charts compiled by Chartmetric from January 1 2022 to June 30 2022. The study looked specifically at tracks released in 2022, which went on to become respective artists' most streamed songs in their Spotify catalog, with a minimum of one million streams. 

ContraBrand co-founder Sean Taylor (AKA BrandMan Sean) commented: “We first began to realize the power of artist-generated content on TikTok in 2020 and it has since dramatically decreased the cost to break a song for our clients. It is arguably the single most powerful method for upcoming artists to not only build a following, but get streams and sell merchandise online without ever having to tour.” 

Joshua Coase, Head of Research, added: ”Many artists are yet to realize how much power is in their own hands and that their success on TikTok will not be defined by starting a trend or through paying influencers to promote their music. The 74 artists who landed their biggest hit to date through creating their own organic content in 2022 are testament to this and will hopefully act as trailblazers for many more artists to follow. This report will challenge people’s perceptions of TikTok and encourage them to think about promotion and content creation differently.” 

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