If you’ve invested countless hours scrolling on TikTok, you’ve probably curated your For You page (FYP) into a unique mix of aesthetic recipes, viral choreographies, weird pet edits, and therapeutic stories. With time, you’ll find yourself with a wardrobe, personality, and Spotify account completely influenced by TikTok. And almost inexplicably, people without TikTok accounts will have the same.
If you examine TikTok closer, you’ll see that the app’s indiscriminate algorithm catapults relatively unknown products, sounds, and people to fame. Once something goes viral on TikTok, it’s going to become famous on every other platform. All of us now want the same sunset lamps, crave the famed feta pasta bake, and know the steps to “Own Brand Freestyle.” For musicians and sound creators, TikTok has proven to be an especially great way to get exposure and streams.
Lil Nas X demonstrated this in 2019 when he released “Old Town Road” on the short-form video platform. Innumerable memes and videos adopted the song, helping it stay on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for more than 17 weeks (via Billboard). Doja Cat also currently has over 55 million monthly listeners on Spotify after TikTok influencer Haley Sharpe’s choreography to “Say So” went viral, catapulting her career to new heights. Still, one question remains: Do musicians and creators of TikTok sounds make money?
You can find TikTok sounds getting what is now called clout everywhere. On YouTube, for example, TikTokTunes, a large account posting popular TikTok sounds, currently has over 5 million subscribers. On Instagram, the official TikTok Music page charts “talent and rising trends,” while Spotify churns out updated playlists with viral hits every other week. But apart from insane exposure, entertainment lawyer Kurt Dahl says that most artists don’t earn a lot of money from TikTok (via Lawyer Drummer). Dahl explains that TikTok signed deals with many record labels wherein the app pays a “proportionate share of TikTok’s subscription revenue” to the label — and then to the artist. However, that amount is not a lot because most sounds on TikTok are a fraction of the actual song created.
Tech music company Haulix goes further to explain that TikTok royalties are also not entirely dependent on views and streams; instead, it depends on the number of videos that use the sound. While TikTok hasn’t revealed how its payment works, a 2019 estimate revealed that sound creators may get paid $0.03 per video (via Music Gateway). So, for instance, you’d make around $300 if 10,000 videos used your sound.
Clearly, TikTok doesn’t pay the bills. But considering the success of artists like Benee, Doja Cat, and Sam Fischer, we’d keep the app around for exposure.