Why TikTok could become Apple Music’s scariest rival

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2020 is the year everyone wants to be TikTok famous.
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Photo: Aaron Yoo/Flickr CC

It’s the year 2020 and absolutely everyone is making a streaming service, including TikTok.

The budding social network is hard at work inking licensing deals for its upcoming music streaming service, Resso, that will compete against Spotify and Apple Music. TikTok owner ByteDance reportedly struck a deal with the agency Merlin, which represents tens of thousands of artists, paving the way for the company to launch its music app globally.

Shifting focus from being a video-sharing app to creating a music platform may seem like an odd move for TikTok. But after months of binging on TikTok videos, I’m convinced it could become the biggest threat to Apple Music and Spotify.

For those still unfamiliar with the fast-growing social network, TikTok is something like a mashup of Vine, Instagram and YouTube. Viewers consume all TikTok content on smartphones. And TikTok offers some great tools so users can create unique videos all inside the app. One thing you’ll also notice when first diving into the app is everyone is singing and/or dancing. While it looks cringey at first, this is where TikTok shines.

TikTok scores music label deals

The vibe on TikTok's Resso service is totally different than Apple Music
The vibe on Resso is totally different than Apple Music.
Photo: Resso

TechCrunch reported today that not only did TikTok ink a deal with Merlin, it has also secured deals with other major labels. However, the company has been restricted from talking about the details publicly.

Securing music-usage rights is incredibly important for TikTok to become profitable. Artists currently receive a meager payout when their songs go viral on the platform. That, in turn, causes controversy in the music community. Giving artists an avenue to get paid off their TikTok success will encourage them to participate in the platform. Proper licensing also gives TikTok’s creative community more tools to play with. Plus, it erases the worry that videos will get taken down over copyright claims. And, if TikTok successfully spins off a music service, it could finally give the app a serious revenue stream.

Details on the launch of Resso remain under wraps. But the company is already giving some people a taste of the experience. The app is currently in testing in India and Indonesia. You can visit the Resso app homepage right now.

Community and expression appear to be the main focuses of the app. Apple Music and Spotify are officially on notice. Resso is not going to be just another Spotify knockoff.

TikTok is the culture

When Apple Music launched in 2015, Jimmy Iovine said he wanted the service to be the new MTV. It was going to be the place that put a human face on music. Tastemakers like Beats 1 Radio DJ Zane Lowe were supposed to build the app into a pop culture hub. That never really happened, though. Apple Music comments on pop culture and enjoys great access to artists, but it doesn’t set the agenda. TikTok does.

While Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music and Google Music built nearly identical music services just with different playlists, TikTok gives users a way to interact with music and make it their own. None of the current music apps deliver a very strong social component. But that’s where TikTok excels.

TikTok users can take a sound or song anyone posts and reuse it to create their own unique videos. This fosters a meme culture where songs go viral not because of some paid tastemaker or software algorithm, but because a huge audience using the app connect with it in some way.

Making a TikTok hit

“The Box” by Roddy Ricch is a great example of how TikTok can propel artists from obscurity to the top of the charts. Rich’s hit song panders to the TikTok audience with its squeaky opening, which has been used to hilarious effect in nearly 1 million videos. The song went viral on TikTok and ended up beating Justin Bieber’s new song to become the most popular song in the country.

TikTok adds a fun spin on music discovery that Apple Music and Spotify can’t match. Predicting which artists will go viral is almost impossible. In fact, lesser-known artists usually get the biggest boost. Over the past seven months of watching TikToks, I’ve built up a playlist of more than 100 great songs that became popular on TikTok. I probably wouldn’t have heard of a lot of artists that I now love were it not for their jams going viral in TikTok videos. Apple Music and Spotify served up some decent playlists for me in the past. However, I don’t have a connection to the songs those services suggest.

The only problem with music going viral on TikTok is you have to listen to the full songs on a third-party app, like Spotify or Apple Music. If TikTok offered a second app, where I could access my curated music and talk to friends about it, I’d subscribe to that in a heartbeat. I’m betting the company thinks most of its other users would, too.