Memes and music

A really interesting thing happened a few months back. I am a musician and a track I had made was all of a sudden getting millions of hits on a tracking system we use to see what we'll be paid on (specific to streams)

We found we had featured in some random Malaysian (?) animal video but because the video is only 20 seconds long we won't be paid (has to be a minimum of 30 second for payment)

Here's the video: smart buffalo - YouTube

It's so interesting how something totally unrelated to the original artist/music/genre is ripped out of context and used for something new. I see this happening a lot on tiktok and has, for many musicians actually given them a springboard to bigger things.

I think unless the meme is based on the music itself such as The Caretaker set up around his set of albums "Everywhere at the End of Time" there wouldn't be much connecting to the background music.

The Caretaker was actually able to still have the context of the original music hold when it was taken over as a tiktok meme in 2020/2021 by teenagers stating that it "made them feel as if they had dementia" (Although this warped into 'this music gives dementia symptoms)

It's totally random what will and won't be used or even if it will still have the same context. I'm interested to hear others thoughts on this and maybe some experiences too.

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Hyping up music on TikTok has been a strategy for a long time now, as you point out (e.g. as a way to build pre-release demand).

It's since become a popular (and apparently saturated) strategy to engineer viral hits on TikTok:

  • Charli XCX posted a TikTok that suggested her label asked her to make her eighth TikTok in a week.
  • English singer-songwriter FKA Twigs said “all record labels ask for are TikToks. ... I got told off today for not making enough effort.” The video is no longer available on TikTok.
  • Florence And The Machine added that her label was asking for “low fi TikToks” — a reference to social media posts that have unpolished or rough sounds.
  • Author Margot Harrison wrote in December 2021 for Seven Days that she joined TikTok to spread awareness around her work. She said she faced self-esteem issues when her posts wouldn't go viral.
  • Comedian Kyle Gordon, who has seen 56.9 million likes for his comedic videos, told Fast Company that he has been concerned viral posts won't translate into people attending his live shows. He also said he's struggled to find a consistent form of success.

The Caretaker was an unusual case where the memes, anlaysis videos, remixes, etc. all retained the same theme and built up on the lore of the original. It's usually harder for people to find their way to the original artist in a way that converts listeners into income for the artist. DJs and rappers announcing themselves in their tracks (or giving shout-outs) seems like responses to similar needs, but I'm not sure on the history of this practice. It's too bad that you missed out on the payout for the music being used in the smart buffalo video. Maybe you should repost the video to TikTok.

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TikTok has become known for launching previously unknown artists (and creators generally) into stardom. I think it's impressive that it's consistently done so for a few years now, but the kind of 'rags to riches' sort of stories people have about artists on the platform also drags big labels and their already-famous artists to the platform to tap into that kind of effect.

The recent onslaught of big artists like Halsey complaining that their art is being held hostage by their labels until they put out a viral video are both unsurprising and I think the issue that they raise (regardless of whether Halsey and other big artist's complaints are genuine or part of a campaign to manufacture outrage to drive clicks), a real issue. Being a professional musician only rarely allows a musician to simply make the music they want, and only make music. Bands are brands, and you need to interview, generate publicity and so on. Social media just shifts all this content-making and curating onto the artist, and learning to generate virality is a full-time job in itself, and being full-time hardly guarantees anything. I work with a digital publisher with people whose only job is to make articles and videos get clicks and it's not uncommon for a video posted on TikTok in the morning to be pulled and republished in the afternoon to see if it can get traction because it's all guesswork.

I quite like the music of the artists that make it on the platform, but I think the fireworks of their success has led to many other artists to feel the need/be forced to try replicate the blueprint.

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