I hate TikTok. But I recently found an artist using it in a way I think is really interesting / effective.
Will Paquin got kind of famous on the platform (~260K followers) for posting videos of himself impressively finger picking an electric guitar in weird places.
Like, he plays “Smoke on the Water” while smoking a pipe on the water. Stuff like that. It’s mostly pretty dumb, but it’s very slightly funny, and the guitar work is solid.
Standard TikTok stuff.
But here’s what’s interesting from a music-promo perspective: He tests out bits and pieces of new songs to his audience, and if they catch, he records and releases them.
For example, he posted like 20 times about his newest song (“21”) before it was out, teasing a verse from it in December 2020 and then eventually dropping it in April 2021.
I think if nobody had engaged with it, he would’ve scrapped it.
This is kind of the opposite of what most upstanding, “truly artistic” musicians do.
Most of us pour our souls into our songs as we create them. We write and record tracks without running them by much of an audience (maybe we demo them at live shows or something if we’re not in a global pandemic). Then, when we’ve got the masters, we start trying to promote what we’ve already made, hoping it’ll resonate with other people, too.
This can obviously work.
But it’s interesting that indie artists are now doing it the other way: Putting out a track only when there’s interest already built up for it.
It makes sense. Think of a brand like Starbucks or something – they don’t release a new product until they’ve verified that there’s demand for it. They run tons of surveys and focus groups before they take the time to queue up everything that’s needed to actually produce an Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso.
They don’t make something until they know people will buy it.
Promoting your music to an audience before you actually make it could potentially save you a ton of time. It could also lead to impressive results; “Chandelier”, the first track Paquin put on Spotify (trialed way ahead of time on TikTok), quickly garnered over 6M streams thanks to the buzz he’d already built. (Note that he always links to his Spotify pre-save for like three months before his songs come out.)
That said, two thoughts on doing this:
1. You need an audience for this to work.
You can’t get data / feedback on your songs if you don’t have anyone to test your music on. Paquin built his audience, then made original music based on their preferences.
There are ways around this – in my book I recommend running your songs by your personal connections – but the truth is that it’s way easier to understand how your music will be received if you already have an audience to give you feedback.
2. You need to figure out what your end is.
Okay, this is why the approach I’ve just outlined bugs me: It’s based on the end goal of making popular music.
In other words, if you only focus on making and releasing what people will stream and buy, then your music is just a product, rather than an end in itself. It’s just a means toward an audience.
Look at the flip side: If you make music because you want to express yourself or just because you love it, music is the goal. Yes, you want people to relate to it, but even if nobody does, you’ll be glad to have made it.
I think, ideally, music should be both a means and an end. It’s worthwhile to make even if nobody listens to it. But it can also be used to build a community. And that’s worthwhile, too.
Anyway, food for thought. Next time you start working on a song, think about running it by your audience waaay before it’s out.
Most importantly, just make more music.