‘Hey, do you want a sofa?’
Indie-pop artist Thomas Headon has cultivated a dedicated fanbase via TikTok. For Gen Zs, it’s the no1 way to discover music — old and new
It wasn’t so long ago that a musician would staple a poster advertising their next gig on a telephone pole, then hope someone would show up and they’d finally get their big break. Now, artists are finding their audiences by posting 15-second videos featuring their music on TikTok.
The video-based social media app has sharply gained popularity in recent years, and with usage accelerating during the pandemic, it now ranks fifth in the top 10 apps worldwide. Featured videos range from dances, challenges, and daily vlogs but the app has also become a hub for aspiring musicians and a source for recommendations for new music to beauty products, especially with Gen Z who make up 60% of users on the app, according to TikTok.
Thomas, Tatum, and the sofa
Upcoming indie-pop artist Thomas Headon has cultivated a dedicated fanbase over the past year, largely to his engagement with them on social media and sharing his songs on TikTok. Promoting his recent single, Nobody Has To Know, Headon promised that anyone who made a video on the app, using the song, would have a chance to win a sofa that he would personally deliver to their home.
The challenge, inspired by the opening lyric of the song ‘We’re making out on your sofa’, had many contenders from eager fans hoping to meet the singer. However, the winner wasn’t a fan at all, simply someone in desperate need of a new sofa. Tatum, 23, a music journalist and studying an MA in Creative Journalism had stumbled upon Thomas’ video on her TikTok and it couldn’t have come at a better time for her and her flatmate.
“I’m not gonna lie I actually hadn’t listened to Thomas’ music before seeing the TikTok”, says Tatum. “My flatmate and I moved to London in September and we accidentally ordered a children’s size sofa so when I saw A TikTok of a guy giving away a couch I was like okay I need to somehow win this competition”.
In September, Tatum decided to take a chance and made a video with her flatmate on her TikTok account (@taytoom) using Headon’s song. The video showed the pair sitting on the unfortunately small sofa and having a laugh about it. The text over the video read ‘Thomas please give us a sofa we accidentally bought a children’s one for our new flat lmao’.
“It ended up getting a lot more views and likes than I anticipated it to”, she says with the singer messaging her on Instagram weeks after posting the video asking, “Hey, do you want a sofa?” to which Tatum was all too happy to reply, ‘yes I do’.
Personally delivered to their home with tickets to his then-upcoming tour, Headon gained a new fan as Tatum reveals, “I listen to his music now and I really like it”. A shining example of how using the platform has enabled artists to grow and promote their music. “TikTok definitely has the potential to sort of break an artist or blow up an artist that might not have otherwise had that audience”.
The challenge soon became a defining moment for Headon as he teased, ‘we gave away a sofa to this song’ before playing the single at every show of his first UK tour in November. “When we went to his show, we bought one of those posters that say, ‘we’re making out on your sofa’ and then the people selling merch were like wait you’re the sofa girls”, says Tatum, “it was a very unique way to market a song”.
As artists so frequently promote new music on the app, users have turned to it as a frequent source of inspo. A quick Instagram poll revealed 68% of respondents often listen to songs first heard through TikTok.
“I would say maybe 30 or 40 percent of the music I listen to were people that I originally found from TikTok”, says Tatum, “it’s definitely changed the way people discover music”.
For Doja Cat, her biggest hit, Say So, spent 37 weeks on the UK charts as the catchy pop song was danced to countless times with an impressive 12.5m videos made to the song. Nominated in the Grammy Awards 2020 for Record of the Year, Say So was TikTok’s 5th biggest song in 2020.
Old hits are making a comeback thanks to TikTok too. In 2020, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song Dreams re-entered the charts following a video made by the user @Doggface208 as he blissfully skated along to the tune whilst sipping on some cranberry juice. There isn’t an exact science to videos blowing up on the platform, but, for whatever reason, 82 million viewers loved it and the song was suddenly topping the charts once again.
Not just pop songs
TikTok’s influence doesn’t just stop at pop music. It seems it is now changing the musical theatre industry too.
What began as an idea for a musical by user @abigailbarlowww, has now gone on to become a full concept album and an on-stage musical. Abigail Barlow originally posted a video to TikTok of herself singing a song she wrote, imagining it to be part of a musical of the Netflix hit Bridgerton, if one were to be made.
Users loved the song Ocean Away so much that they demanded to see more from the singer. Barlow went on to create, alongside her friend, Emma Bear, the concept album, The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical. Little did they know, it would go on to be nominated in the 2022 Grammys for ‘Best Musical Theater Album’.
The creativity is endless with TikTok as various users similarly came together to create a musical version of the Disney Pixar film, Ratatouille. During a time when theatres across the globe had to close, the musical was turned into a live-streamed event — even the likes of Adam Lambert got involved to put on a (virtual) show. Whilst this TikTok-born musical hasn’t quite made it to the stage (we’re still holding out hope), it did raise over two million dollars for The Actors Fund.
Unlike its predecessor, Musical.ly, TikTok seems to have made its mark and is here to stay. But what does the future hold for the app and the music industry?
Earlier this year TikTok announced that users would be able to log in to third-party apps with their TikTok account, similar to signing up to a new platform with Google or Facebook. Perhaps this will become an option for Spotify or other music apps, directly connecting your music to TikTok. It is unsure whether this will happen or what this could mean for your listening habits.
One thing is for certain, TikTok’s influence on the music industry isn’t over yet.