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How does a song break through on TikTok when it’s harder than ever to gain traction? According to ContraBrand’s latest report, the answer is artist-generated content (AGC).
Not influencer posts. Not your fans posting. Not paid ads. The most effective way to grow is when the artists posts themselves.
Sean “BrandMan” Taylor’s agency analyzed the top TikTok hits from 200+ artists from 20 different countries, and found that 35% of them blew up by posting their own videos.
This is music to the ears of record labels that have pushed artists to be more active on the short-form platform, but it likely sounds like nails on a chalkboard for artists who have resisted TikTok. Halsey, Florence Welch, Charli XCX, and others have voiced their frustration of their labels pushing them to create on TikTok.
you don’t need to dance
But a lot of that hesitation stems from the perception of TikTok’s viral dances. Sure, those were effective during TikTok’s hyper-growth phase in 2019 and 2020, but the platform has matured since then. The app has a billion monthly active users. Most of them could care less about the next viral dance.
This is the pattern that new technology follows. Early resistance stems from the early perception of the medium. In the early 90s, Mariah Carey made comments about MTV that sounded similar to the TikTok hesitation we hear today. A few years later, she went on to make some of the most iconic music videos of the decade. They didn’t try to imitate Madonna, they made it their own. The same is true for TikTok. The platform is bigger than a viral dance challenge.
Here are Sean’s thoughts on this:
“If artists can just open their mind and not start with what’s moving on the platform, think inward out, ‘hey what did I want to communicate? Now how do I communicate that on this platform?” That will save a lot of stress. This is nothing but another music video. Use that (60-second limit) box as a framework that will inspire creativity. ‘How can I communicate and make something really dope in 60 seconds?’”
TikTok’s return back to Earth
Every hyper-growth social media app eventually slows down growth and goes to a steadier pace. TikTok’s downloads are declining. This was inevitable.
Marketers who cleaned up during the hypergrowth phase have become frustrated. I’ve heard complaints both publicly and privately from A-List artists who are frustrated at the slow down. But the slow down is all relative.
“A lot of the pain people are feeling isn’t necessarily TikTok not being effective, it’s TikTok not being unreasonably effective.”
Part of why TikTok is slowing down is because copycat products are ramping up. Instagram has tried, and yet to succeed, at making its news feed into a For Your Page. YouTube just went live with its Shorts monetization program. Still, Sean says TikTok’s competitive advantage over competitors is its in-app culture.
“The thing that made TikTok so unique early on is it developed a culture…the users feel like they have the power to blow a song up on TikTok. It’s a completely different culture that you just can’t copy overnight.”
In our full podcast conversation, we talked even more about:
– how IG Reels and YouTube Shorts stack up
– TikTok as a marketing funnel
– examples of artists who have done well
Listen to the full episode here:
[1:51] TikTok entering its maturation stage
[5:39] Second wave TikTok music artists vs. first wave
[9:10] Biggest shift on TikTok for artists
[17:13] No, artists don’t have to post dance content
[24:00] YouTube shorts lack of culture
[26:29] YouTube’s advantage over TikTok
[31:31] The problem with IG Reels
[33:32] TikTok pushing Google for search dominance
[38:55] TikTok as a marketing funnel
[42:21] The rise of TikTok live
[46:10] Predicting where TikTok will be in three years
[00:00:00] Sean Taylor: One of the problems that people were having were them blowing up right? Without being able to connect to an actual face, right? So it solves so many of the problems that come with that, and even helps the problem of TikTok’s algorithm where people just hop on and start running things up with ads and you haven’t really even understood what your content looks like, that creates some algorithmic problems, which probably aren’t worth getting into, here, or maybe they are, but yeah. Man, artists generate content. It’s gonna be a love hate relationship for sure with artists, the labels, all of us, right? But, if anything, it’ll force collaboration and synergy between teams, in ways that it hasn’t before.
[00:00:42] Dan Runcie Intro: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from the executives in music, media, entertainment, and more. Who are taking hip hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:42] Dan Runcie: All right, today we are joined by my guy, Brandman Sean, Sean Taylor, who is back on the podcast for a second time now, and I wanted to have him on because there’s so much that’s happening with TikTok, with short form video and how artists are using it. And his company, the contraband agency just put out a report that dives deep into this, and he talks about this often on his platform, the Brandman Network. So Sean, let’s level for a little bit, and I feel like TikTok is in such an interesting place right now, 2023. It’s not some of that same rapid growth that it may have had a couple years ago, but it’s still so essential for artists. How do you feel about where the platform is right now?
[00:01:51] Sean Taylor: I think it’s in a really good space actually. It’s in a maturation space. The problem with that is people aren’t seeing hits come as easy on the platform. and they’re actually using that to downplay the platform and say, TikTok isn’t that impactful, or it’s not that big of a deal. It’s hard to get a hit on TikTok. The difference is it’s now a normal marketing infrastructure within your whole overall marketing stack. So yeah, there was this hot period where you were getting like gains that you probably didn’t even deserve. Right. Every shock, swish, nothing but net. Now you have to do what you’re supposed to do in every other space. So I think a lot of the pain that people are feeling isn’t necessarily TikTok not being effective. It’s TikTok not being unreasonably effective, unbelievably effective. The thing that made me get on TikTok, back in 2019. It’s in an interesting space, but I think it’s in a good space actually. And I can go deeper into that specific argument and why I see it that way. Cuz there’s some numbers and milestones that I kind of think of it and approach it from, but yeah, that’s where I think TikTok is right now. It’s new, it’s a viable marketing channel, but it’s not the marketing channel that everybody is going to be as excited about as they were.
[00:03:24] Dan Runcie: I’m glad you said this because there’s been a bunch of reports about how TikTok has slowed down about how artists are starting to complain, and I’ve heard many A-list artists, even privately and publicly complain that things are popping the way they used to. But this isn’t 2019 anymore. It may take some actual marketing expertise since some clever thinking about how to find things in. I remember one of the reports I said was talking about how you can’t just give some post or some link to Addison Rae and then hope that someone like that goes and blows the whole thing up for you and makes you a superstar. You have to find your niches and build from there. And in reading that, it’s like, well that sounds like what it’s like to grow any type of career, and that’s probably how it should be, right?
[00:04:11] Sean Taylor: Exactly. Should it be that you pay one person and everything just blows up. Not really. I would love it to be that way for me, you know? But look, that’s just the reality of how marketing works. So you can still get that number to grow and get millions of streams, but that millions might come a little bit slower. And now when it hits that 2 million mark, 3 million mark, probably even before that, it’s gonna take a lot more heavy lifting to get it over the hump where, That thing could just keep going like a rocket ship straight to 2030 and not stop, right? So it’s a great space to get things off the ground and create the spark, but going beyond that spark is more difficult.
[00:04:59] Dan Runcie: In past years, we saw record labels signing a bunch of artists that came from TikTok, and I would assume that because of this rocket ship success, people didn’t have the infrastructure behind them. A lot of those stories probably didn’t end up panning out the way that they thought they would, maybe even at a lower rate than the average hit rate for. Otherwise artists at a record label are assigned. But I would think now that things have matured a bit, the artists that are actually coming to the forefront are likely gonna have more behind them. And because of that, B, the potential to actually maybe have a more sustainable career than that first wave of artists who just benefited from a very aggressive area.
[00:05:39] Sean Taylor: Yeah. I mean, I think the thing is people hadn’t really seen anything like that before, right? Like yeah, there had been one hit wonder. That has happened and someone who’s seasoning the game probably understands what needs to take place. But to constantly have day after day someone popping out of nowhere like a breakneck speed level and trying to figure out how to bring infrastructure up, up under all these artists at the same time is a completely different story. Cuz it’s also a different story when you have these artists housed under you, and then things take off really fast. You’re taking them, you’re trying to create a deal and figure out how to sign them, and then create infrastructure. By the time some of these deals take place, a lot of that moment is already missed, right? So, it was a really weird space, and I’m sure there’s labels that have more of an infrastructure that’s prepared for that situation. It’s like, oh, if we bring somebody in from that particular climate, then there’s a specific path that we can take ’em. Whether we expedite some things or we start here versus there, I’m sure that’s there. But TikTok was really weird watching in the beginning because you had all these people blowing up and many didn’t even wanna blow up, right? Like you had kids just using the platform and blowing up, they were an artist or just a regular influence or whatever you call ’em. They were just doing what kids normally do on apps and became stars overnight, which is very different from the artist who wants to be an artist. And then they take off. These are kids who are in their experimentational experimentation phase, kind of just having fun playing with things. And then it might be a hit song, right in a bed without even them trying to pursue it. So it created this really interesting space on TikTok and unfortunately, where I saw early on there were so many artists I don’t wanna say artists, actually, less artists, more general content, creators falling prey to opportunist managers and companies because artists fortunately, have had a lot of education in these pages. I’m not saying artists don’t ever have bad deals and situations, but there’s a very common knowledge almost at this point that’s been put out for artists getting in bad deals, avoiding bad deals, what you should do, in the culture, that education is out there as a regular content creator. That information isn’t out there. Right. But it’s very similar. So I actually saw like a lot of kids being signed by managers who had nothing to do with the industry at all. They’re just like, “Hey, I’m just about to sign 51 situation I’m literally thinking about and he’s telling me, yeah man, I just signed 50 content creators right to a management deal.” And then thinking of it only from the standpoint of if I leverage these 50, then I’m gonna be able to get me a bigger deal, hopefully. But he doesn’t have any relationships in place. There’s no individual incentive to make any of the individual influencers blow up. It’s more just, Hey, let me get stable so I can leverage the stable and, most of those deals fell apart, down the road. Or hopefully the parents kind of figured it out. But I know some who got burned really bad, but things were moving so fast. Like it was crazy. So a lot of parents were. Okay, this guy knows two or three people in the industry and you know, but everybody in the industry knows two or three people. So, but for people who don’t have a child in the entertainment industry, and they never had any plans and they have no idea what to do, that sounds good. So TikTok was very crazy at the beginning. It was the wild, wild west. Now we’re in this period where I think everybody has figured it out. Not everybody, but many people have figured out how to create more infrastructure. The problem is now the game is harder and that’s how life works, right? It’s like, dang, the moment I figured this shit out. Right? Things change a little bit. but you referenced my report earlier. I think the thing that was the biggest shift was the artist has to do more work. And that’s what people feel more than anything. We could do everything and the artists were doing nothing and we were blowing songs. and now it’s like, dang, I gotta get my artist to participate. And we all know how hard it can be to get the artist to participate in some things, especially content, right? but you know, that’s created a space for those artists who truly do have a knack for content and that drive and honestly stamina to play that content. They’ve been able to make a lot happen, get a lot of organic streams, which makes it so much easier on the team cuz you still gotta do your job and make it, blow from there. But I know several artists that we work with who are getting their songs to 500,000 streams, 1 million streams, 10 million streams. Right. Any other form of marketing, just their content. So that’s a huge benefit, and that’s what I think the silver lining needs to be. The fact that we have that is still something we did not have in 2018 for music specifically, so that we need to appreciate and have gratitude for our blessings.
[00:11:00] Dan Runcie: Let’s dive into this a little bit because I think this point about artist generated content versus user-generated content is key. And I know it is a big part of your report as well, because I think for years now, we’ve heard so many people, even TikTok Head of Music just said this at the Nylon conference a couple days ago, was talking about how it’s so key to be able to get the fans, to make the videos and get involved and things like that. And while that’s still important, you’re saying what actually can move the needle even more is getting the artist, even if they’re reluctant to do it, getting the artist to do it themselves and having the two of them together and even more so the artist piece of it can really help push things forward.
[00:11:42] Sean Taylor: Right. 100%. See, we realized this in 2020, in the trenches, you see this guy post a video, right? And we construct this concept. and you get a hundred thousand streams and just off of your video. Right? And that was amazing at that time to really see that he got a hundred thousand streams. And oh, by the way, there weren’t really any replications to his video or sound. It had nothing to do with the dance. It hadn’t had anything to do with influencers at all. He had the right creative concept, right? Hundred thousand streams. And for the artist that he was, you know, you’re talking about pretty much no listeners, that’s a massive number, especially just from one post and even better a post from him. Right. With not much of a following at all. He probably only had like 20,000 followers on Instagram at the time. Right? So we saw that and then I devised this campaign with the artist. Ironically, I just got off a call with this artist. We did like a little Google chat named Fash and Kid in Australia, right? He has some followers, probably a hundred thousand, 200,000 at this time. literally never dropped the song a day in his life at this moment, right? And he’s like, “Yo, Sean, I’ve watched some of your videos and stuff on YouTube, and like, I wanna figure out how to release this song. I’m releasing it next week. What should I do? First of all, “Hey, don’t release it next week”, you know what I mean? Like, let’s talk. Right? So, we made it a month from there, we created this entire narrative driven campaign. And just from him posting it was all based on his post, right? I actually took the marketing method that I blew up my music festival with, before I was doing, like working with artists, and it was all organic posts, right? So I had a structure that I used, and that was literally just him posting on his page. He got 1 million streams on his very first song, right? So, It wasn’t one single post that made everything take off, but it was a system of post, and those were all pre, well, primarily pre-release. And then there were some things that were done, but this is 2020, so we’re like, man, just posting all right on your page can take you far. The problem, I won’t even say the problem was, but the thing is, paying influencers were still working like crazy at that time, right? So we didn’t have an incentive to like to lean in it as heavy for artists that, you know, we would, were a little bit harder to get onto the platform and make work. Now, it’s one of those things where, okay, look, we really want you to start here because the way things are set up today. If you don’t do this and create this foundation, a lot of that other stuff won’t bring anywhere near as big of a gain as it did. But yeah, back then we saw success with, or artist generated content, influencers. There were things that we called TikTok creators. We saw all these different types of games, but literally paying influencers was working so great at that time it was like, ah, why do anything else But yeah, artist generated content. Man, it’s the way, man, it is the foundation of how I believe. things should be ran today. But of course, the caveat with every artist still has a different path, right? So your artist generated content might look different or artist generated content. There are outliers where that just won’t be prevalent for you, but as a general way in a business approach. I love the fact that, one, you’re creating fans in visibility for no money, right? You know, however much it costs to create your content, but generally speaking, no money. Two, you’re testing. Songs before you actually put money behind them. Right? Three, if something blows, you already have a presence on the platform to connect people to. Because one of the problems that people were having was, were them blowing up right? Without being able to connect to an actual face, right? So it solves so many of the problems that come with that, and even helps the problem of TikTok’s algorithm where people just hop on and start running things up with ads and you haven’t really even understood what your content looks like, that creates some algorithmic problems, which probably aren’t worth getting into, here, or maybe they are, but yeah. Man, artists generate content. It’s gonna be a love hate relationship for sure with artists, the labels, all of us, right? But, if anything, it’ll force collaboration and synergy between teams, in ways that it hasn’t before.
[00:16:16] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I got the impression that from the TikTok head of music, making the comments about user-generated content, of course there’s plenty to back that up, but I also saw it as a bit of a positioning to not take the stance that I think some of the labels have taken, where I think that the labels have come a bit of the public enemy of the artists who don’t wanna be active on TikTok. We all saw the viral post that happened last towards the end of 2022. It was Florence, Florence of the machine and Halsey and others saying like, Hey, the label’s making me do this. But I feel like there’s so many ways to go about making short form videos and making content. How involved do you get with that piece of it? Cuz I think some of that is because people still think that artists need to be doing one of these like, you know, vertical TikTok dances that fit in something like they’re Jason Derulo or something like that, but you don’t necessarily have to do.
[00:17:13] Sean Taylor: No, you do not. So again, this is one of those things that I was telling people back in 2020, but the problem was, again, dancers were working so hard and so well, no one’s gonna believe you. Right? But we were only seeing the commercial level, right? And everything has levels to it, just like the industry, right? You have pop music and there’s some genres that. For less far reaching than pop, but they’re successful. Right. So that’s what I attribute seeing Dances in 2020 work on TikTok. However, there were other things that were working right? like people thought you had to be a super upbeat hip hop song, cash pages song that blew, was nothing of the sort. Right? But so I think that for one, people have to understand that it just goes back to being creative. At the end of the day, and unfortunately many artists stop thinking creatively once they leave the studio, right? And I don’t think it’s all the artists now. I used to just blame it on the artist where it’s like, bro, you’re supposed to be an artist. You wanna be creative, right? Artist means more than a musician. Musician is just music, but artist creativity, that’s what we’re looking at you for. You have to show creativity and how you present yourself in this content. But I think what happened was there was so much working in terms of these trends, and they saw so many. Finding success so fast, it kind of demoralized them into thinking I have to follow these specific formats to find success myself. Right? So when I hear TikTok, I hear TikTok in a specific way, not just another platform that I can distribute my video on. You know what I mean? It would be like, oh yeah, you could create a movie, but it has to be a romcom. That’s kind of what they’re hearing, right?. That’s not the truth though, right?
[00:19:08] Dan Runcie: It reminds me too, of what you used to hear of MTV back in the day as well. Right. A lot of artists, especially late eighties, early nineties, a lot of artists that went on to be huge music video artists resisted it and they would always have a bit of a you know, high brow about it. Like, oh, I’m not trying to be like the Sir Mix-a-lot baby who got back a music video, like dancing on, you know, butts and booty shaking and stuff like that. But they found their own way to make the platform unique years down the road when it became the main thing.
[00:19:38] Sean Taylor: That’s it, because it’s you. At the end of the day, you can create the content and the platform is just how you distribute it. Now, I think there’s something to be said for using the unique qualities of a platform, right? Just like albums. what people created, just like CDs impacted what people created. Just like the internet and internet culture has impacted, oh, shorter songs cause shorter intention, span longer songs. Cuz now we have more space to create. Like all those things were like, music has always been impacted by the mediums and the culture around it. Right. And I think for some reason we constantly fall into this trap of, you know, oh, SoundCloud music, TikTok music. You know, at one point in time there was I mean, well, people complain about, I’ve seen people complain about tape cassettes. You know, like when you look up enough, you’re gonna find everybody complaining about everything, right? And then the Grammy’s, what’s the Grammy’s formula? Everything has its success, but truthfully, I’m in their own formula for success. But truthfully, you know, especially in this independent business, you know, you don’t have to play every single game. I think sometimes we find ourselves wanting things that cause us to play a game we don’t want to, which is like that weird love hate thing. It’s like, oh, you know, black people shouldn’t pay attention and value the Grammys yet. We still want Grammys. Right. You know what I mean? It is that love and hate relationship. I think everybody’s doing that with different platforms in, in, in some form of fashion. and you asked earlier, Deep and involved that we get in people’s content creation. It’s varying, right? we don’t do it with every project, every person. It depends on the vision and also their willingness and the need that’s there. But, you know, we’ve gone as deep as recording things ourselves. I remember one campaign. This wasn’t artist generated content, it was an influencer, but we bought something off of Amazon to send her for her to wear in it because it connected with the idea. And she had like 5,000 followers at the time. And the video ended up doing like 2 million. Right. So we were like really A and R ing, cuz sometimes it’s, you know, TikTok is about narrative and with the presentation, so just hold, let me go to how many followers. Cuz the beauty of TikTok is you can not have a lot of followers and still get a lot of views.
But if so, if you find the right person and can contrast it in the right way. Right. You can make it move. Right. I don’t want to get into that campaign cause it might be semi uncontroversial in a way. I gotta explain
[00:22:23] Dan Runcie: We’ll save that one for offline then,
[00:22:25] Sean Taylor: yeah. We’ll say that one for, offline. For sure. For sure. But yeah, man, I mean, I think what I’ve seen is, if people can just open their mind and not start what’s moving on a platform and just think literally in Word out, “Hey, what do I want to communicate now? How do I communicate that on this platform?” It’ll save a lot of stress, particularly for the artists, because artists wanna do music videos. This is nothing but another video, right? So why can’t I in 60 seconds? Be creative. Use that box. That box is a framework that will inspire creativity. How can I communicate and make something really dope in 60 seconds? We’ve had an artist last August blow up, his profile from like 20K to 400K and did 2 million streams in about a month with very, very high quality videos. And everybody thinks you gotta be really low. To find success on TikTok and record it from your phone and have the bubbles. These were very, very high quality shots and editing, and it’s darker and it worked. Right. So it’s really just about dope content at the end of the day.
[00:23:35] Dan Runcie: Yeah, for sure. Let’s switch gears a bit. I want to talk. Talk’s, competitors that are also in this space wanna talk YouTube and Instagram. But let’s start with YouTube first, because you had recently put out a video where you were talking about YouTube shorts, their efforts there, and you said you’re not concerned about YouTube shorts’ impact because it just doesn’t have the culture that exists on TikTok. Can you talk more about that?
[00:24:00] Sean Taylor: yeah. So the thing that made TikTok so unique, early on was it developed a culture, like once it hit that network effect, I knew it wasn’t gonna go away overnight cuz there’s too much money involved outside of the government stuff. But that’s a different story. Right? And then culture, like people, have a different presentation and expectation on how you act on TikTok. It’s looser than Instagram. That was the beauty of it, right? So that created a culture. YouTube has an established culture and relationship that they have. their audience. YouTube isn’t as interactive. It’s a little closer to tv. You know what I mean? And Instagram’s a little bit more of a resume. Most people are putting on their best, their Sunday best, if you will. TikTok, we’re involved in this together. People feel like they have the power to blow a song up on TikTok. the users feel like they’re giving heavy feedback. You should drop this song. When is this gonna come out, right? It’s a completely different culture that you can’t just copy overnight. That’s where competitive advantages get created, right? Culture. Cause it’s very, very hard to mimic that. I think it’s gonna be successful, but it’s just not going to be a threat to TikTok in that specific way where, you know, it’s like a TikTok killer or something. It’s like the Jordan Stoppers. Oh yeah. You know, Jordan only scored 39 instead of 35. Cool. You might see.
[00:25:26] Dan Runcie: So if it’s thinking about the Kobe stopper thing, so if TikTok is Kobe Bryant then is YouTube shorts, Ruben Patterson.
[00:25:37] Sean Taylor: You too might wanna take offense to that, but in this analogy, yes.
[00:25:42] Dan Runcie: Yeah, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the YouTube piece, and I will give them credit. I think the trajectory of YouTube is greater than Ruben Patterson. No disrespect, but I do think that Lyor Cohen had said something interesting. Of course, he’s the head of YouTube and one of his big things is that the fact that YouTube shorts has the connection directly to the platform
[00:26:04] Sean Taylor: Yeah.
[00:26:04] Dan Runcie: on-demand listening happens, he feels like that conversion rate and that connection is stronger. And he didn’t name TikTok specifically, but he was essentially talking about the fact that TikTok doesn’t have that same type of win. I know they have Rezo, but it’s just not the same. What do you think about that? Cuz I think the underlying aspect of that is conversion and just being able to transport an audience from one to the other. What have you seen from that perspective.
[00:26:29] Sean Taylor: I think Lyor Cohen is extremely smart and savvy, and reading that statement. It was hilarious cuz you know the elephants in the room that he’s addressing and it was like this competitive moment happening. It was like, come on man. Say their name. Say their name. But you’re like, I’m not gonna give them any clout that was really, funny to read. But I think that they do have an advantage that TikTok doesn’t. Right in that way, the long form content and that mentality, I think it’s gonna be a lot harder for TikTok to get people to consume shorts on their platform than it is for No. It’s gonna be a lot harder for TikTok to consume long form content on their flat platform than it is gonna be for YouTube people to consume short form. Does that make sense?
[00:27:19] Dan Runcie: Yeah, that makes sense. And I feel like part of it too is the conversion rate is one thing. I don’t doubt that there’s likely could be a higher conversion rate, but I think that absolute number is still what makes the difference at the end of the day. And I just don’t know if the overall absolute number of people that are converting from. Hearing a song on TikTok and then going to stream that artist and then becoming a follower and an avid fan of that artist is necessarily going to be a number that’s ever smaller than what we may see otherwise from YouTube. I think YouTube has still had great strides in that area, but I just don’t see it coming to that level.
[00:27:56] Sean Taylor: no. Cause again, it’s about that culture, right? So two things, I’ll get to the YouTube TikTok second. But when we first got on TikTok and started working with some people on TikTok, it was ridiculous to see the conversion of people who left TikTok and went to Spotify. Instagram, these other places, but specifically, let’s talk about Spotify. Why was it so ridiculous? Because at that time, TikTok did not acknowledge the music on the platform at all, right? You had people hearing the song and then googling the lyrics to find the song name and then going to stream it, and it was happening in droves. That much friction told us, holy shit, when they get rid of this friction, it’s gonna go. And of course TikTok got rid of that friction. But pa the fact that people were doing that, like I remember telling some artists, yo man, you got like a dollar sign and this version of the song, and then it’s like no dollar sign. Like, and so people were having difficulty finding it. It’s like, bro, you’re ruining people’s ability to stream your song. Like that was a thing. And then people started to rename their songs or added lyrics in the parentheses, right? Because of the culture. And that was happening and they wanted to make sure people could find the song right. Now we see less of that. It goes back to like the mediums and how things are influencing. Now we see less of that cuz you can figure out what it is within TikTok and people know how to name it. So that transferability from TikTok to other platforms has just been there for so long and people almost expected it. It’s almost like TikTok is the megaphone, the amplifier. But then you don’t even really expect to go super deep on TikTok, right? YouTube, you kind of do expect to go deep, but when we. Look at the platforms that TikTok converted to, and this is where I say the competitive advantage of YouTube goes. YouTube was one of the greatest conversions from TikTok that we would see. Like so many people left TikTok to go to Spotify and YouTube. Instagram was last particularly for artists. Right? So now, yes, being on YouTube already, Is a great competitive advantage. I think there’s some fluidity issues that they need to solve. Like right now, from the phone, from your phone, I could take this video that we’re creating right now and say, yeah, I want 10 seconds to 20 seconds, and take that into a short and it’ll automatically be connected. But I can’t make a cool edited short that’s specific to the short format, and then say it’s from this video. Right. And that’ll make things even smoother because it’s hard to take a snippet from the long form content just from timestamps and that would be a good piece of short form content. So people have to be able to edit and then connect it back for that to really come into place. And also they would have to make it a little bit more obvious that you can do that because the culture is not yet to go from long. I’m in short form to long form within YouTube. I know it happens, but people aren’t naturally having that expectation. Oh shoot. This is probably from a larger video that’s on this platform. What people are seeing more on YouTube is actually, mm, it’s the opposite of what allowed TikTok to become what it became, and I don’t know how it’s gonna play out, so I’ll tell you what I’m saying.
[00:31:23] Dan Runcie: What are your thoughts on Instagram reels? I think you talked a little bit about it, how it’s a bit of a resume but where do they stand?
[00:31:31] Sean Taylor: I don’t like reels, in terms of the value add yet, it’s very inaccurate. So you’ll get higher numbers, less engagement, where it’s pretty clear it’s not going out to the right people. The best people you know, they’re, padding the numbers, so to speak. Right. It’s cool that it got more reach, but if it wasn’t accurate and I didn’t get that much following, what does it really mean? That’s where reels are at large. Now, can reels work and has it still helped some songs? Yes. It’s just not it’s not at the proportion that TikTok has been, and I think YouTube shorts are going. definitely, beat reels.
[00:32:11] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think the clear desire from Instagram to try to turn your entire feed into a for you page is forcing this content to not necessarily hit the right people, which is why. Yes, it could be good from a viral discovery thing where, okay, if you have a post that’s doing better than 80 or 90% of your other posts, then yeah, it may reach a larger than initially intended audience, but I don’t know if it could be necessarily relied on in the same type of way.
[00:32:41] Sean Taylor: Yep. I agree with you there. We’ll see if they figure it out maybe they should focus less on the Metaverse.
[00:32:52] Dan Runcie: Another thing that you had brought up a little bit earlier was about search in general and just how powerful that’s become on TikTok. I think it’s clear that they want to, well, I think TikTok is trying to do anything and everything. I know this is something for folks that follow Trapital been writing about this recently, all the things they’re getting involved with. But I do think search is one of those interesting things because they are trying to take on a Google Head on, and people have seen how, especially Gen Z, they may be more likely to look up something through TikTok than looking it up through Google. What do you see as the potential of that moving forward, and do you think that would be a credible threat to Google at some point?
[00:33:32] Sean Taylor: yes. You know why tutorial culture, that’s what TikTok cut into. And Instagram never did that. It was never really a place that you went to look up tutorials, right? So it’s less about music and entertainment and that side of things. It’s the fact that people are looking at recipes, right? How to fix things. And then once you have that, that’s what creates the. For looking things up in the, at the seo, right? it’s not that it can’t be created in other ways, but that’s like a hack. If I know I can go find this and, oh man, I can find it done in 60 seconds versus three minutes or 10 minutes because on YouTube the video’s not as valuable and might not go as far if I don’t do an intro and all this leads in, right? Oh, these videos won’t go straight to it. So they have a lot of ground to make on YouTube. But I think they’re going to succeed, I’m not into the speculation of which one’s gonna be number one. There might be days where it beats YouTube or whatever, but it’s going to be, a legitimate search engine. You know, Yahoo, Google at least.
[00:34:43] Dan Runcie: I do think that the tutorial piece is key, and I’m even thinking about times I’ve used it in the past. We bought a mattress recently, and of course you could Google search, what does this mattress like? But sometimes it’s easier to just put it in TikTok and have someone show me some unboxing video to show me what that’s like and compare a few. I liked it for that. I think more broadly in terms of all of the search pieces of it. I think that what Google has done in this space and even thinking about, you know, decades back about how they beat Legos and Alta Vistas, some of those others, I think it will be hard to ever replace that for everything that’s possible, that people would wanna search. But I do think that the video tutorial piece of it, which is a subsection of it, but I do think that that’s a unique place where they can, if you get core to the market there, you can figure things out. I also think that either misinformation or wasted just credibly have or understanding for users to know, okay, “What is legitimate?, What is not legitimate? Is a concern, and I think it’s maybe harder to do in a way where I think text, you can have some of those clear things come up where I think the nature of a viral platform wants to show things that you know, may be sensationalized to some extent through video. That may take time, but I think that’s one thing that will need to develop, especially on the TikTok side of things for sure.
[00:36:02] Sean Taylor: See what you’re explaining is the different personalities of seo. Just like we talk about the different personalities of TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. So Google dominates damn near Monopoly. You couldn’t just be a Yahoo or actually, truly become a threat, but what you could. Was be Amazon and eventually have so much shit on there that people just think, “Oh, if I want a table, I’m gonna go Amazon, look for a table, I’m not gonna go to Google”, right? Or you could be a YouTube, right? And have so many videos. If I want a video tutorial, I’m just gonna go to YouTube, right? So you enter the search engine market from the side versus, you know, the [inaudible] so I think TikTok has successfully gotten there. and even that personality being short form is something that attributes to that and the personality that Google will probably hold on to,in the long term for sure is probably gonna be the more scholarly approach, right? The more credible approach because of those other platforms. that’s almost in conflict with what makes things move and the way people use them, and incentives that are in place.
[00:37:15] Dan Runcie: Right. That makes sense. That makes sense. The other thing too, that it’d be good to get your thoughts on with TikTok is I think a lot of this conversation and a lot of how people have been measuring the success for TikTok is that conversion from TikTok and broader social engagement to streams, what are you seeing though from the next level down? From how looking at TikTok itself can eventually translate to concert ticket sales, or whether it’s V I P clubs or other high end opportunities that fans are engaging it with an artist.
[00:37:50] Sean Taylor: It’s there. We’ve already had artists do that. The difficulty is the geography of it all. So you can do that, but you aren’t completely sure that the video is going to go viral enough within your own audience, right? Because still, especially like most of last year, you still can drop a TikTok and it’s mostly gonna be seen by new people, especially for people earlier on, right? So if all of your followers aren’t necessarily going to see your posts, it’s gonna be new. then that creates this issue with going deep with your audience, right? It’s great for going viral and gaining and blowing up fast. That’s why it happened, right? That built TikTok in a sort of way to show it to more new people than people who are following you. But then at some point it becomes, well, what are my followers really worth? right on TikTok. And I think some people are starting to figure that out. Like, man, I don’t know if this really matters all that much. It really only matters what the individual video itself does, right. So the problem with that, if I’m doing a show and I don’t know if my followers will see it, or I have no idea if it’s good, or enough of video because it’s outside of my normal format to get enough people to see it in general. Then, man, that’s not predictable enough. It could be my strategy, but it’s not predictable enough. Now, the advertising might come into play, which is a different conversation, but there’s that, and then again, also, who’s gonna see it geographically in the world? We have no, you know, way of controlling that. Again, outside of ads so far. It’s definitely something that’s useful for selling things like merch, for creating awareness for your shows, but the best way we’ve seen it with shows for the most part, is almost to talk about your tour as a whole, right?. So you bring awareness that multiple are going to happen, and then if your artist is down for it and it kind of works within your format, you can also vlog in a way, or like let people know, oh yeah, I’m gonna be in Atlanta tonight. Right? So they see and get reminded that you are on tour, right? So it’s trying to create this awareness of all the spaces and places that they will be going. And then also reminding them that you’re in process of this to remind them, oh yeah, when he’s gonna, when is he gonna beat in my city? That’s kind of like the best middle ground we’ve found. But it’s hard to be like, Hey, I’m gonna be in Atlanta next week and all my Atlanta people and expect all the Atlanta people to actually see that and convert.
[00:40:27] Dan Runcie: Right. it’s a funnel at the end of the day, right? And TikTok sits at the top of it, even higher than some other social media platforms, right? And then from there, it’s always going to be hardened, honestly foolish to an extent. If your main message on the top of the funnel awareness platform is, “Hey, Join my V I P club or join my Patreon or buy tickets to my concert, right?” You need to introduce people, let them know who you are, and maybe at that next level of engagement, then you can start to push more of those things. Then you can start to have more of these things come through, because there’s just gonna be less friction there and you’re doing the job that should be done at each level of the.
[00:41:08] Sean Taylor: I agree man. I think, like you said, at the end of the day, it always goes back to the fundamentals of it and there might be aberrations. Give us more for moments of time, but things are always gonna default back to that basic infrastructure and use the thing with the right expectations versus expecting everything from it.
[00:41:30] Dan Runcie: right. The other thing that I’ve thought a lot about for this conversation is, and even for reading the report and rolling into the show notes, so others can take a look at it as well, but thinking about how artists generate content and having artists push is what the wave is. At least at this particular moment. And I think there’s a lot of reasons to think that yes, this is what makes sense now moving forward, but we also know how quick these things change and how things have evolved. Do you see another element, like I know eventually gaining steam eventually, I know that we talked about ads, we talked about influencer campaigns and just UTC and how a lot of these things were stronger and now relatively weaker to artists generated campaigns. Is there another thing that you think is going to play a role or that we may see another shift in this.
[00:42:21] Sean Taylor: The dark horse is TikTok lives. Everybody’s actually. Investing more in a live culture in general when you look at YouTube, as well. but TikTok lives the way they use that for you. Page is ridiculous, man. On Instagram, you’re gonna see the lives of people that you’re following. Again, on TikTok, you can go live and people will discover, right? It’ll pop up on the people’s For You page, and that’s a different paradigm, right? I’ve seen it live when my partner was live where all of a sudden, like thousands of people came in, right? Because TikTok was feeding him to so many people. and then he would see it also trickle off. Whereas like experimenting, they wanna find a live that’s engaging in a way that content isn’t, moves up the algorithmic letter, right? So they’re, look, that’s how they display lives. So the fact that you can blow up doing lives, it’s a completely different paradigm because it’s like having a show but the people who do it well, they’re getting money in these lives. A lot of money. I’ve seen people make a lot of money in their lives, but it’s also a great format to build a relationship far deeper than you can through individual content and lead people over to buy tickets. We’ve used lives to like getting emails and, I mean, I did one campaign even back in 2020. , that artist Fash we probably got 10,000 emails more so from him going live, not more so, only from him going live. Actually, he even use a little bit of IG live. So the fact that you can do that is going to create this other performance skill that artists will have.
[00:44:06] Sean Taylor: Almost like being a salesman, right? But doing it in a way where you give the presentation and the ask isn’t so blatant. it’s, we’re going into this climate that’s going to breed so many different types of artists like that have these, you know how you could be an artist that plays an instrument or you could be an artist that sings, maybe you could do multiple, where there’s now these soft skills that we’ll see artists, oh man, this dude is, he’s just a salesman and he knows how to entertain people on live. And that’s how he plays his game. This person still is just a pure musician, or this person creates a really dope content in the box of the regular feed. There’s gonna be things like that. And the thing is, these other platforms are, you know, homogenous in many ways. They keep copying each other. So that culture that starts on TikTok, it’s not just a TikTok thing. I always communicated it as a new language to learn because the new generation would be used to hearing and seeing things and consuming things in this format. So they’ll wanna see it on other platforms. And inevitably, right, like we have an hour podcast, two hour podcasts, and people were like, Hey man, can you make this in 60 seconds? Like they expect to be able to learn something really valuable that’s gonna change their. You know, in literally 60 seconds. I mean, we literally have had those conversations and seen those comments, but everything’s not, you know, how you bake a cake? People like you can’t rip at everything and change your artist’s career in 60 seconds. But that’s what we’re seeing, like live is truly a dark horse, and I think it is gonna become more prevalent in TikTok and YouTube as well, to be honest.
[00:45:45] Dan Runcie: No, I can see that happening definitely just with the way things are going. But, last question before we let you go here though. So let’s fast forward three years. 2026. Is TikTok still in the dominant position that it is right now? And if it isn’t, is it because of geopolitical concerns or is it because of another competitor that now has the next big thing?
[00:46:10] Sean Taylor: If it isn’t geopolitical, I think it’s gonna be pretty dominant from what I’ve seen. in terms of their vertical integration and investment, particularly in music. It’s just nothing like any other platform like you’ve seen, I mean Sound On, right. Rezo. Right. It’s just different in what they’re trying to do. They have deals that they’ve offered artists. Right. Which is really nice. Right. And unique because, oh, you’re on, sound on and you. You have a song that blows up using their distribution platform. They have all the data. So now we can offer you a deal and you don’t have to pay it back cuz it’s gonna be paid back through the royalties. We’re probably using the algorithm to calculate how much we should give you anyway. Right? This is already happening. Right. So the way they invest in it, I think it’s just gonna be hard to get a pool away from it in three years. again, it’s going to. More of a norm, less hot in its way, but I think they’re gonna be pretty dominant in three, three years down the road. Yeah. I’ll, I’ll leave that at that.
[00:47:10] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I’m with you on that. I think three years, because even though I do think that TikTok has been the fastest to grow to a billion users, at least what we’ve seen from a social app, I do think that the next app will probably be even shorter just thinking about how much faster adoption is, but. It still took TikTok several years to get to this point, so I think maybe five, six years would be a different conversation. But no, I agree with you. Three years. If it ends up being shut down, it’ll be for some geopolitical concerns, but we’ll see between now and then. We’ll have to check in again at some point if any of that ends up going in that direction. But Sean, it’s been a pleasure man. Thank you for coming on and for people that wanna learn more about your insights on TikTok and the stuff you’re doing at Contraband Agency, where should we reach out?
[00:47:56] Sean Taylor: Brandman Network on YouTube is a nice place to start. You know, you watch the podcast or you just go to no labels necessary on, Spotify, but no labels necessary is our podcast. So type in no labels necessary on YouTube or, or Spotify. At the moment, I think the podcast is probably the best place to go. But if you’re immediately interested in services and want to speak with our team, that would be contraband.agency. There’s no.com, www.contrabrand.agency
[00:48:28] Dan Runcie: Good stuff. All right. Thanks again, Sean. Appreciate you.
[00:48:31] Sean Taylor: Always good speaking with you man.
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