Two rising Country stars who landed major label record deals after breaking out on TIKTOK shared their stories last night (2/4) in a webinar hosted by the NASHVILLE chapter of the ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT MUSIC PUBLISHERS (AIMP). MERCURY’s PRISCILLA BLOCK and RCA’s ANDREW JANNAKOS detailed their surprisingly similar roads from viral fame to record deals.
Both of the artists said they had the wrong impression about TIKTOK before experimenting with it by posting cover songs. “I thought it was a dancing app, and thank you JESUS it wasn’t,” said BLOCK. Agreed JANNAKOS, “I thought TIKTOK was just these kids having fun and dancing … I’m not a 17-18 year old kid doing these trends.”
BLOCK said she began posting to the app at the start of the quarantine last year “because I had nothing better to do.” She added that there was initially “no strategy” behind her experimentation. “I didn’t really know the importance of jumping on viral moments until I put ‘Just About Over You’ on TIKTOK.” After fans blew up views on that video, she said, “That’s when I decided I had to run lightning speed with this one.”
Similarly, JANNAKOS said the morning after his wife posted a video to TIKTOK of him singing along to the track of his “Gone Too Soon” while cooking, he woke up a viral star. “That’s when I realized the power of TIKTOK.” From there, he said, labels started calling. His song went for radio airplay via RCA this week, he’s in the midst of a virtual radio tour, and “I don’t know what is happening with my life,” he added with a laugh.
The artists were joined on the webinar by the A&R reps who signed them: UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP NASHVILLE EVP/A&R BRIAN WRIGHT and SONY MUSIC NASHVILLE Dir./A&R MARGARET TOMLIN. Additional panelists were artist manager ANDREW COHEN, owner of COHENCIDENCE PROJECTS, and webinar moderator MARISSA TURK, an associate day-to-day manager at SMACKSONGS.
Both A&R execs said TIKTOK has forced them to move quite a bit faster on some artists, but they still vet the talent’s long-term potential and catalog of other songs before signing viral stars.
“Sometimes the music business is a little slow, but we knew we couldn’t afford to be slow on a platform like this,” said TOMLIN. Added WRIGHT, “I’ve been doing this [A&R} for 20 years, and I’ve never seen something that had to happen so quick.” But, he continued, “At the end of the day we have to believe the person will have a long career and fits the brand we’ve built at the label.” He later added, that he’s passed on way more TIKTOK breakout acts than he’s signed, saying, “I have to have the feel that the person is an actual star.”
TOMLIN noted that TIKTOK doesn’t work if the artist comes across as “inauthentic.” BLOCK agreed, saying that’s what she likes about the app. “I can be pretty unfiltered, and people are either going to like it or not.”
The panelists also spoke about navigating the divide of now working one song to radio, where whey may have to stick with it for 35-40 weeks, and TIKTOK fans demanding fresh content regularly.
Said BLOCK, who — like JANNAKOS — is in the midst of a virtual radio tour, “Right now we’re in a place of old school vs. new school, and learning from people who have been doing this a lot longer than us,” while trying to figure out “how do we use new school to work radio?”
Addressing the social media fans who are hungry for new content, JANNAKOS noted that his viral success has landed him a real career, saying that it’s now hard to come up with new material when he’s staring at a screen on ZOOM calls with radio and others in the industry from 8a to 6p every day.
JANNAKOS also noted during the webinar that social media trends evolve, and bring with them their own stars. “FACEBOOK brought KANE BROWN. VINE brought LUKE COMBS, and TIKTOK brought me and PRISCILLA,” he said.