Musical.ly

TikTok is a DSP

Three songs are currently in the top 15 on Spotify’s US Viral 50 chart solely because of TikTok. They combined for 140,000 equivalents last week. I know a 19-year-old who joined the app in October and already has over 4 million fans. She has funneled scores of them into a 400,000-follower Instagram account and is being flown around the world for modeling and acting opportunities.

Below I explain why it’s actually self-serving for TikTok, owned by the largest internet startup in the world, to be handing out entertainment careers in this fashion and how, for a limited time, your artists can leverage TikTok’s goals to achieve their own.

Background
Despite runaway growth in 2016 and 2017, Musical.ly had an image problem: it was for young kids. Their unprecedentedly youthful community kept advertisers on the sidelines and, as a result, profitability out of reach. After Bytedance paid a billion for the company in November of 2017, it set in motion an ambitious plan to shed this legacy stigma, attract older users, and put the app in contention with the largest social media networks in the world.

The Lip Sink
Their first move was to deprioritize lip-sync videos. Although this popular content style had been the cornerstone of Musical.ly’s success, it was also responsible for attracting their too-youthful user base. Instead, Musical.ly promised to promote creative challenges, memes, and comedy videos, all considered more appealing to the coveted millennial audience.

Hide Yo’ Kids
You were originally able to filter Musical.ly videos by “popular” and “recent,” but these simple, indiscriminate features meant anyone’s face -- even those of the app’s youngest users -- would often appear at the top of high-trafficked feeds. So, in early 2018, Bytedance developers replaced those search options with a single, algorithmic ranking filter called “trending” which only displayed approved content from older users. The young faces disappeared overnight and Musical.ly gained control of its brand identity for the first time.

Make Every Second Count
In August 2018, Bytedance announced that Musical.ly would adopt the established brand name, TikTok, and versatile slogan, “Make Every Second Count,” of its popular Asian sister app. What was once a lip-syncing app for 9-year-olds became an age-inclusive, multifaceted communication tool with built-in license agreements for every song in the world. A thorough image overhaul ensued to spread this new brand message via A-list influencers, top tier publicity, and ubiquitous advertising. By fall, the transformation was feeling very real.

For You
Not unlike Instagram’s “Explore” or YouTube’s “Suggested,” TikTok’s personalized A.I. feed, “For You,” is the first thing that hundreds of millions of users see everyday when they open the app. The more you use this feed, the better it understands what you want to see and the better it understands what you want to see, the more you use this feed. This powerful feedback loop gives TikTok’s editorial staff the ability to make certain songs viral and certain users famous. The question is, why would they want to do that?

In this interview (must watch 10:10 to 13:30), Musical.ly’s original co-founder, Alex Zhu, uses a brilliant analogy to explain the function of this editorial superpower:

“Building a community is very similar to running a country...in the beginning you have to build a centralized economy [where] the majority of wealth is distributed to a small percentage of people and then these people become role models...and then [a lot] of people come to your country [in search of upward mobility].”

In other words, by weaving editorial influence into the “For You” algorithm, TikTok can make specific types of people famous in order to attract millions more just like them. Having started from scratch, Musical.ly’s only option was to centralize the “wealth” among a core group of talented early adopters in their tweens. But thanks to Bytedance’s masterful legwork over the last 18 months, TikTok has more control over the demographics.

TikTok’s long-term viability depends on its near-term success in delivering multi-million person fanbases to talented, hardworking, Western artists in their late teens and 20’s. If you’re reading this, you probably know someone who would be a good fit.

Note, however, if your artists wait until TikTok feels safe or is more pervasive in their social circles, the opportunity will be gone. By then the editorial staff won’t need any more “role models” and we will be left chasing engagement, as is currently the case on Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, et al.

One of the greatest fan engagement opportunities in history is going on right now. Millennial artists should embrace TikTok as they do any other top-tier social media tool and you, as their representative, must cultivate front office allies at the company, post-haste. It’s time to treat TikTok like a DSP.

- Max

Watch Your Mouth!

The most important decision of your Musical.ly marketing campaign is which section of your song to make available on the app. This was true when I wrote about it in June, and it’s true now. As the rights holder, you have control over which 15-second clip appears in the Musical.ly catalog, so don't settle for what you see on the app if it's not right.

The goal of your campaign is to maximize the number of kids, typically aged 9 to 15, who film themselves lip-syncing your song. Sex, drugs, violence, and profanity may sell in the music marketplace at large, but because of Musical.ly’s demographics they can hurt your performance on the platform. Keeping it clean is the best practice to maximize engagement and reach. 

Two weeks ago, for example, I got a call from a teenager: “Max, did you know this song has the word n-i-*-*-*-*?” Yes, she spelled it out. She was one of four massively influential users who, citing language that made them uncomfortable, declined to post this particular song.

It wasn’t only power users concerned with their personal image who thought twice. In the comment sections of the musicals that were posted I found hundreds of young fans requesting the clean version of the song so they could re-muse the track on their accounts. The language had crossed their line and millions of impressions were lost. 

I will admit there are outliers. One of the most successful clips on Musical.ly, “Broccoli (feat. Lil Yachty)” by D.R.A.M., contains profanity, an n-bomb, and the glorification of the Columbine tragedy [watch here]. Musical.ly has definitely contributed to the song’s global success, but it is the exception to the rule. Catering to Musical.ly’s youngest users is our recommendation for maximizing engagement.

To be clear, this is in no way a call for self-censorship as it relates to songwriting and music. This is Musical.ly-specific feedback from the front lines. Explicit content has been a non-starter for portions of the platform’s user base and lip-syncing a racial epithet can feel like committing a hate crime. Trust your judgement and default to clean versions where possible. Let me know if there's an issue with your clip and I'll show you how to make it right.

- Max

 

The Harlem Shake On Crack

Musical.ly users are the most engaged followers in social media history. When asked the right way -- by the right influencers -- they champion your music with unprecedented passion and reach. 

Every influencer post has room for one “call-to-action,” and though it’s tempting to use it to boost off-platform activity -- to drive sales, streams, and video views -- I don’t recommend that approach.

Why? Because Musical.ly has redefined viral success. It’s the Harlem Shake on crack. Every Musical of your track, posted by a Muser with 1 fan or 1,000,000 fans, is capable of spawning thousands more in a matter of minutes. Influencers can drive their fans to your iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube pages if we ask them to, but the conversions will be short-lived. Focusing influencer energy on helping you generate more Musicals, however, will fuel your growth within the app and maximize your chance of going viral. The velocity of engagement with your music on the app will determine how many sales, streams, and views your campaign yields. Increasing on-platform activity increases off-platform activity.

Your campaign’s call-to-action is an important decision, so make it count. Send an email to max@muuser.com and I’ll show you how. 

-Max

90 Million Tweens, A Free App, One Goal: FAME // ELLE

Facebook to Pay Internet Stars for Live Video // Wall Street Journal

Could A Lip-syncing App Revive the Dying Music Industry? // Huck

Why Millions of Tweens Are Using Musical.ly // Gary Vaynerchuck

Should Your Artists Be on Shimmur?

In the early days of a platform’s growth, free media is everywhere and the room isn’t too packed. Early adopters with strong off-platform followings are rewarded with promotional perks and partnerships that benefit both artist and app. Musical.ly is a prime example, but there are others. Shimmur, an LA-based startup, turns social media engagement on its head to help influencers build loyal, engaged audiences. The app has grown rapidly since its December launch due in large part to relationships with emerging Musical.ly stars. Below is an interview with Shimmur co-founders Charlie Buffin, Max Levine, and Matthew Peltier. Feel free to reach out for more information on how this platform can help your artists. - Max

Q: Explain Shimmur in one sentence
A: Shimmur makes it easier for celebrities and influencers to interact with their fans.

Q: What do you do differently?
A: On other social media platforms, the influencer creates the content for the fans. We are the exact opposite. On Shimmur, the fans create the content in the form of questions, stories, pictures...or whatever they’d like the influencer to see. The rest of the community (referred to as a “Tribe”) upvotes or downvotes those posts and the most popular content gets a notice, like, or response from the influencer for all to see.

Q: What’s an example?
A: Max and Harvey Mills, two big influencers on our platform, recently gave personal advice to a young fan tormented by bullies. This was a valuable exchange for both sides, and might have never occurred on another platform.

Q: Where did you get the idea?
A: We were working with and managing young Vine stars a couple years ago, including Brent Rivera and Sammy Wilk. They were generating thousands of Twitter mentions, DMs, and comments but could only interact with a handful each day. That’s when we realized the importance of simplifying influencer-to-fan communication.

Q: Why is it working?
A: We’re tapping into the fundamental human desire for attention from our idols and scaling it in a way that has never been done. Rising musician Sammy Wilk, for instance, interacts with 300 fans per month on Twitter. On Shimmur, he’s able to engage with 13,000 fans in the same amount of time. 60 seconds on Shimmur is equivalent to 45-60 minutes on another platform. We’re saving influencers time and giving fans unprecedented access to their favorite personalities. 

Q: How has Musical.ly helped you grow?
A: Engagement on Musical.ly is already astronomical but the community is still relatively untapped. We were early to recognize this passionate user base and became the first platform to indirectly onboard Musical.ly influencers.

Q: Your users seem way more valuable than just an average follower on other platforms. Is that true?
A: Exactly! You’ve heard of the “80/20 rule" - 20% of your audience accounts for 80% of your revenue. Shimmur users are the 20%.

Q: Do you have a plan to monetize?
A: Definitely. We're implementing features that will allow influencers to monetize directly through their most loyal fans.  We’ll also be testing out brand partnerships and user subscription models over the coming months. 

Q: So artists can sell tickets and/or merch directly to fans from within the platform?
A: Yes, down the line artists will have a direct way to sell essentially anything to their fans, including tickets and merch. 

Q: That’s huge! Congratulations! And thank you very much. 
A: Our pleasure.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
A: Making this app as special as possible relies on openness and collaboration, so if you'd like to connect, feel free to reach out at contact@shimmur.com. Lastly, you can download Shimmur in the iTunes App Store and follow us on socials @shimmur (@shimmurapp on Instagram) to stay up-to-date with our progress! 

#end
 

Young Performers Look to Apps for Stardom // New York Times

Musical.ly Signs Its First Major Label Deal with Warner Music // Billboard

Keeping Up With the Jameses

It’s not about the Heat or the Cavs, it’s about LeBron. Jerseys sell because of the name on the back, not the name on the front, and fans go where celebrities are. It’s the same in social media, where there’s a digital arms race to keep power users on platforms. 

Musical.ly bolstered its warchest on Friday with the release of Live.ly, a livestream app that connects directly to your Musical.ly account. Prior to Live.ly, Musers struggled to advertise their YouNow livestreams, which resulted in weaker engagement than on-platform content typically generates. By enabling its LeBron Jameses to push livestream broadcast notifications directly to existing followers, Musical.ly made a powerful, strategic move to stay ahead of the game.

‘Livestreaming’ has reached buzzword status because authenticity is everything now. We’re talking “no filter” on steroids: No editing. No retakes. Just what’s real. This has led to an unprecedented windfall for creators. Social media celebs are making tens of thousands of dollars per month on YouNow livestreams. Virtual gifts -- such as tips and fan mail -- and in-app purchases like split-screen chats are all the rage. Fans are paying to get intimate with social celebs, on demand.

Money isn’t changing hands on Live.ly yet but Musical.ly co-founder Alex Zhu is encouraging monetization. He sees virtual gifting as a power user retainment strategy.

"Stickiness depends on monetization opportunities, either indirect or direct. As long as you have engagement you can lead some traffic to something else and the indirect monetization works. Direct is something we’re working on right now, like with a gift system: big fans can send gifts, which is one of many possibilities. Influencers spend a lot of time creating for the app, so in the end we want to make sure that we are giving something back to them." Source: Forbes

Social media stars are all free agents. There’s no franchise tag for apps. But with 500,000 Live.ly downloads in the four days since its release, Musical.ly has significantly limited the threat of losing its LeBrons to a shiny new platform. Loyalty from top Musers means longevity for Musical.ly and its power to promote your artists. All the more reason to pay attention.

Musical.ly’s New Live Streaming App Gets Close To 500k Installs In Four Days

Musical.ly May Be the Spoiler in Livestream Race with Launch of Live.ly

Musical.ly is evolving faster than expected

No social media platform impacts the music industry more than Musical.ly. Users (known as “musers”) don’t just share your content, they star in it. They choreograph, direct, and film a music video on an artist’s behalf, then blast it out to a captive audience eager to do the same. With amateur musers boasting audiences of 500,000+ and fetching north of 100,000 likes per post, it has never been easier to market music on the Internet.

Can Buick take 500k people for a test drive in a weekend? Can Oreo put the “Fruity Crisp” in half a million lunchboxes on the last day of school? No. But if you’re in the music business, that level of engagement is achievable on Musical.ly. You just need to know how to generate it.

Wale, for example, caught lightning in a bottle last week with the #moonwalkchallenge. Over 500,000 teenagers* made videos for his new single, “My PYT,” in two days. Those weren’t one-click retweets or double-tap hearts, they were short films recorded by discrete individuals designed to entertain. Do you think any of them bought or streamed the full track over the weekend? I know I did.

Thus far, the Derulos, Trainors, and Grandes of the world have enjoyed the benefit of swapping celebrity tweets for direct Musical.ly exposure. Their contests have been featured, hashtags made to trend, and notifications pushed to countless users. The artists get hundreds of millions of impressions, Musical.ly sees a spike in downloads, and everyone wins! But Musical.ly's $100 million Series A round ought to be closed by now and the company is seeing more national media coverage than the Curry 2’s. Soon, Musical.ly won't need your Top 40 traffic trades anymore.

Enter the influencer marketing campaign. 

Whether you’re charting at radio or dropping your first single, a well executed Musical.ly strategy is your most valuable digital marketing tool. Our clients reached 20 million fans on Musical.ly last weekend, generating over 1.5 million likes and 10,000 comments. Musical.ly influencers are an important part of your music marketing strategy and ROI is proving worthwhile. Feel free to reach out for more info and catch up on some notable coverage below to better understand the opportunity.

*researched estimate

The Secret Behind the App Musical.ly // CNBC

The Origin and Future Of America's Hottest New App // Forbes

Demi Lovato Surprises Winner of 'GMA's' Musical.ly Challenge // ABC News

Video Social Network Quickly Capturing The Tween And Teen Markets // Inc.

Musical.ly campaign best practices

There's a big opportunity right now to break your artists on Musical.ly. Here's what you need to know to run a successful marketing campaign on the platform.

The snippet

The most important decision you'll make is selecting which 15-second segment to use. Lip syncs are the most popular style of performance on the app so your snippet must feature identifiable lyrics with prominent nouns and verbs. Any hooks or drops that you can fit in are a bonus. Watch this video for inspiration from some of the most successful track snippets to date.

Note: Despite the massive user base, uploading snippets properly remains a challenge on Musical.ly. There are various steps required to ensure that (1) your title appears correctly (2) your song is searchable from the "Discover" section and (3) the correct artwork is displayed. Send us a note and we'll help you get set up.

Timing

The Musical.ly audience is in school during the week, so start your campaign on Thursday or Friday to maximize exposure over the weekend. We'll update you on changes once school gets out for summer, but stick to weekends for now.

Artist participation

Get your artist on the app with a complete profile, just as you would for Twitter or Instagram. Create a video announcing the campaign and post it to Twitter with an @musicallyapp mention.  This not only builds awareness for the campaign but alerts the Musical.ly editors to your launch, which will dramatically increase your chances of getting "featured" on the app's homepage (the main objective).  Reference these Flo Rida and Meghan Trainor announcements as examples, but steer clear of disingenuous catastrophes like this one from Adam Lambert. Kick off your campaign with a series of artist-generated musicals featuring your track and the designated hashtag. Watch the tutorial videos below for a Musical.ly crash course. Pro tip: always use FAST mode.

The narrative

A simple narrative will dramatically improve the velocity of engagement around your campaign. Build the campaign around a central trend that fans can be a part of. The easiest way is to create a challenge.  Desiigner's #pandachallenge and Kent Jones' #dontmindchallenge are great examples.  What's your narrative?

Engage

Fans (called "musers") are on Musical.ly to feel significant and become famous, so do your part. Help the best user-generated musicals of your track get discovered by reposting them to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Mention the muser whenever possible and always reply to comments.

Amplify

It's perfectly acceptable to enlist influencers to kickstart and amplify your campaign.  Experienced influencers will even run their own contests that encourage fans to take part in your challenge for a chance to win a BFF or Duet. What's a BFF or Duet? How do you engage with Musical.ly influencers? That's where we come in.  Click below to get in touch and we'll show you how.

What you need to know about Musical.ly

Music blogs are dead. No one cares what I have to say. Streaming playlists will eventually prevail, but growth is slow at Spotify and Apple is dividing the community. So who’s winning music discovery right now? The answer is China.

Shanghai based startup, Musical.ly, is the biggest player in music discovery, despite none of their 70 million “musers” being on the app to find new music.  They just want to be entertained and become famous, and that’s why it works.

In a timely piece last Friday, Business Insider quoted an investor calling Musical.ly "the next MTV".  I disagree.  MTV is corporate and bureaucratic. Musical.ly, on the other hand, is genuinely democratic.  Fifteen-year-old girls decide what gets played on Musical.ly.  Yes, the Daisy Fuentes of Musical.ly is an ordinary tween from Tallahassee. She doesn't have shareholders, a board of directors or a program manager, just 10 million fans who spend 3 hours a day watching every move.

Like GaryVee (from whom I first heard about Musical.ly) says, you gotta “day-trade attention”.  Right now attention is cheap on Musical.ly, and the payoff is massive.

If you want millions of teenagers to have an emotional connection to your artists then contact me here.  Also sign up for the Muuseletter where I keep you informed on what music marketing strategies convert on Musical.ly and beyond. And if you're wondering how to get the modern Daisy Fuentes to play your music on “the next MTV”, then you're in the right place.  I can show you how.

- Max