Musical company

Is TikTok (or ByteDance) slowly turning into a record label?

Whenever the idea of ​​TikTok becoming a record label comes up in music industry circles, the suggestion is usually shot down.

But the evidence is mounting that such a description could one day fit.

In March, TikTok launched its own distribution service. Dubbed ‘SoundOn’, it allows artists to upload their music to TikTok, RESSO and other platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Instagram.

TikTok describes SoundOn as “an all-in-one platform for music marketing and distribution”, and says it was designed “to empower new and unknown artists”.

The beta version of the distribution service powered by TuneCore launched in September. At the time, TikTok’s global head of music, Ole Obermann, told us that “with SoundOn, we’re going to organize the ecosystem of unsigned artists in a way that doesn’t exist today and never existed before”.

He added, “I think it will make it easier for artists to find their fans. And then for labels and publishers to find those artists. the [industry’s] I think the whole A&R process will become more efficient with this.

SoundOn also acts as an incubator program, and artists who sign up to the platform gain access to audience insights and development tools, as well as “expert advice” from a dedicated SoundOn artist team.

TikTok says SoundOn already provides additional opportunities for artists and music creators getting started on TikTok, and notes that artists have already signed recording and publishing deals, and worked with co-writers and “established names.” “.

With TikTok performing functions for artists like marketing, distribution, discovery and development, some may argue that TikTok is already well on its way to becoming a record company. And in Asia, TikTok’s parent ByteDance is giving us even more clues as to what’s to come.

MBW spotted that ByteDance is hiring for an “A&R” role which, according to the job description, sounds a lot like the long-established A&R role at a record label.

Exhibit A: The first responsibility listed for this Jakarta-based role is “finding and signing new musical talent”.

According to ByteDance, the successful candidate “will also provide professional expertise and support in the design, development and implementation of the talent assessment process that is necessary to achieve business objectives and results in the creation of a bench internal of the best talents”.

Many of the other responsibilities and requirements listed in the ad also resemble what you might see in a job description for an A&R role at a record label. In fact, we’d suspect the eventual nominee might even join ByteDance. from a record company.

Here is the wording of the ad:

  • They need good judgment to make decisions about the likelihood of commercial success and negotiation skills to ensure they get the best deal for the business while supporting the artists’ ambition.
  • Responsible for sourcing and selecting trending music and demos for releases. Decisions should be based on solid knowledge, research and understanding of music in the region, understanding music and the contemporary music scene, and knowing how music works and how albums are recorded and produced.
  • Responsible for the budget for each project and production cost. Prepare budget based on scope of work and resource requirements and oversee cost tracking to stay within budget.
  • Determine and define project scope and goals – Create long and short term plans, including setting goals for milestones and meeting deadlines.
  • Manage production quality and coordinate different types of content and format requests.
  • Build professional relationships with clients and external organizations.

It’s not entirely clear whether the role is for TikTok or ByteDance’s music streaming service, Resso, or for Qishui Yinyue, the new music streaming service launched by ByteDance in China last month.

It is also not uncommon for a digital service provider to make some record company operates and financially supports independent artists.

Chinese tech giant NetEase, for example, whose subsidiary Cloud Village (which operates the NetEase Cloud Music streaming service) listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in December, is well known for working with independent artists through its Project program. CloudLadder.

The company calls itself a “natural incubator of musical talent in search of an audience”. By the end of 2021, Cloud Village says it was serving more than 400,000 registered independent artists on its platform.

In its content library, approximately 1.9 million music tracks came from these independent artists registered in 2021an increase of around 80% compared to the end of 2020.

In a letter to investors when Cloud Village went public in December, NetEase CEO William Ding said NetEase Cloud Music is “committed to investing in our support of independent artists.”

He continued, “For those who pursue music as their dream, we hope that you don’t have to worry about the right stage for your talent and passion, and that your family and friends don’t have to worry anymore. ‘worry about you financially.’


NetEase’s biggest rival in China, Tencent Music Entertainment, also runs an independent musician platform called ‘Tencent Musician’s Platform.

Launched in 2017, Tencent says its program has “provided powerful support to musicians to inspire and support them in the pursuit of music creation”.

In 2021, the number of musicians enrolled in the program has grown to more than 300,000marking a 51% year-over-year increase.

During the year, more than 2.1 million songs from independent artists were distributed through the platform.

TME says it offers independent artists “comprehensive incentive plans and music collection projects” and also claims to be “the industry’s first platform to introduce a new monetization model with sharing of advertising revenue from streaming page”.

The company also claims that it has partnered with Tencent Sports, Tencent Games, TME Institute of Music, JD.com and many more “to provide an even broader cross-platform to further help independent musicians scale up their music promotion and distribution.”

Additionally, Tencent may no longer be allowed to sign exclusive deals with labels, but it is allowed to keep its exclusive deals with independent artists, with a three-year time limit for such deals.


However, DSP projects to work directly with artists are not always successful.

Spotify, for example, started offering artists direct distribution deals (including payment of advances) in 2018, but then quickly abandoned the idea.

Spotify also launched its own DIY distribution service in 2018, only to abruptly retire the service a few months later.

India-based JioSaavn was another example of a streaming platform making deals with independent artists, through its in-house label and artist services division Artist Originals, which launched in 2017.


AO was also not meant to last. Billboard recently reported that AO had been shut down and that JioSaavn “purchased the Artist Originals catalog but so far failed to reach a deal.”

TikTok has already proven to be a key artist discovery platform for many of its more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, as well as a rich A&R source for record labels.

The question now is what the power dynamics of the music industry will look like in the future, if TikTok starts signing artists before labels.The music industry around the world