TikTok for Music Makers: Part 2 of 2

In a previous article we went through some strategies and tips on how to blow up your music on TikTok. Well, if you have music to promote, I am assuming you are a music maker, so here are some tips on how to help your career when you are in between releases or aren’t in an active band.

First, let’s start with some ground rules and myths. You do not need to have a fancy camera setup to do this. In fact, that can work against you. Using your phone with good solid lighting (whether a ring light or natural window light) will get you far. Obviously, use some sort of good audio, use headphones and mic if you have it or at least check that your audio signal is good. Nothing will ruin your music career quicker than bad audio.

Second, I will reiterate my point from the previous article that TikTok is about entertainment, value, and authenticity. For some, that can be thirst traps, for others it’s fun dances, for others it’s about learning. If you are a songwriter, talk about songwriting. If you are a music theory nerd, do that. You don’t have to have a fancy DAW and keyboard setup either — if you are a guitarist, just find some good lighting and jam, show off.

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Third, make sure you have a website or a music landing page (ToneDen or Hyppeddit are free) in your bio as soon as you can. Never lose a fan who becomes interested in you.

#musicproducer #indiemusic #musician #songwriter #fyp – this is your tribe. Follow others and comment on their stuff – this is super important. As you do, you’ll see the hashtag they use specific to the kind of musician you are. Whether you produce (using DAWs or in a studio), or are a player, or a shredder.

Here are some DOs and DON’Ts:

  • Do post consistently. You will see people saying you need to post three videos per day, not true. The algorithm has a trigger based on “frequency” that determines when your video gets shown to the For You Page (FYP) tier 1 group (about 100-500 people) then, if it has some engagement and low skips, tier 2 (about 1000-5000) and then well, you go very big. That frequency trigger is meant to stop someone from uploading 1 video one day and then trying to game the system by uploading 40 the next. But what that means to you, is that whatever you choose to do – 1 video a day, 3 a day, 6 a week, as long as you are consistent, you will make that frequency trigger happy. The bigger weight for the algorithm is quality interaction.


  • Don’t upload your own music recordings in the background on your own videos. Only use the supplied TikTok sounds. Using “Ad Sound” in the editor. Your music, even if you wrote it and own it–and especially if you uploaded it to your distributor–will be blocked and the video will be taken down. There are a whole bunch of technical music licensing reasons for this, just don’t do it, you’ll waste your time. Instead, play it live if it is unreleased. Or, better yet, play along to the “sound” of your song chosen from inside of TikTok. This will allow other people to find your songs and hopefully play them on Spotify or Apple or use your sound in their TikTok.


  • Don’t play your own music exclusively. Seriously, don’t be “that” person who is only promoting your own music. No one cares, and you will find that out quickly. You will get people to love you and your music a helluva lot quicker by playing some covers that you love, that inspire you. Better yet, find other independent musicians, and shout them out by covering a cool song of theirs. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.


  • Do quirky covers. “What if Metallica did Billie Eilish?” Those types of things really hit hard.


  • Don’t be afraid to be dorky. TikTok loves sexy and dorky. Screw up, laugh about it, and then post that. Trust me, as you post other ones where you nail it, you will gain followers. One of my favorites is when someone does something like “Michael McDonald is just Anita Baker singing slowed down” and they sing it that way.
  • Do promote your TikTok to your fans. Give them another place to connect to another side of you or your band.


  • Do read your comments and respond to cool people.


  • DO NOT feed the trolls. Duh. Listen, there’s always an asshole online who will say you suck, or you’re faking it, or you’re too ugly (or too pretty) to play music. Seriously, they are just trying to get attention, walk on by and brush them off, but do not forget to engage with everyone else, it really does help you build community.


Posts that work:

Making the track: Take people behind the scenes of how you write and record. Show your DAW, show the tracks. Find a problem area and ask for help. “I am having trouble with this vocal mix, any ideas on how to make it sound brighter or pop?” You’ll be amazed how many want to help you.

Plugins: Show what plugins you are using and how to adjust them. Do a super quick edit showing the interface and the settings (this gets people to watch multiple times to try and steal your settings), and then say, “hope this helps, follow me for more tips.”

Gear: Musicians love gear. If you have cool guitars, or an awesome setup, or a homemade pedal board, show it off.

Challenge: “I am going to play x song progressively faster every day, follow along” or “90s boy band but it’s Metal” – you get the idea. Ask your followers to do the same.

Jam Session: This works for anyone, drummers especially. Pick an intro or a favorite part of a song (maybe a solo or a riff), you really only have :15 or :60 sec, (tbh you only have 10-15 sec to get and keep attention). Again, use “Add Sound” from within TikTok when you are editing your video, do not upload it recorded in your room. Remember you will be using headphones.

Duet: Best tip for last. As you navigate TikTok, you will see people doing music and asking you to Stitch or Duet. Stitch is when you use another video and it is edited either in the beginning or ending of your own, sort of call-and-response. Duet is where the screen is split and you are playing with someone (or many someones). When you do this, please use headphones or the audio from your instrument or voice will feedback and it leads to bad quality audio. You can find Sea Shanties, young people singing an a cappella, drummers playing intros and so forth, jump in and Duet with them as you play along. Add harmonies, add your own instrumentation, rap along to a singer. Obviously, Duet everything John Mayer does. But don’t just stick to the famous ones, it’s often the organic ones that take off better.

Lastly, don’t lose hope. Like any platform, TikTok takes some work. You might go viral; you might sit on 200-300 followers for months. Keep going and have fun. You’ll meet other cool musicians, you’ll make some new fans, and you’ll get to do music. What’s not to love?


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.

Photo by Solen Feyissa, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

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