Gabi Rose hated the idea of having to create content for another platform to her list of daily tasks. But the musician knew self-promotion was just as important as honing her craft, so with nothing but time during the pandemic she decided to give TikTok a try.
In January, she uploaded her saxophone version of Olivia Rodrigo's "Drivers License."
"Covers are an amazing way to not only educate yourself and really understand what the artists and the band that you love were thinking when they were writing it, but also to reach people because people are like, 'Wow, I've never heard that song in that way,'" she explained. "And that's why I like using TIkTok for that purpose."
The rest is history. Her version was used as part of a TIkTok commercial featuring musicians across the platform covering the famous pop song and debuted in the pre-game advertisements for Super Bowl LV. Now, with more than 37,000 followers and upwards of 468,000 likes on her account, she believes TikTok has helped propel her career.
More than 176 different songs surpassed one billion video views as TikTok Sounds in 2020. About 90 songs that went viral on the platform also made it onto Billboard Top 100 charts in the U.S. that year. As companies realized the power of TikTok to influence popular music, over 70 TikTok artists signed major record label deals.
"On TikTok, you can just reach so many more people with just one video," said alternative rock musician Baby Storme. "It doesn't matter how many followers you have, you can easily blow up. You can easily go viral. And I think it's better because for me, I wanted to go to a platform where I felt like people didn't know me."
Though she had music on SoundCloud since 2019, Storme decided to upload her new music onto TikTok. She pointed out that if at least 1,000 people used the Sound for her track "Jackson," it could be featured on TikTok. People were happy to oblige, sending her track to the top of its chart. She's since moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career full time. "Every major label has reached out to me, except for Interscope," Storme said. "But I have definitely been contacted by every label, almost, brands, a whole bunch of different people."
The chance to get discovered by brands and labels also motivated drummer Anthony Anderson to post on TikTok. Though he had been performing with bands on major record labels, he decided to strike a solo career four years ago.
"I started playing drums at the age of nine, mainly because my dad passed away around the time I was nine," Anderson said. "I only had a short time span to engage with him and just to get to know him. I had moments where he would teach me how to play, or he was very interested in making me become a drummer. And from there, the rest is history. I just told myself I had to do this in his memory."
But in 2020 with no one in need of live bands, Anderson, like many musicians, hit a rough patch.
"Once the pandemic hit, there was no live shows," he explained. "Everything was in standstill. Honestly, I was feeling overwhelmed. I did not know what to do. But I really had no other choice but to depend on social media."
He found creative ways to stand out on TikTok by dragging his drums to unexpected outdoor places and playing for the public.
"What can I do to gravitate people to me, random people, anyone that is going to just have the time to just sit there and watch?" he said. "So it definitely was a challenge taking the gear, loading the car, doing it by yourself."
The strategy paid off. Anderson's videos have been liked more than 16,000 times, leading to work with companies and conversations with record labels. "I had the opportunity to work with Adidas and New Balance, which were really just community events and ways to incorporate me, not only just different brands, but sneaker commercials and whatnot," he said. "It's a different content that just really has helped me elevate different styles of drumming."
Likewise, Rose has been sponsored by mouthpiece company Syos and Legere Reeds. She's also used the TikTok fame to promote her own original music from her band, Enrose.
"My schedule is filling up like crazy," she said."I'm really grateful to have live performances back and everything. My goal moving forward is to continue that balance between getting out there and playing in person, but then also continuing growing on social media, continuing to write music, and perform with my band Enrose."
She's optimistic for the future.
"And if I can keep those balanced, then who knows?" Rose pointed out.