Leith Ross Breaks Down How TikTok Fame Has "Reversed" the Music Industry

"You're not trying to impress a label to get an audience anymore; you're impressing the audience to get the label"

Photo: Charly Ferguson

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Apr 29, 2024

It goes without saying that the rise of TikTok has irrevocably changed the way that the music industry operates. Whether it's new artists trying to get noticed or everyone being forced to make content to promote their songs, everyone is hoping to have a moment, a viral song that shoots them to new levels of notoriety, like Djo's "End of Beginning."

Leith Ross had one such moment with the song "We'll Never Have Sex," so they can speak from experience about how the industry has "reversed" its order of operations, and how audiences need to temper their expectations around the timeline for delivery of a full recording after a demo snippet goes viral.

They stitched a response to TikTok user @krisdrewdrew, who made a video saying that indie artists could promote songs after they're released instead of the "four-month-long edging series" leading up to it, and generally complaining about not being able to have the instant gratification of adding a new song they heard on the app to their playlists.

"The first and most frustrating thing about this is that artists have always, always debuted songs to the audience they needed to impress long before they were released," the Ottawa-born, Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter explained. "But it's just that the order of it has flipped. So before, you play your songs to people who work at record labels or people who have money to help you. Now you play your songs to the public to get a label deal."

"It's reversed," they continued, saying that, as a musician getting on a social media platform, "You're not trying to impress a label to get an audience anymore; you're impressing the audience to get a label."

Ross went on, "Now we know that artists are forced to be on social media if they want a career, and you're seeing one in a million songs every day that are uploaded. So because they're forced and because it's rare, of course they're posting from like, the second they make something, or demo something, or write something, on the off chance that it will have a moment on the internet. Because that's literally what you have to do to have a career."

But then, as the original video complaint reflects, once the song blows up, people want it immediately — which just isn't possible in most stages in the work's lifecycle. "The timeline when I was rushed from a song blowing up to releasing it was still a minimum of six months," Ross said. "I had to find someone to record it with me. I had to find out how to pay that person to record it with me 'cause I couldn't do it at home. And then there's like two or three months of like, doing the Spotify thing — like, doing all the promo before it comes out."

They added, "If someone is giving you a song they've written four months — even six months, eight months — after they've written it, they have worked very hard to do that turnaround. That's unbelievably quick."

Ross also made some more great points about treating artists as human beings and how they literally don't owe you anything. Watch the full video below.

@krisdewdew I say this w/ love bc i want to see yall win but you test my mf patience #independentartist #newmusic #newmusicfriday #indiemusic ♬ original sound - Kris Dew

James Blake also recently weighed in on the economics of streaming and TikTok amid the platform's dispute with UMG, saying that he nor the original artist made a cent when his cover of Frank Ocean's "Godspeed" went viral. Blake has since launched his own subscription streaming platform for artists to share unreleased music.

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