How TikTok’s music subcommunities are changing the face of music discourse
05.05.2022

How TikTok’s music subcommunities are changing the face of music discourse

tiktok music community
(Image: Solen Feyissa)
Words by Harry Hartney

Algorithmic music subcommunities have been developing on TikTok's underground for a while, and now they're dominating sites of music discourse with users

TikTok’s obsession with music is not some well-kept secret.

The app is famous for launching artists into stardom from a 15 second snippet of a song or a demo. But for some, TikTok is the epicentre of music discourse, a place for people finding their way into the music sphere to engage, debate, and learn with likeminded musos.

Summary:

  • TikTok’s algorithms has given rise to underground music communities dominated by young musos.
  • Annabelle Kline-Zilles has emerged as a prominent figure in these communities, allowing her to build a music curation business and go into music management.
  • Young people now dominate music discourse online, with TikTok the epicentre for this discussion.

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Subcommunities flourish, donning names like ‘Rap-tok’ or ‘Rock-tok’, where creators interested in certain genres are thrown into the same algorithm, meet people with similar interests to their own. We are in an age where video music reviews and reactions are taking the internet by storm, with the likes of The Needle Drop becoming arguably the most influential music critic in the world. TikTok provides a platform for those with similar career aspirations to that of an Anthony Fantano or Shawn Cee, for creators to gain virality quicker than ever before.

The accessibility of videos, the easy format to engage with content via liking, commenting, or sharing, and the relatively short amount of time it takes to distribute content makes for an easier means to strike the gold that is ‘internet fame’.

It is the perfect opportunity for young people to take advantage of the ageing industry that is the written review. Communities form in algorithms, and people are now learning more quickly and easily what they like and what they don’t like.

For some with a keen interest in music, one that is perhaps not shared with those around them, TikTok provides a release for thoughts, questions, and answers. With over 1.7 billion views, #musictok is one of the most popular and used hashtags on the application.

Annabelle Kline-Zilles is a TikTok creator that is deeply entrenched in these communities, regarded by many as a figurehead of music discourse on the site.

With over 100 thousand followers and 6.7 million likes so far, her influence is undeniable. Starting with music triviality posts along the lines of ‘what his/her favourite artist says about them’, to expanding to song recommendations, Kline-Zilles now runs her own music curation company called ‘That Good Sh*t’.

At the same time, the TikTok creator also music manages artists such as jazz musician and rapper DiZ. It is this kind of entrepreneurship that gave way to her gaining industry acclaim.

As a now established voice in the industry, Kline-Zilles finds herself in a position of influence. “Doing what I do now, I am able to openly love music and have an audience that wants to take part in that love with me,” she says.

“I feel privileged to have this community supporting me and my work, and it is such a joy to have a platform where I can share my favourite music and help support the artists that I love so much.”

With a launch into the spotlight via several viral videos, the TikTok star finds herself suddenly as a seminal figure of the communities she was once passively involved with.

“Having an audience like this is something that took adjusting and I’m still learning how to navigate having more eyes on me – but I try to look at it as having thousands of new friends.”

Communities online provide a kind of solace for people who may feel isolated by having a niche taste, differing from friends and family. Algorithms give way for these groups being built out of common interest.

On this, Kline-Zilles shared: “I have been the friend who loves music so deeply but can’t really discuss it in depth as much as I’d like to with the people around me. When you can go on TikTok and find a community of people who care about music as deeply as you do, it’s an incredibly validating feeling.

“There’s an infinite amount of information and ideas to be shared about music, and with so many music creators on TikTok each sharing their own unique perspectives on music, it has become a place where you can learn, discover, and explore while also connecting with other music lovers and building community.”

However, these communities are not without their faults. When asked what issues she faced with different algorithmic groups on TikTok, Kline-Zilles spoke of the negativity that can spread through discourse about music.

“The idea of ranking and comparison of music on TikTok can get out of hand… everyone conceptualises music differently, but this mode of thinking can take way from being able to explore the details and nuances of one’s favourite artist or album and creates more negativity than is necessary.”

These communities, however, also thrive on teamwork and collaboration between creators. Whether that be through a shoutout, or comment, music content creators on TikTok can easily support each other through their follower base growth. One of the most prominent examples of this collaboration was the 2021 end of year ‘Raptok Awards’.

@raptokawards Best Small Creator (5k-10k followers) | Presented by @bakurifuto Edited by @ignorecreate | #fyp #raptok #musictok #music #raptokawards ♬ original sound – Raptok Awards

With award presentations from almost every music content creator with a following, this account amassed over 20 thousand followers over a one-month period. These awards included ‘RapTok MVP’, ‘Most Diverse Taste’, and ‘Most Creative’, along with many more. What was most highlighted, though, was a shared mission from these creators to ‘boost’ the community. This is evident through awards like ‘Best Small Creator: Under 1k Followers’, the winner of which doubled their follower count after winning the award.

In the introductory video for @raptokawards, this sentiment is furthered, in which viewers are encouraged to “show love to your favourite creators, find some new friends, and follow new people”. Additionally, these awards were decided by a fan-vote, giving those without the biggest platforms a voice in this online music community.

Values of positivity, community, and respect for quality of music as an artform are what dominate music discourse spheres on TikTok, which has translated seamlessly in Kline-Zilles’ curation endeavour with ‘That Good Sh*t’.

@annabelleklineemy career as a music curator / manager / founder / content creator♬ original sound – Annabelle🦋

These communities are the perfect place for young people with unique tastes in music to engage with one another, build on knowledge and even develop careers. In a digital world that is, for the most part, dominated by negativity, this sector of TikTok can provide a refreshing glimpse of hope. For Kline-Zilles, it really is “a dream come true”.

“I want That Good Sh*t to be a force of positivity, compassion, and excitement in the music industry, where artists can know that they are valued and are treated fairly. It’s not about promotion and getting millions of streams – it’s about connecting with a community that prioritises quality and compassion and is in constant pursuit of creating long-lasting, impactful art”.

Check out That Good Sh*t on Bandcamp and Instagram.