The TikTokification of Music has always existed

Whether you’re an OG boomer classic rock fan or a millennial/zoomer with an old soul who loves old music, you’ve probably said or thought something like “Man, music these days isn’t what it used to be. Things were better back in the old days.” I’m definitely guilty of it. Inspired by this video on YouTube by a creator named Gabi Belle, I decided to analyse this music trend.

I used to have a Tiktok, but I gave that up because it’s a toxic app and a lot of work. I’m much more confident as a writer than I am on camera, even though I don’t have any fear or anxiety of being on camera… besides a touch of low self esteem, but aren’t we all self-critical? Perhaps I’ll come back to Tiktok to promote my book (whenever it comes out, I always find myself being distracted by other writing projects) because that’s where the eyes and ears are.

In this blog post we’re going to do a little analysis on social media, talking about its history from the 2000s to the present day with TikTok being the dominant social media now and then we’re going to talk about its effects on music and how it may not even be all that different from the classic rock era. I love to study and find patterns because it helps me come to a better understanding of the world and through this I realise that people aren’t really all that different after all from decade to decade, generation to generation, century to century. People always will be people.

Social Media History

Social media has gone through eras and I’ve seen a bunch of them firsthand as a millennial who grew up using the internet, but not like the younger zoomers did where it’s literally everywhere and people literally have to tell you to “touch grass” because you’re “terminally online”. In the 2000s, it was all about MySpace, Bebo, and AIM. Remember spending hours customising your MySpace page, setting the song, your top 8 friends, adding celebrities on the website, and writing “I’m 14 and this is deep” statuses? Well, it was taken over by Facebook. People were tired of all the server errors and MySpace pages taking forever to load and so they moved to the more minimalistic Facebook. At first it was populated by college kids and now it’s become boomer and wine mom central. Around the same time as Facebook’s popularity, you had Twitter – a shortform blogging website where you could only make short posts within a certain character limit, kinda like when you would text your friends in the old days and had to deal with character limits, T9 texting, and had to use abbreviations and acronyms to text faster and stay within the limit. Didn’t like the limits of Twitter? Well let me tell you about Tumblr! A blog website where you could post anything: pictures, music, videos, and long text posts – the limit is your imagination. And you could customise your Tumblr page with cool themes just like MySpace. That’s where my classic rock commentary was born. Tumblr eventually died off and Tumblr exiles went to Twitter, who had increased their character limits before being bought out by Elon Musk, who is running the hellsite into the ground. More into photography? Well in 2010, Instagram came out, originally looking like a hipster Polaroid looking app before evolving into a website where people could become “models” and “influencers” and make a living off of posting thirst traps selling whatever dumb products corporations think you need. Also in the 2010s you had Vine, which was like an even shorter form version of TikTok, and Snapchat, where you could send pictures that disappeared. We’re only just scratching the surface here because there’s a lot more to social media than these websites.

In the late 2010s, an app called came out and this was the baby that would grow up to be TikTok. The point of the app was to make video lipsyncing to songs. On YouTube, you’d notoriously have record labels copyright striking you for playing copyrighted music in the background, but over time record labels saw the potential in social media and stopped seeing people using music in their videos as theft and started seeing it as free and effective advertising. How often do you find yourself watching something and you hear a really good song and you’re like “what’s that song?” and then you go and search for it and find yourself listening to this new earworm until you get tired of it? Ouch! Too close to home.

So in 2017, a Chinese company called ByteDance saw the potential of and bought it out and merged it with their own app TikTok. No longer just the name of a Kesha song, it’s now an app that has taken over people’s lives and revolutionised the way we consume content and use social media. It’s extremely addictive and if you think other social media algorithms have you pinned down to a T, TikTok does that on steroids – their algorithm knows everything and it’s kinda scary – no wonder people think it’s spying on you. Every app seems to be copying TikTok. Instagram and Facebook have Reels and YouTube has Shorts. Even down to the format! You can flick through reels and shorts like on TikTok. Instagram even tried to make their main feed look like TikTok, but users didn’t really like that change and so they reversed that. TikTok exploded in popularity during the pandemic and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a real revolution and the beginning of a new era of social media.

TikTok is no longer just a kids app. You can find all sorts of content on there and the videos are concise and easily digestible and simple to share on social media. Nowadays other social media sites are full of reposts from TikTok. There’s TikToks on news and politics, investments and finance, cooking, style and fashion, beauty and makeup, travel and culture, memes, DIYs, dances, music, books, movies and TV shows, cosplay and costuming, history, video games, anything and everything!

The TikTokification of Music

The music industry no doubt has gone through many changes over the years. In the pre internet years in general you needed a record label to succeed and making it meant getting your music played on legacy media: broadcast radio, television, and movies. In the 80s, you had MTV, which changed the game and made music even more image and video focused. With the physical music formats shrinking, album covers became even less important and music videos became high priority since they were advertisements for the music, entertaining and artistic ones at that. Just look at Michael Jackson. His music videos weren’t just music videos, they were straight up kino. It wasn’t enough for a music video to just be the musicians performing – there had to be some sort of artistry: dancing, acting, telling a story.

Music has always been more “accessible” to the common person than acting. For starters with acting, you need to be in LA or NYC, but preferably LA. Not everyone has the privilege to move across the country or abroad. It’s expensive and what if your acting dreams don’t pan out? At least with music it’s more decentralised. There’s great music studios all over the world and a big part of what a musician does is tour to promote their music. Professional quality equipment and technology is becoming more affordable. And with the internet, someone could make a song in their bedroom and see it blow up. You could go from a nobody to a household name very quickly, but it’s a double-edged sword, the fame doesn’t last forever. Still though, it’s a great thing that the internet exists and we need to embrace this medium and technology because it means more creativity and more art and that’s a good thing.

The internet changed everything in the music industry. Sure piracy became way easier, which meant that musicians had to find new ways of making money, but there were some benefits that came with the internet. With MySpace, musicians could self-release music and maybe even become famous from that platform. YouTube was an avenue for your music to go viral. Sure you got new names and faces in the industry because of the internet, but did the platforms themselves really shape the music? Not really. Social media sites like these walked so TikTok could run.

TikTok videos can be longer than a minute, but most are a minute or less and because of TikTok’s growing popularity, it seems like our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter and this is a trend that’s been going on for a while. Everything is so much more fast-paced now. Just look at the way movies are edited now versus in the Old Hollywood or Hollywood Renaissance years. Or look at the way news anchors read the news back in the old days versus today and how long the soundbites are then versus now.

Relating it to music, these days TikTok can make a song go viral by turning it into a trend that people copy, whether it’s an older song or a newer song. Since you can’t use the the whole song, you are stuck using a clip and usually that’s going to be the catchiest part of the song. So if you’re writing a song now and you’re hoping for it to go viral, you try to tailor it to TikTok and create a catchy bit that gets stuck in people’s heads and makes for a good background song for TikTok. That clip may make people want to listen to the whole song, but sometimes people find that they only like the bit that they heard on TikTok. It’s not even just about the sound, they’re also thinking about the visuals by wearing trendy looks and creating trendy dances for the music videos that TikTokers can mimic in their videos.

Just like how everyone wanted to copy The Beatles back in the 60s, everyone wants to copy whatever thing went viral on TikTok so they could be the next viral hit. 15 minutes of fame? More like 15 seconds of fame! Why reinvent the wheel? But this goes against art. Art is all about taking chances and it needs to evolve, grow, and change with the times. Art shouldn’t be about following trends, art should come from the heart. Now I’m worried how AI is going to change music. Are we going to have songs written by ChatGPT on the Billboard Charts?

But what if I said that the TikTokification of music is nothing new? What if soundbites were always a thing in music?

Memorable soundbites were always a thing

You might only know one bit of a TikTok viral hit, but isn’t that also the case for classic rock songs? Isn’t the same principle there? What makes a song stand out and catch your attention? Could be a riff or a guitar solo. Think of a classic rock song, any classic rock song and what musical bit do you remember the most? The riff or the guitar solo. Sometimes a bassline. And I guess if you’re a drummer you might remember a drum solo. Those partial to keyboards might remember a keyboard part. If you’re thinking about vocals, the chorus or a lyrical hook. Like “Hold me closer, tiny dancer” in Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” or the opening lyrics of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” – that’s how you write a catchy pop song!

Sure TikTok is all about the gimmick song, but novelty songs existed in the classic rock era and a big part of rock and roll is the riff. I like to think about what it would have been like if social media existed in the classic rock era and I think had the classic rockers grown up with social media and had it at their fingertips, there’s no doubt that they would have embraced it and we’d have the same TikTokification going on then.

Writing and composing catchy songs is an art. And it really wasn’t that different in the classic rock era. When musicians write songs, one of the things they might start with is the riff and then they go from there. What better way to talk about this than talk about the most famous guitar riffs in classic rock. Let’s do a little thought experiment. When you read the names of these songs, tell me if you heard the riff in your head. Perhaps you’re doing the Beavis and Butthead thing of singing the riff. I know I do that a lot. We’re only gonna focus on guitar for the purposes of this blog post:

Famous Riffs throughout history

Here are just a few iconic riffs in classic rock. In many of these cases there’s also a hook, a memorable lyric you find yourself singing along to. Of course these are the best known ones, but there are many other great riffs. Some of these might even be some of the first songs you learnt on guitar or wanted to learn.

  • “Not Fade Away” – Buddy Holly (1957)
  • “Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry (1958)
  • “La Bamba” – Ritchie Valens (1958)
  • “Rumble” – Link Wray (1958)
  • “Move It” – Cliff Richard (1958)
  • “Apache” – The Shadows (1960)
  • “Road Runner” – Bo Diddley (1960)
  • “Misirlou” – Dick Dale (1962)
  • “House of the Rising Sun” – The Animals (1964)
  • “Oh, Pretty Woman” – Roy Orbison (1964)
  • “You Really Got Me” – The Kinks (1964)
  • “Gloria” – Them (1964)
  • “I Can’t Explain” – The Who (1965)
  • “Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones (1965)
  • “Day Tripper” – The Beatles (1965)
  • “Wild Thing” – The Troggs (1966)
  • “Foxy Lady” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
  • “Sunshine of Your Love” – Cream (1967)
  • “Born To Be Wild” – Steppenwolf (1968)
  • “Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin (1969)
  • “Fortunate Son” – CCR (1969)
  • “Iron Man” – Black Sabbath (1970)
  • “All Right Now” – Free (1970)
  • “Layla” – Derek & The Dominos (1970)
  • “Get It On” – T. Rex (1971)
  • “Aqualung” – Jethro Tull (1971)
  • “Smoke On The Water” – Deep Purple (1972)
  • “School’s Out” – Alice Cooper (1972)
  • “Ballroom Blitz” – The Sweet (1973)
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
  • “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie (1974)
  • “Walk This Way” – Aerosmith (1975)
  • “I Love Rock n Roll” – The Arrows (1975)
  • “The Boys Are Back In Town” – Thin Lizzy (1976)
  • “Blitzkrieg Bop” – The Ramones (1976)
  • “Tie Your Mother Down” – Queen (1976)
  • “Barracuda” – Heart (1977)
  • “The Passenger” – Iggy Pop (1977)
  • “Le Freak” – Chic (1978)
  • “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” – Pink Floyd (1979)
  • “Back in Black” – AC/DC (1980)
  • “Breaking The Law” – Judas Priest (1980)
  • “YYZ” – Rush (1981)
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” – The Clash (1982)
  • “Eye of the Tiger” – Survivor (1982)
  • “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – Yes (1983)
  • “This Charming Man” – The Smiths (1983)
  • “Rock You Like a Hurricane” – Scorpions (1984)
  • “Let’s Go Crazy” – Prince (1984)
  • “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns ‘N’ Roses (1987)
  • “Kickstart My Heart” – Motley Crue (1989)
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana (1991)
  • “Wonderwall” – Oasis (1995)

Memorable Guitar Solos:

Everyone loves a good guitar solo. One of my favourite examples of this is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” – guitar solo by Allen Collins. I am very much guilty of fast forwarding to the guitar solo because that’s when the song gets good. Similarly, my favourite parts of Queen’s “Brighton Rock” (Brian May), Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (Jimmy Page), and Free’s “All Right Now” (Paul Kossoff) are the guitar solos. How many of these guitar solos can you hear in your head when you read the song title?

  • “All Day And All Of The Night” – The Kinks (1964)
  • “Light My Fire” – The Doors (1967)
  • “All Along The Watchtower” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – The Beatles & Eric Clapton (1968)
  • “Sympathy For The Devil” – The Rolling Stones (1968)
  • “Starship Trooper (WΓΌrm)” – Yes (1971)
  • “Highway Star” – Deep Purple (1972)
  • “Reelin’ In The Years” – Steely Dan (1972)
  • “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd (1973)
  • “Jessica” – The Allman Brothers Band (1973)
  • “La Grange” – ZZ Top (1973) – also a great riff
  • “Hotel California” – The Eagles (1976) – I hate this song, but it is a famous guitar solo
  • “Eruption” – Eddie Van Halen (1978) – Wait isn’t this just an entire guitar solo as a song? I’ll count it anyway!
  • “Beat It” – Michael Jackson (1982)
  • “Purple Rain” – Prince (1984)

There’s many more but I don’t want this blog post to be just bullet points. Simply put, you could TikTokify classic rock songs.

Which gets me thinking about something else… Sampling. That could be a whole other blog post for another day. I discussed samples in hip hop with my brother and he was like “nothing is original anymore”, “everything’s a ripoff of something else”. I guess Hollywood doesn’t have the monopoly on remakes.

In conclusion, yesterday’s riff or guitar solo is today’s TikTok clip. Things really haven’t changed that much since the 60s and people aren’t that different after all. Technology though has changed a lot.

What are your thoughts on TikTokification of music? Did you come to the same conclusion or do you have a different perspective? I love to hear your opinions. Share your thoughts in the comments below. Till next time!

Loved this blog post and want to support and see more? Donate to The Diversity of Classic Rock or follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, click the follow button on my website, leave a nice comment, send your music or classic rock related books for review, or donate your art and writing talents to the blog. Thank you for the support!

You can also download the Brave Browser and earn tokens that you can donate to your favourite creators (including me!), donate to charity, or you can keep them for yourself and redeem them for cash. The choice is yours! Thank you!