Editor's note: Akansha Kumar, Jannick Steinke, Sebastian Gorki, and Valerian Dilger are music business students at the Popakademie in Germany. They gained additional industry experience at companies such as Live From Earth, Electric Feel, Amazon Music, and Ease Agency. Over the past few months, we have supported the students in their academic project to study how TikTok is influencing the German charts. This article highlights some of the key findings and is available as a full academic research paper here.
Social media platforms like TikTok have undoubtedly become an integral part of our society, but they also influence the behavior and views of users. Anyone who is active on TikTok has probably experienced how certain songs suddenly appear repeatedly in one's feed and a short time later are found in the music charts. In this joint research project with Chartmetric, we sought to make this influence measurable and to analyze the musical impact of TikTok on the German charts leading us to the following hypotheses:
- It can be assumed that TikTok influences the German music charts and that a significant share of TikTok chart titles can also be found in the charts of other streaming and media platforms.
- Since the user counts of TikTok have increased exponentially in recent years, it can also be assumed that its influence on other platforms has also increased in this development.
- And it is likely that catalog titles in particular will regain visibility via TikTok and be sent into a renewed cycle of success.
With total sales of $2.1 billion, the German recorded music market is considered the fourth largest in the world in terms of revenue. In contrast to the leading U.S. market, where in 2020 more than 89 percent of revenues already came from digital shares, the German market only accounted for a digital revenue share of 71.5 percent. Due to these proportions, we decided to include not only the digital Spotify Top 200 Germany, the Spotify Viral 50 Germany and the Apple Music Charts Germany in the analysis, but also the Shazam charts, the classic radio charts, and the Official German Charts (value charts).
To visually represent correlations, we created a heat map that cross-references the correlation coefficients between the respective platforms.
If we define correlations of 0.5 or more as strong, correlations around 0.3 as moderate, and correlations around 0.1 as low, we find that both the Official German Charts and the Spotify charts have moderate correlations with the TikTok charts, with by far the strongest correlation occurring among catalog tracks. The higher songs from this category are positioned in the TikTok charts, the higher their chart ranking is in the Official German Charts. This finding suggests that TikTok can breathe new life into individual songs that are already of considerable age, namely older than 18 months. And thinking back on some of last year's TikTok hits, this finding is reinforced by some of the biggest viral sensations, such as "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac or "Rasputin" by Boney M. In some cases, these songs even make a full return to the charts after last appearing decades ago.
Diving deeper into the data, we find mostly moderate correlation coefficients between the various streaming charts (Spotify Top 50, Apple Top 50) and the TikTok charts. Interestingly, the charts of different streaming platforms do not seem to differ much, as the charts of Apple Music and Spotify show one of the strongest correlations. A plausible explanation for this is that both platforms, as the largest music streaming providers, reflect the listening patterns of very large groups of customers whose music preferences do not seem to differ much on average.
For the Spotify viral charts, the correlation was rather surprisingly weak, which is probably due to the high fluctuation of tracks in this hit parade. While we found the largest number of matches with 152 individual songs appearing in both TikTok Top 100 and Spotify Viral 50, this hit parade also showed a very high fluctuation of tracks. In other words, there’s a bigger chance of songs breaking into the Viral 50, as they’re changing daily based on user interaction, in turn leading to a higher total number of tracks. This could also be an explanation for the weak correlation.
Since radio has been considered an aging medium, it is not surprising that it has a moderately negative correlation with the TikTok charts, meaning that a song on TikTok is already on the decline when stations finally start to pick it up.
We also examined whether the number of daily matches (songs that appear on both charts) between the German charts and the TikTok charts increased from November 2020 to April 2021. Since this does not seem to be the case and the number of matches remained about the same, we cannot conclude that the importance of TikTok increased during this period.
Following these findings and for the purposes of a later examination, the analyzed songs were grouped into categories distinguished by both release date and relevance at the time of release for Spotify (indicated by the appearance of the songs in the New Music Friday playlists).
The catalog track "Arcade" by Duncan Laurence, which did not appear in any New Music Friday playlists, showed a clear platform succession. According to the report, the song first developed on the TikTok platform and then was picked up on the Spotify Viral 50 chart. On Spotify, the track’s reach through playlists developed most through personalized playlists (the most of any success story studied), then through viral playlists in individual territories (especially countries with Trigger Cities), to finally end up in the Top 50 Global Charts and the Top 50 Charts of top-selling countries. Ultimately, the catalog track ended up in the Official German Charts without even appearing in the radio charts.
Songs that are defined as frontline tracks, such as the hit story "Monster" by Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, which was chosen as an example for this purpose, do not have a clear platform progression. Instead, the song appeared on the streaming charts from the start. This might be a result of industry power and the impact of a major label release, which frequently debut in chart-topping rankings. However tracing the track positioning on each platform’s chart over time, TikTok shows the lowest entry position for the track, but it quickly catches up to the placements of the other charts and then drops out of the Top 1000 charts about seven weeks after release. On the radio and Official German Charts, the track at least held its own until the end of our study period.
“Monster” received high attention through the popularity of the artists involved and TikTok became just another channel used for the release campaign. Here in particular, the cross-platform analysis showed that fluctuations in the charts of Spotify were also reflected by those of Apple Music. This suggests that external variables can have a decisive influence on song performance that ripples across platforms.
For comparison, we used another success story that was also released during the study period but first appeared on the TikTok charts. The previously unknown The Kid LAROI made his breakthrough with his song "WITHOUT YOU." Due to its explicit catchphrase, the sound went viral in numerous hilariously picked-up TikTok creations. The order of the platform charts is similar to the catalog of the success story: TikTok charts, Spotify charts, Shazam charts, Apple charts, Official German Charts, and then radio charts.
In other words, some platforms are more effective at developing successful tracks earlier and faster than others..
What we were able to prove is that there is a correlation between the TikTok charts and the German charts, but what needs to be considered with regard to the German music market is that the influences on the various streaming and social media platforms is varied.
While the Official German Charts are not only influenced by TikTok, but by several other platforms (and without a clear linear direction), the extensive data analysis showed that the Official German Charts demonstrate the strongest correlation with the TikTok Charts.
The same can clearly be seen in the streaming charts, whereas a negative correlation was found with radio charts and Shazam charts.
The jump from hearing a sound on an entertainment platform like TikTok to hearing it as a song on a streaming platform could be decisive for the influence on the Official German Charts.
Further, the characteristics of the individual song may also allow statements to be made in advance about the potential success of a sound in any given context.
Special contextualization, specific catchlines, situational emotion, genre, and also the preexisting popularity of artists are determining factors for the success of a sound on TikTok and thus also for its entry into the Official German Charts.
Where does that leave us? Well, keeping in mind that the Official German Charts and the German streaming charts are considered a metric for measuring an artist's success, we were able to show that even in Germany, TikTok is to be looked at as a significant player in an artist's (digital) journey to success.
Importantly, catalog tracks were able to make a comeback through a whole new generation of listeners, which could lead to the assumption that pairing songs with short user-generated videos has had a significant role in determining how (long) we consume a song.
Contrary to our expectations, the influence of TikTok did not increase overall during the study period. For further analysis, an even longer study period could be examined in order to identify a possible increase in influence.
Ultimately, it appears that long lost catalog tracks are benefiting most from TikTok's influence on the German charts, which does evidently exist.