- TikTok has become a major driver of trends in the music industry in recent months.
- The short-form video app has proven to be both a launching-off platform for new songs and a place where older tracks can find new life.
- Matthew Wilder’s 1983 pop song “Break My Stride” recently became a meme on TikTok, appearing in hundreds of thousands of videos on the app.
- Business Insider spoke to the marketing team at Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings, which manages “Break My Stride” and the rest of the record label’s legacy song catalog, to learn more about the company’s strategy for amplifying older songs that have reemerged into cultural relevancy.
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On January 13, the marketing team at Sony Music Entertainment noticed that one of its songs, Matthew Wilder’s 1983 hit “Break My Stride,” was surging on TikTok.
“Our entire music catalog is effectively tracked on a daily basis,” said Andy McGrath, the senior vice president of marketing at Legacy Recordings, a division within Sony Music focused on the label’s catalog of songs dating back decades. “We’re constantly monitoring actions, reactions, and trends that happen on TikTok. We watch what’s happening and how many people are creating their own challenges and sharing existing challenges, et cetera, and then we start to say, ‘Okay something’s happening here.'”
“Break My Stride” began taking off in the form of a meme where TikTok users recorded themselves sending a text or Snap to a parent or peer with the song’s opening lyrics. Sony didn’t pay TikTok influencers to promote the song (a common practice in the music marketing world). Instead, the resurgence of the 1980’s synth-pop hit happened organically from a meme and video challenge created by the app’s largely Gen Z users.
“We’ve certainly experimented with stoking challenges and things like that with influencers, but what’s working best for us is kind of a more hands-off approach, if you will, and being hyper focused on reacting versus proactively paying influencers,” McGrath said.
Legacy Recordings has tested out proactive promotions for some of its older tracks in the past year, enlisting influencers to try to draw attention to the 15th anniversary of Ciara’s “Goodies” in September. But its greatest success on the app has happened organically through user-generated memes and dance challenges.
TikTok has become a key promotional tool for both up-and-coming music artists and established performers alike.
The upstart music producer Tiagz built a fan base of millions of monthly listeners by writing songs that directly reference trends happening on TikTok. TikTok has continued to define Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart each month, and artists like Drake have used the app to promote new releases through dance challenges. Wilder’s “Break My Stride” is one of many legacy tracks that have grabbed a fresh audience on the app by being included in a challenge or meme.
“Songs from back catalogs [are] all of the sudden coming up, where they’ve never had a Gen Z audience, or even a millennial audience,” Kendall Ostrow, head of client strategy at United Talent Agency’s IQ department, told Business Insider in February.
When a song in Sony’s collection begins to trend on social media, the company jumps into action to try to fan the flames and help boost its plays on streaming platforms.
Its first step after “Break My Stride” started rising on TikTok was to reach out to Wilder to let him know that his song was having a moment.
“We drop a note to the artist, or his or her team, and say ‘Hey, there might be something here. Are you aware of this? Are you interested in participating?'” McGrath said. “In the case of Matthew, he was and he was really enthusiastic. Our teams worked together on building out what his actions should be and best practices around engaging with fans.”
Sony encouraged Wilder to post his own version of the meme on TikTok on January 24 — a little over a week after the song began to trend — while taking steps to make the song more discoverable on streaming platforms.
“If we’re talking about catalog artists — 90s, 80s, early 2000s — a lot of these artists may or may not have TikTok accounts,” said Kerry Abner, a marketing manager focused on social media and streaming at Sony’s Legacy Recordings. “We want to get them on the platform and start engaging with their fans there by inserting themselves into the challenge.”
Four days after Wilder’s TikTok post went up, the artist and label also uploaded a new lyric video on YouTube that directly referenced the TikTok texting meme.
“We made our lyric video kind of mimic that exchange between two people, and that was really helpful for the campaign and helping people to connect the dots,” McGrath said.
In addition to creating new video assets to help users track down a song that’s regained cultural relevance, Legacy Recordings will sometimes change a song’s name or track description (with consent from its artist) so that it directly references the new context in which users are now discovering it.
Sony recently changed the track name of Harry Nilsson’s 1971 song “Gotta Get Up” to “Gotta Get Up – As heard in the Netflix series Russian Doll,” after it was used in the 2019 Netflix comedy-drama series “Russian Doll.” The company took a similar action for an REO Speedwagon song that was used in Netflix’s show “Ozark.”
To make its new “Break My Stride” YouTube lyric video more discoverable for TikTok users, the company added a link to the TikTok #BreakMyStride challenge in the video’s description.
The company will also make sure that the trending track appears at the top of playlists that it manages on music apps like Spotify, where some of its curated playlists have hundreds of thousands of followers.
“From a marketing perspective, playlisting is very important to us, as it is at lots of the other labels and divisions within those labels,” McGrath said. “We kind of take the track and give it preferred placement within playlists that are relevant to TikTok, but also in [Wilder’s] case, the 80s and stuff like that.”
TikTok users appear to have had no trouble finding “Break My Stride” on streaming platforms in recent weeks.
After appearing in hundreds of thousands of videos on TikTok, the track has been played over 100 million times on Spotify and YouTube. “Break My Stride” received spots on Spotify’s Viral 50 playlists in the United States and the United Kingdom, and landed on Apple Music’s Top 100 chart in over 20 countries. Sony told Business Insider that consumption of the track spiked 1,206% after the #BreakMyStrideChallenge challenge took off on TikTok. Three months after the TikTok trend began, daily streams of the song were still up 316%, the company said.
Legacy Recordings (and Sony Music in general) has tested the waters on working with influencers to promote its songs, but the company has found that proactive campaigns are far less effective than user-generated memes to make a track go viral.
“Break My Stride” is one of a few songs in Sony’s catalog that have taken off organically on TikTok in recent months. The 2010 Kesha track “Cannonball” recently blew up on the app after some of its most popular creators began posting dance videos.
“You can’t tell what this younger demographic is going to react to and what’s going to spread,” said Abner, who worked on promoting Ciara’s “Goodies” track on TikTok last year. “You never know which conversation is going to happen, or when. So the way we think about it is to not only plan what we can plan for, but also be willing to react when things are happening.”
Legacy Recordings occasionally does paid promotions for catalog songs through ads on social media or streaming platforms like YouTube to help give it an extra boost if it’s already gaining traction through a social media meme or challenge. But the company is also careful not to come off as exploitative or overly opportunistic in its messaging to TikTok users.
“We want to be very mindful and respectful of TikTok culture and that generational audience,” Abner said. “We don’t want to come in there with sales-y messaging or anything like that.”
For more stories on how record labels, artists, and brands are taking advantage of music trends on TikTok, check out these other Business Insider Prime posts:
- The agency behind one of TikTok’s top ad campaigns says brands can build a massive audience through original music and dance trends but the ‘window is closing quickly’: Business Insider spoke to the cofounders of Movers Shakers to learn more about their TikTok strategy, and how brands fit into the app’s future.
- Music artist Tiagz explains how he mastered TikTok’s algorithm to score a major record deal, with help from Charli D’Amelio and a 1950s jazz classic: The Canadian rapper Tiagz (Tiago Garcia-Arenas) has built a career as a producer by strategically uploading songs to the short-form video app TikTok.
- A teeth-whitening brand studied TikTok’s algorithm to decide which influencers to hire and ended up gaining 100,000 followers in a week: HiSmile hired TikTok stars from the Hype House and Sway LA to create a wave of attention-grabbing videos on the social app.