An Indie Musician’s Guide On Becoming Internet Famous in 2022


Here’s a TL;DR summary:

  1. Get access to the internet, a smartphone, and TikTok
  2. Be really, really good at what you do. And if you’re a singer only (i.e., you don’t play a musical instrument at a high level of proficiency), you’ll need to be in the top 1 percent in terms of talent. You’ll only add value to the viewer’s experience if you’re astonishingly talented at what you do as opposed to just being average and mediocre.
  3. Make a video no longer than 30 seconds and make sure that it’s well lit. Be mindful that you’ve only got about 5 – 10 seconds to keep the viewers attention. Captioning it will retain the viewer’s attention if she doesn’t have her volume turned on when viewing your content

If you follow Items 1 through 3, you should develop a following on TikTok fairly quickly.

How do I know this? Because since December 12th 2021 I’ve been able to grow my follower base from 294 followers to about 6,000 (it’s January 2nd 2022 as I write this – i.e., 21 days). The video I posted on December 12th, a 30-second guitar lesson, has been viewed 332,000 times:

I only discovered this formula after 12 months of trial and error trying to figure out the problem of how to go viral on TikTok.

And going viral is your goal, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Instagram versus TikTok

I posted the above video on both TikTok and Instagram Reels on December 12th 2021. Here are the stats for both as of January 2nd 2022 (i.e., 21 days):

  • In Instagram Reels, this video has been viewed almost 11,000 times and shared 26 times.
  • In contrast, this video has been viewed 332,000 times and shared 1,431 times on TikTok

It’s the same video and I used the same hashtags on both platforms, so why is there such a huge discrepancy in terms of performance?

I’ve developed a theory:

  • TikTok has fewer users than Instagram and it’s competing with Instagram for users. To attract users to its platform, TikTok wants to create social media stars by making it easier for their content to go viral.
  • In contrast, Instagram is trying to squeeze money out of its huge user base by making it harder for users to go viral organically. Instagram wants users to pay for promoted content. And many of them will, out of desperation for their content to be seen and heard.

Therefore, based on my own experience (and speaking with other indie musicians who’ve had similar experiences), trying to win at Instagram is pointless unless you’re willing to pay for it. It’s essentially a platform with a “pay to play” algorithm so it’s become much more challenging to become visible and acquire new followers on that platform unless you purchase sponsored posts.

Therefore, I’m only going to focus on TikTok for the remainder of this article.

Being Very VERY Talented Is Important

Prior to my December 12th discovery, I thought that becoming famous on TikTok was akin to winning the lottery. I had concluded that going viral on that platform was due to random good luck. The Algorithmic Gods of TikTok smiled upon the lucky few and they were chosen for internet stardom.

This is what I had thought as I posted videos of me singing songs on TikTok throughout 2021. Each video would get under 500 views and about 25 likes.

However, within a few hours of my posting my 30-second guitar lesson video, it racked up thousands of views and hundreds of shares. It was unbelievable!

And since that time, I’ve been able to obtain thousands of views within hours of uploading each subsequent guitar video onto TikTok.

Since my December 12th discovery, I’ve watched many videos by some really good singers (but not top 1 percent good) and they didn’t get many views either. I’ve developed a theory as to why.

Everyone thinks they can sing, and they think they can do it better than you. They’ll either scroll past your video or worse, they’ll leave a nasty comment.

However, if you’re a really good instrumentalist (but not necessarily top 1 percent good), you’ll gain the respect of viewers because they accept that they can’t play guitar, bass, drums or keyboards as well as you can. They know that learning how to play a musical instrument very well takes a lot of effort.

Singing on the other hand is something that anyone can do – or at least that’s the perception.

The top 1 percent singers I’ve seen on TikTok are astonishingly good. For example, there’s this girl in Italy (I forget her name) who sings popular songs in the whistle register and she has 1 million followers. It’s gimmicky but very impressive.

My advice: unless you’re an astonishingly talented singer, learn how to play an instrument proficiently so you don’t look like a hack singer trying to make it big on social media.

Then try to build your audience by showing off your instrumental skills. Once you’ve built your audience, you can focus on marketing your singing and original music to them.

Going Viral Is The Way To Be Discovered

Live music venues in global music centers such as London UK are slowly but surely disappearing because of real estate development. Bars are closing and are being replaced by condominiums. Therefore, the days of being discovered performing in a bar by an A&R rep from a music label are fast disappearing if not already gone.

Moreover, no A&R rep in her right mind is going to put her neck on the line in signing an unknown artist, no matter how talented that artist may be, unless she can justify her decision to sign with hard numbers.

Therefore, the most likely (if not the only) way of being discovered and signed by a music label is by going viral on social media. The more views your content receives, the better justification an A&R rep can make in signing you.

Keep Things Brief, Well Lit and Captioned

I’ve found that shorter videos seem to perform better on TikTok – the shorter the better. I’d use 30 seconds for the cut-off of what I’d consider a short video. I’ve posted guitar videos longer than 30 seconds which didn’t perform nearly as well as those under 30 seconds, even though they were of similar quality in terms of content.

The reason for keeping your video well lit should be self-explanatory; viewers want to be able to see you clearly.

Finally, captioning your video will be helpful when many of your viewers will probably have the volume on their smartphones turned off. They can continue viewing your content and understand what you’re saying (or singing) and hence, they’re less likely to scroll away from your video.