Posted on March 14, 2023 in Technology

It’s Easier Than Ever to Accidentally Kill a Song Online

Trying to Build Hype

It’s actually painfully easy to disappoint potential fans by teasing a sample of a song ahead of it’s full release. The latest to do this was Body Shop, by Sam Smith. The singer released a clip of the song’s drop, and it was bassy, scratchy, and sort of grungy, partially because it wasn’t the final mix, partially because Smith was playing the clip on his phone and the speakers were at their limit. People loved it! When the actual song came out, it felt more Dubstep-esque than it had in the clip, because they removed that scratch and re-balanced the bass before release. A lot of listeners, especially on TikTok, wondered why it didn’t sound as good. However, it still worked out for Smith: the initial stumble didn’t wreck the song’s impact like it had the potential to.

Releasing teasers like this is a semi-common way to build hype for a song, for artists both big and small. Artists will leak a little bit of the song they’re working on, usually the ‘drop’ if a song has one, or some other interesting tidbit of it, and hope it inspires their audience to listen to the full thing once it comes out as a way of building anticipation and excitement.

“Girlfriend” vs. “If We Ever Broke Up”

TikTok has changed the playing field, however. It seems pretty common on TikTok that one artist will manage to spin the app to their favor with a trend, but everyone after that will have great difficulty recreating that success, especially if it’s clear they’re trying to leach off that trend because they didn’t have their own idea. A song called ABCDEFU, for example, did really well (it hit the top 40!) because the app liked the artist singing it, and they liked that she was ‘one of them’. Copycats, including the singer for a song called Twinkle Twinkle Little B**** (yes, it uses that melody), did not have nearly as much success. The app was bored with them. It became clear that a number of artists trying to piggyback off of ABCDEFU thought it would be easy to get the people of TikTok to just stream anything mindlessly as long as it ‘belonged to TikTok’. Begging for listens feels… embarrassing, now. If a song is good, it would have blown up on the app organically, right? ABCDEFU came out before saying ‘let’s get together and make this song big!’ became uncool. It’s also not a bad song in its own right – the artist bothered to write it its own melody, at least.

So it seems to be fate that a songwriter who released a teaser specifically on TikTok, a song called Girlfriend by Hemlocke Springs, would shut the door for most of the songs behind it trying to use the same trick, at least for a bit. Hemlocke didn’t release an unfinished or differently mixed teaser for the song, they just took one of the most interesting parts of the bridge and published a number of videos under that sound clip. This trick works pretty consistently if the song is good, but it comes with risks: if the most interesting part of the song is also one that might get annoying pretty fast, the song’s not going to get a good footing when it comes out because listeners may have heard it too much to enjoy it. If the clip is of the most exciting part of the song, it’s not going to be so exciting in the finished track, because it won’t be new anymore, and that reduces re-listens. If the teaser is released too early, interested listeners might not be interested by the time the song comes out for real.

If We Ever Broke Up by Mae Stephens ran into multiple of these sample traps. The sample came out too far ahead of the song, and the fun part of the song was ran into the ground by the time it came out. For those unfamiliar with TikTok’s algorithm for it’s “For You” page, sounds, creators, and content that the viewer interacts with tends to show up more often on their For You page – if you like a video using a certain song, and you physically tap the like button to indicate that, you’re signalling that you want more of that content. You can get stuck in a loop of the same content over and over if you’re not careful with what you’re liking! The same happened to this song – it was new and interesting, and then the For You page kept pushing it forwards, and then it was overplayed for the people who liked it the most by the time the song was fully available for streaming.

To avoid short-changing a song with this trick, the best bet is to not alter the mixing for this particular sound clip, to release the song soon after the clip is released, and to mean it when you create things. ABCDEFU has something honest to it that Twinkle Twinkle Little B**** is lacking.

The Industry Plant Genre

There’s a whole other subsection of TikTok music written for people who may have connections with a real label and enough money to pay for professional production. It’s usually not very good, and it’s almost never the genre it claims to be (often they go for punk, for some reason, a genre that calls out posers like almost no other).

All of the issues that these previews of songs give to their full-length versions are also somehow worse for these songs. They clip the best snippet of their song and slap it onto TikTok in an attempt to create a viral moment with it. Even if they’re successful, ironically or not, it rarely translates well to streams or song purchases. By the nature of plants, the song itself is usually pretty simplistic with obvious rhymes and a bridge that doesn’t do anything for the song, if there even is one. Releasing a clip of an obviously crowd-sourced/committee-written song before the song is out is pure kryptonite for that song’s success.  It doesn’t even have to have suitable-for-work lyrics anymore! Industry plants can use crass language that would bar it from being played at Target, and many do in hopes of appearing more organic. It doesn’t work. 

Nobody likes being advertised to anymore, and if listeners are able to figure it out before the song’s got its rotation in their Spotify playlists, it may as well be dead on the launchpad.