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Kai Xiang Teo and Dan Whateley
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- TikTok Music sets itself apart from Spotify with a greater emphasis on social listening.
- It's user-friendly, but the "For You" feature at its core generated more misses for us than hits.
- The app launched in Singapore on July 19. A US release date has not yet been announced.
TikTok has become a force in the music industry, driving new hits through video trends and pushing old tracksto the top of the song charts. Now, it's using that influence to kick-start its own music-streaming app, TikTok Music.
The company's new app is currently only available to users in Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, Mexico, and Singapore.
Insider signed up for an early look at the Singapore version that's being tested in a closed beta.
After spending hours exploring the platform, we found TikTok has leaned heavily into some of the same features that made its video app popular.
Like TikTok's interface, TikTok Music includes a "For You" feed of recommended content. It also incorporates social features, such as the ability to comment on songs and react to what other users are saying. This sets it apart from leading streamers like Spotify and Apple Music, which have limited in-app social features.
"We find in our consumer surveys that younger consumers are more interested in having a more social streaming experience," Tatiana Cirisano, a music-industry analyst and consultant at the research firm MIDiA Research, told Insider. "Spotify is starting to offer more things in that vein, but I just see it as an opportunity that's ripe for TikTok's taking."
TikTok may also be uniquely positioned to capture younger users as they start to enter the marketplace.
"If they've grown up with TikTok before they are actually spending money on any subscriptions, and then TikTok Music is out there, that could be pretty scary for Spotify and some of these other players if they're thinking about the next generation," Cirisano said.
It's still very early days for TikTok Music, and its rivals have a big headstart — Apple Music and Spotify are each in more than 100 countries.
But other relative newcomers like YouTube Music have shown there's room to break into music streaming, particularly for platforms that can leverage another popular app to drive sign-ups. YouTube reached 73 million music subscriptions in Q4 2022, up from 23 million three years earlier, per data compiled by MIDiA.
TikTok has not yet said when TikTok Music will roll out to other countries including the US. A spokesperson told Insider in July it will have "more news to share" on that front in the coming months.
In our tour of the app in Singapore, we found TikTok Music stood out from its peers with unique social features and a Shazam-style song identifier.
Yet, we felt TikTok Music's "For You" song recommendations in its discovery feed missed the mark — a surprising deficiency given its sister app is known for having an industry-leading content-recommendation algorithm — although the music app did excel at making song mixes.
TikTok Music requires users to sign up for a subscription — and having a TikTok account is not optional
Immediately upon launch, the app prompts users to sign in via TikTok. We were required to have an account on the short-form video app to even use TikTok Music.
Breaking away from Spotify and other platforms that offer both free ad-supported and paid options, TikTok Music is subscription-only. In Singapore, where users are getting a three-month free trial as part of its current closed beta program — there is no option for a free tier that comes with advertising.
That could be because TikTok's parent company ByteDance has struggled to convert free users to paying customers in the past. It tested a free tier in its other music-streaming app, Resso, and very few users paid for the app, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Once we finished logging into TikTok Music, the app showed a list of recommended artists to follow based on the TikTok account.
The app's 'For You' page looks straight out of TikTok
Right from the start, it's clear that TikTok Music takes inspiration from its sister app and emphasizes music discovery.
The first thing we saw after signing up was the app's "For You" feed.
Anyone familiar with TikTok will feel right at home with the vertical, algorithm-driven feed — simply scroll to see what's next.
In the span of a minute, Insider scrolled through an odd mix of songs ranging from the Russian version of "Holding Out For A Hero" from the "Tetris" movie soundtrack to the parody song "Wet Diaper (Goo Goo Gah Gah)" from Showtime's "Ziwe."
Despite scrolling for hours, it never quite felt like the algorithm achieved the same addictive, mindless, and time-consuming groove that the TikTok app does. Perhaps an endless vertical scroll just isn'tsuited to music.
The algorithm is as opaque here as it is on TikTok, but there are noteworthy changes
TikTok offers the ability to choose between "Fresh" or "Familiar" music on the For You page. This adjusts the user experience to allow for discovering new songs versus hearing more familiar tracks.
However, that's really the only form of control a user has over the app's algorithm, as they can't control other factors like genre or mood. Users need to make their own playlists or request a "similar mix" from a particular song in order to guarantee they'll hear certain types of music.
The app has a dedicated history page that makes it easy to keep track of songs while jumping between playlists. It also has a built-in music identifier that can recognize songs playing around a user. The feature basically renders Apple-owned Shazam obsolete if this is your primary music app.
TikTok Music also has a useful trick for social gatherings, offering a party mode that allows you to pump up the volume even higher and to use your phone's flashlight function as a strobe light.
TikTok puts a greater emphasis on social listening than other streaming apps we've used
TikTok Music features a comments section for every song, reminiscent of comments from the main TikTok app. Unlike other streaming apps, the comments don't seem like an afterthought — top comments are featured alongside a song's cover art.
So far, we found that only the most popular of songs on the app had active comment pages, but it's easy to see how drastically the app differs from other music streamers with its emphasis on social listening.
The app also provides an built-in translation feature for comments, which is useful considering TikTok Music's diverse global audience.
It also sets itself apart from Spotify by offering a richly detailed interface for song sharing, letting users choose and customize various visual styles before sending songs privately or posting to other social media platforms.
The app's music selections are heavily influenced by TikTok users
The app's heavy TikTok influence is instantly apparent here, coloring not just its design, but also the music it serves up. The "Discover" page is filled with rows of playlists based on what's currently popular on TikTok, alongside other playlists.
TikTok has also started showing users popular songs on its main video app, recently testing a new feature that reveals "Hot 50" and "Viral" music charts to some users.
Beyond that, the usual fare of curated and automatically generated playlists fill TikTok Music's Discover page.
TikTok's core interface might look familiar to Spotify or Apple Music users, but its music mixes stand out
Those familiar with Spotify or Apple Music won't raise an eyebrow at much of TikTok Music's interface. Even its artist pages look straight out of Spotify.
One big difference though is how much more specific the app's targeted recommendations felt. You can start a "similar mix" for a particular song, and the results absolutely blow Spotify and Apple Music out of the water.
We were genuinely impressed that TikTok Music's similar mix of Illenium's "With All My Heart" made a playlist of EDM-infused songs about life after or in love, which were so lyrically similar they might as well have all been written by Christina Perri.
Ditto for being able to create a playlist of extremely emo instrumental synth rock with a song from the progressive-rock group Archive.
Importing your music from Spotify or Apple Music could cost extra
For all its charm, TikTok Music has one big obstacle. The process of importing music from your listening app of choice takes you to a third-party platform, TuneMyMusic. Here, you are limited to importing 500 songs unless you're willing to shell out for a premium subscription to TuneMyMusic, which costs $4.50 a month.
As listeners who have way more than 500 songs saved across dozens of playlists, we were frustrated by having to choose between paying or starting anew.
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