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Catalogue music – traditionally defined as songs over 18 months old – has always been an intriguing proposition, containing locked-away value that sometimes seemed difficult to eke out. After all, any song is new if you’ve never heard it before! The problem was: how do you contextualise an old song for new listeners?

One successful answer, in recent years, has been TikTok, which has turned decades-old songs into global hits again; and millions of teens listening habits now overlap with their grandparents’. Or… is it more complex than that?

A new Chartmetric report argues that, in a modern market where labels are marketing catalogue as if it is front-line music, and royalty fund companies like Hipgnosis are snapping up old songs considered to be sure-fire money-makers, the window of time that songs are considered “frontline” should be significantly extended from 18 months to 3-5 years.

This is because their analysis of the data revealed something else of interest: TikTok hits are much more recent than we may assume, and the high-profile resurgence of old classics are the exceptions, not the rule. “Maybe the real trend,” the report says, “is not that catalog is blowing up, but that our definition of catalog is outdated.”

The majority of tracks that got significant traction on TikTok were released in the last five years, the report continues, and since the big music business companies latched onto TikTok’s power as a platform in 2020, this trend has accelerated – and consolidated. TikTok is not quite the Wild West it once was, and the majors’ marketing heft means that “music consumer attention [is now focussed] on a less diverse pool of tracks,” and as a result, a smaller number of recently-released tracks are getting a greater share of TikTok users’ attention.

It’s no surprise, the report concludes, that this is happening, drawing parallels between the video content seen in YouTube’s early, bubbly years versus the commercialised, hyper-optimised content seen today: “Our data seem to tell the story of an equally global platform in the throes of transition from innocent dance memes to influencer deals.”

TikTok will remain a strong focus for artists, labels and teams: this report is perhaps useful when deciding exactly how much time and attention to devote to TikTok – and which songs to prioritise. It also raises that ever-fascinating question: what will be the next big platform that will provide a few years of disruptive marketing possibilities?

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