TikTok's Paul Hourican on the future of going viral


It looks like the long-running saga of TikTok’s US ownership is coming to an end. Yesterday, Music Week reported that TikTok had rejected Microsoft’s bid to purchase the app’s US operations from ByteDance, and a partnership with US software firm Oracle now seems to be the most likely outcome.

"We can confirm that we've submitted a proposal to the Treasury Department which we believe would resolve the administration's security concerns," said a TikTok statement. "This proposal would enable us to continue supporting our community of 100 million people in the US who love TikTok for connection and entertainment, as well as the hundreds of thousands of small business owners and creators who rely upon TikTok to grow their livelihoods and build meaningful careers."

It remains to be seen whether that will placate President Donald Trump’s concerns over the security of TikTok users’ data. The US government is expected to review the proposed deal later this week. But, with the deal unlikely to cover TikTok UK, here on this side of the Atlantic it’s business as usual…

And business is good. Very good, in fact, with the video-sharing app passing 100 million monthly active users, as reported by Music Week yesterday. And global head of music Ole Obermann gave Music Week an exclusive update on how the company’s licensing deals are progressing, while TikTok Music is shortlisted in the Music Consumer Innovation category at the 2020 Music Week Awards.

Meanwhile, those 100m users are helping to break records more effectively than anything else right now. Last week’s Music Week TikTok cover story enjoyed unparalleled access to the way the app works for music – and the man right at the heart of that is head of UK music operations, Paul Hourican.

So, just prior to the latest developments in the US, Music Week sat down with Hourican to discuss where TikTok goes next…

Why has TikTok blown up this year?
“Well, it’s a brilliant product, genuinely best in class and revolutionary in terms of how it serves content and learns what people like. But, first and foremost, it’s about the users, the artists and the music. They wanted a way to communicate and express themselves creatively that they weren’t finding anywhere else. Like all platforms, lockdown has obviously helped, more people have more time on their hands. But it was happening way before that, because it genuinely sparked a revolution in how people want to communicate.”

Has the success and the subsequent influx of big names to the platform changed the dynamic?
“I don’t think it has. What makes TikTok is that it’s about the authenticity of the platform and the content that really inspires songs to fit. When you look at someone like Drake, what he did really well [with Toosie Slide] – and that’s why he is where he is and is such an amazing artist – is that he really understood the culture of TikTok, in order to create something that fans and users on the platform really gravitate to and lean into. It’s the same with lots of artists on the platform. Dua Lipa makes brilliant TikToks. She’s really leaned in to creating videos for the community as well as being one of the world’s biggest artists. There’s room for everyone and what TikTok is all about is engagement, so if you’re authentically communicating your brand as an artist on TikTok, you’ll have a brilliant chance of success.”

What do you want from the industry?
“We want to be the best partners we can be. We’re in a really good place in terms of the relationships we have and it’s testament to the team we have across Europe and the UK who do a great job. So [tell us] how we can get in on creative concepts and really create interesting moments so music is on the platform, available to our users. Tell us how can we grow our business together.”

If you’re authentically communicating your brand as an artist on TikTok, you’ll have a brilliant chance of success

Paul Hourican, TikTok

What do you think of the competition from Instagram Reels, Triller etc?
“Honestly, we don’t look at them. Competition is always going to occur and we welcome competition. But we’re really just focused on our users and the music community that’s on TikTok. It’s all about, ‘Are the users having a brilliant experience on TikTok and are they creating amazing content for our users?’”

Do the constant rumours about a sale/ban have any impact on what you do?
“No. We’ve got a job to do with music. Every day you wake up and it’s a delight to open up your inbox, see what’s popping, what’s happening on the platform, who’s exciting, who’s happening. There’s always stuff happening in the music space so we’re just focused on that.”

Where do you want TikTok to be in five years’ time?
“TikTok is perfectly set up. It is an amazing offering to the user and growing TikTok into [a long-term] business has got to be one of the aims in next five years. A crucial part of that is, we need to innovate around music and continue to support artists and rights-holders to create the best experience for our users and, crucially, connect the artists and the fans together. So, in five years, I want TikTok to be where it is now – at the epicentre of music culture and discovery.”

* To read our recent, exclusive TikTok cover feature, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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