Music Week Tech Summit 2021 Preview: Paul Hourican on the past, present & future of TikTok

Music Week Tech Summit 2021 Preview: Paul Hourican on the past, present & future of TikTok

It’s fair to say that when it comes to music and tech, few in the business are as integral as TikTok’s
head of music operations, Paul Hourican. Kicking off our Tech Summit 2021 preview, he talks about the
past, present and future of the platform that’s changing the way songs connect with people… 

Why was it important for TikTok to be involved in the Tech Summit this year?

“Firstly, as an industry, we thrive off communication, collaboration and sharing ideas. We all love great opportunities to get together, particularly during this pandemic. And I also think what Music Week is, and stands for, is the pinnacle of that conversation and opportunity to collaborate. It is such a trusted and important part of the fabric of the UK music industry, it feels right for everyone to come to the Tech Summit, and it’s an honour for TikTok to be part of the programme.”

What can we expect from your keynote address?

“What I’m hoping to convey is that TikTok, like the music industry itself, has developed at an incredible pace and is still evolving. What I really want to get from the Summit, and what I’d love people to take away from our presentation, is the journey that TikTok’s been on. I want to explain what people think they know about TikTok, what people probably don’t know about TikTok, and talk through where TikTok is going, and the creative opportunity for all artists and their music to really thrive on the platform.”

What’s the biggest difference between TikTok at the start of 2020 and right now, in 2021?

“With any new product that comes into an ecosystem like music, it takes time for everyone to acclimatise to it. It takes time for artists – who, in my opinion, are some of the best creative problem solvers ever – their teams, and the industry to understand the platform and its potential. At the start of 2020, we were very much on a journey where everyone could see the power of TikTok, and that it was important to better understand how to work with TikTok as a music team. I think where we are now, in 2021, is like, ‘What can’t I do on TikTok!?’ The artist community has done what they do best: they have embraced this platform in a way like no other group of people who use it. The most groundbreaking and creative ideas are happening right now on TikTok and nowhere else, in my opinion.” 

Is there any sense in which the pandemic rapidly encouraged people to pick up TikTok?

“In the past year, all platforms are seeing some form of benefit from people having more time to use and experiment with them. But TikTok was already growing incredibly rapidly at the start of 2020. To me, one of the things that I took away the most from what we’ve been living through for the last year is that TikTok was a really important gathering place for people during the pandemic. It was entertainment, relevancy and culture all in one place. And from a kind of physical point of view, obviously, bearing in mind the social distancing restrictions and whatnot, TikTok brought people together in front of the camera in a big way; it was really heartwarming to see all the families not just sitting watching technology and consuming the TikToks, but actively making videos together and trying ideas. It sounds grandiose to say but, in the most humble way possible, it lifted people’s spirits in a really positive way during a terrible time.”

We know what TikTok can do for new and breaking artists, but we’re now seeing acts like David Bowie have an official account. What untapped potential does TikTok have for catalogue artists?

“The potential is huge and phenomenal, and it’s for two reasons. Firstly, for legacy artists on the platform, TikTok is just a brilliant space and whiteboard for you to present yourself to a new audience and share the rich tapestry of your career in a new way. That’s a really exciting opportunity. The other thing about TikTok is, of course, that we have a huge pedigree in music discovery and discovering new artists. That’s important to us, and long may that continue. But music discovery also applies to catalogue music as well. I always think it’s fascinating that every generation is going to hear Jimi Hendrix or David Bowie for the first time. Context is key to that, and what better place to be introduced to legendary artists than in a space like TikTok, which is all about championing creativity and inclusion. That’s what’s so exciting. Boney M’s Rasputin is a massive global hit now thanks to TikTok or, I should say, thanks to the users of TikTok. Amazing music doesn’t have a sell-by-date and people found it and fell in love with it. It feels so sweet when someone has taken time out of their day to make a video to your music. That must just be an incredible feeling for an artist. That’s what’s exciting to me about the sort of ‘legacy’ or ‘catalogue’ artists, there’s a whole world of opportunity. Blondie, Bowie, Andrew Lloyd Webber… They’re the original, creative trailblazers, so why not be on TikTok?”

What do you dream of TikTok offering that it doesn’t currently?

“I can’t reveal certain key things that we’re working on, but if you look at TikTok as a whole, we’re absolutely committed to the success of artists on our platform. We care deeply about artists and their music on our platform. From features like the creator hub, which we just launched, which is a portal for all artists and creators to learn more about the platform and how to use it, from live, which is an incredibly powerful tool on TikTok, from all the amazing functions that are coming out, like duets, and a new function called Album Art – a new filter where you can recreate album art. We are laser-focused on providing the best creative place for artists to do cool stuff." 

How significant was the recent Universal Music deal which means users are able to incorporate clips from UMG’s full catalogue of music?

“Hats off to Ole [Obermann, global head of music] and Tracy [Gardner, head of label licensing] and
the team that have worked so hard to achieve that deal. It’s amazing news for the platform – it validates our commitment to the music business and rights holders. And it opens up so many more opportunities for all the great artists on Universal to become more deeply involved in the platform and emulate all the success other artists have seen, too.”

Things change quickly in the digital space. Why is TikTok built to last?

“There are a number of reasons why I feel very confident about that. First and foremost, TikTok is genuinely head and shoulders better than anything else you could even try to compare it to on the market; TikTok’s product is phenomenal. Just as important is our community, which ushered in a new era of how people want to communicate with one another. They are so passionate and music is, of course, a crucial and important part of that. As long as we focus on doing the best job possible for the community, TikTok will be here for a very, very long time. I don’t see it going anywhere. The third thing is that, as a business, we have such a brilliant, passionate music operations team. We are building a really great workplace culture and we’re very proud of the journey the music team’s been on.”

Paul Hourican will deliver the closing keynote address at the Music Week Tech Summit 2021. Click here to buy tickets.

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