How TikTok stars are reinventing the path to fame

With a viral hit under their belt, TikTok artists often have more leverage in negotiating record deals. …

In May 2020, Tai Verdes had amassed a few things: multiple failed auditions for American Idol and The Voice, a job selling smartphones at a Verizon store, and a spot in a parking garage, where he practiced singing in his car for an hour-and-a-half every night. Most crucially, he had also tucked away a few lines of a catchy new pop song he’d been writing about a friends-with-benefits relationship. One evening, on a whim, he filmed himself behind the wheel while singing along to a demo of the track, and uploaded the short clip to TikTok.

By Aug. 2020, as the Los Angeles resident was fielding multiple record deals from major labels, he had a little more in his corner: nearly 4.5 million streams of the song, “Stuck in the Middle”; the number-one spot of the Spotify Viral 50 chart; thousands of fan videos using his song on TikTok. He used all of this to negotiate a contract with Arista Records that gives him a level of creative control many established musical stars would envy—and he gives the credit to TikTok.

“I didn’t have a part in the old music industry at all. It was me doing stuff and no one listening,” said Verdes, 25. “Then TikTok made people listen.”

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