Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » TikTok

Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » TikTok


You’ve got no choice.

That’s what Prof G, i.e. Scott Galloway, said on his podcast.

There are two podcasts featuring Galloway. One is Pivot, with Kara Swisher, the other is The Prof G Pod, which is his alone. You can read about Galloway here: https://nyti.ms/3AoCZ2l

Scott is absent from the Pivot podcast this month, so don’t tune in. The magic of Pivot is Scott’s responses to Kara. Kara alone…she drop names and is so inside as to lose the plot too often. But Scott is on the ball. He called Elon/Twitter right.

In Galloway’s Prof G podcast, which airs twice a week, just like Pivot, he answers questions. And a recent one was whether Twitter made a mistake shutting down Vine. Galloway thought so, but he ended up singing the praises, waxing rhapsodic about TikTok.

It’s about the data points.

Scott said after a brief view Netflix only has a few. TikTok has hundreds! Watch just a little and the algorithm starts adjusting to serve you up what you want to see, even if you didn’t know you wanted to see it. Like I keep getting golf shots on Instagram Reels, whose algorithm is nowhere near as good as TikTok’s, and I’ve never ever liked a golf clip, don’t follow any golfers, but I enjoy what is served up!

Now Scott said the average person takes ten minutes to choose what to watch on Netflix. Which kind of stunned me, since everybody I know seems to go by the algorithms, or what their friends say. I research much longer than ten minutes, because I don’t want to waste any time watching lowbrow, boring, obvious television.

In other words, there’s a barrier. What Scott calls a tax.

And there’s none on TikTok. On TikTok you just launch the app and clips are served up. You get NO CHOICE!

This is exactly what we need in music. I’ve written about this before, and it got no traction then and it will get no traction now. There should be one track a week promoted by ALL streaming platforms. Or at least each platform should only have one. The Track of the Week. We’d all check it out. So we could talk about it! After all, everybody would be exposed to it. Would we like every track? OF COURSE NOT! But we’d check it out. Now many people don’t check out new music whatsoever, it’s too overwhelming.

Of course Spotify has Discover Weekly, a personalized algorithmic playlist, but I gave up on that, too many tuneouts. And Release Radar? The problem with algorithms is they can’t see the facts. If it’s a reissue, a remix, a remaster, IT’S NOT NEW! Sure, you want to make me aware, but it clutters up the flow and I don’t listen.

Now you must know your TikTok thread is personalized to you, AND ONLY YOU!

And what that means is what you may be into, few others may be into.

Last night I got on a comedy jag. I was looking for this young, deadpan female comic who is really good. I hadn’t followed her, which was a mistake, because I still haven’t found her again.

And I found some good stuff, and then researched these comics, and some of their YouTube clips only had hundreds of views. A couple had thousands of views. And in terms of career traction, THAT’S NOWHERE!

I mean you’ve got to start somewhere. But the road to the top is longer than ever before. And concomitantly those at the top reach fewer people than ever before. So, if you’re lucky you’ll be able to give up your day job, AND MOST OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE NOT!

And they don’t understand the basic rules. QUALITY COUNTS! Do not post a TikTok clip with bad audio. Not only does the audience tune out, the algorithm sees you skipping their videos and…they’re out of sight and out of mind! Quality is more important than frequency, remember that.

And the barrier to entry is NONEXISTENT!

This is music on steroids!

I mean it’s simple to make a song and post it. You can buy the beats, Macs come with GarageBand… Whereas every other kind of entertainment on TikTok…requires much less history and much less talent. EVERYBODY knows how to talk, not everybody knows how to play an instrument, never mind write a song.

And in truth everybody knows crappy TikToks go nowhere. And TikTok is not about impressing your friends, but people in general. So why bother if you’re not going to play for real?

And the level of innovation is mind-blowing. Sure, there are clichéd verticals, sex and beauty, but some people say the damndest things. You’ll find more wisdom about relationships on TikTok than you will in a slew of self-help books, and they’re BITE-SIZED!

And sure, special effects, trickery has an audience, but really it’s just about the person/people in the clip. You may be good-looking, but do you have charisma? Are you wooden on screen? Can you connect with people?

TikTok is YouTube on steroids. Because there’s no searching! Oh, you can search. But really, you just see what the algorithm delivers and go on your own personal hejira. There are very few tuneouts, and if you hit one and scroll past it, TIKTOK KNOWS!

TikTok is not pressuring you to watch anything. They just want you to watch period. Which means the same people on all the other social media platforms, the “winners,” don’t own all the airtime. They’re competing with the nobodies for views, you can never rest on your laurels, and nobodies can go to the top with a single clip, even their first one!

As for the comedians…

I was stunned how many there are. I mean I lived through the comedy boom in the eighties. You’d think all these comedians on TikTok would be crummy, complete amateurs. But in reality, they’re all professional. And some have hilarious jokes, that will get you chuckling even though you’re alone. Whereas others will say stuff that you think is funny, but it doesn’t stick with you.

Now I was mostly watching female comedians, looking for that one I’d seen previously. But there were some pros mixed in. Like Jimmy O. Yang, whose name I knew, I’d been exposed somewhere along the line, but I really didn’t know his material.

It’s the bit about the fortune cookie that kept me watching:


So I watched more Jimmy, he’s a cut above. And he’s got traction.

Not quite as good, from a relative nobody, who’s funny, is Isabel Hagen:


I could post clip after clip, but I won’t, I just want to say the more you watch the more you see who is a pro and who is close and needs better jokes. And then there are the ones who’ve carved out a career as actors, as voiceover artists, whose material is just not good enough to sustain them as a standup comic.

I don’t even want to listen to the new music.

I mean mediocre music is intolerable, whereas mediocre jokes you can endure.

So you’re now competing with the whole world. Not only those alive, but dead. And every individual only has a certain amount of attention. And multitasking has been proven to be a fraud, that’s not how the brain works, either you’re paying attention or you’re not.

And you thought the road to success was hard before…it’s so steep these days that four wheel drive won’t get you there.

But at least you can expose your work for free and get started.

But when you hear all this crap about going viral on TikTok…

I’m beginning to think it’s pure luck, you can’t really make it happen. The company can push your track, but someone who is creative has to choose to use it and to make a great clip with it. Once again, only great works.

So if you’re a musician…

Sure, the record companies can chase phenoms on TikTok…

But if you play music… Suddenly, you’re not only competing against musicians, but seemingly everybody! They’re all displaying their talent online. And most give up. But those who sustain…

This is not like the days of yore, where you could get by being mediocre in your own market because the big talent never came to town. No, now EVERYBODY comes to town. At least virtually.

The world is decomposing as we sit here. Becoming more and more individualized. We don’t know where to turn, we don’t know what to dedicate time to, and TikTok makes it all easy, IT CHOOSES FOR US!

As for the non-surfers, the non-users, pontificating negatively about TikTok, other than the Chinese data collection, I’m talking about the ones railing about misinformation…they don’t realize there is no mainstream on TikTok, it’s positively rural. A million hamlets and burgs, and there may not be a road from one to another.

But we all want to go on a journey.

If you haven’t been hooked on TikTok, you just haven’t used it.

You’re interested in something. And however obscure that might be, there’s someone talking about or doing it on TikTok. And all you need to do is surf. You don’t need to do any looking, searching, contemplating…just live in the moment and entertainment will come your way.

This is the opposite of network TV.

TikTok is where the algorithm works.

But you can’t beat the game like you can at Google or YouTube. It can’t be wired. You can just dive in and create, or watch.

And the more you watch, the more depressed you will be if you’re a creator. The competition is fierce, and winning the TikTok game, having a viral clip, does not mean you’ll get a big, rich Hollywood contract.

Something is happening here.

And the more you use the platform the more it becomes clear.

But don’t think clarity is just a few superstars at the top of the chart… NO WAY!


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