Finding the #Funk on TikTok

How via TikTok I stumbled into one of 2021’s most vibrant digital media communities — one related to a casual video game called “Friday Night Funkin”

Launched in November 2020 by creator Ninja Muffin 99 — “Friday Night Funkin’” — is a casual video game available to play on desktop computers. Content related to the music oriented game now clocks over 1 billion audience engagements across platforms like Spotify, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, Discord and I’m sure other digital platforms of which I am not aware. 1 billion engagements in a very short period of time — we are talking about since the game launched late 2020.

“Engagements” means social media posts, comments, and likes related to the game content, actual video game play, and streams of the video game soundtrack. Likely my estimate is low.

Video game creator Ninja Muffin 99 celebrates 5 million views of his game Friday Night Funkin’ since it launched in November 2020 ; but the related content and engagement related to the game is at 1 billion across many different digital media platforms

How I found the video game Friday Night Funkin’ via hashtags

I was discussing with a music manager what their plan would be for content in TikTok related to their client’s upcoming album release campaign. They told me they felt “TikTok is corny” and the platform doesn’t suit their client. I get it, most independent artists and their marketing teams feel exhausted by the amount of non-music content (e.g. not albums, EPs or singles — content beyond songs) they have to produce to engage with potential listeners and existing fans.

Furthermore it’s not just the volume of content, it’s the number of platforms this content needs in order to find the audiences. I love this 2020 graphic from Irfan Ahmad of Social Media Today which puts the platforms in perspective of planets in a universe. Make sure to scroll past this graphic to keep reading, it’s a long one.

I understand music marketers and artists can’t be everywhere, and in fact I am writing a whole blog series called “Don’t Split The Streams” where I talk about skipping marketing efforts on particular streaming services to maximize success on others.

Until recently, my mantra about focusing music marketing efforts and limiting the number of platforms to utilize, carried over to my approach towards TikTok. I felt being there would take away from our FSQ efforts on Instagram and focus on audience there. Yet TikTok and it’s impact on the music industry is just too large to be ignored. So I decided for 2021, I will make more of a push to create content for TikTok and engage with music communities on the platform. Related, TikTok’s year end report on music is extremely insightful.

Over the past year, I used TikTok lightly for my music group FSQ, mainly as a cool photo and video editor to create content which I then reposted to Instagram, but that’s about it. To get a better idea of how to engage potential listeners on Tiktok, I decided to take to TikTok to search for content related to hashtag #Funk, as of course FSQ, first and foremost is a funk musical group.

Upon starting this work, I discovered the majority of the content on TikTok related to hashtag #Funk is tied to Brazilian creators because it’s used as a catch all hashtag for all things Funk Carioca.

Funk Carioca is a Brazilian music genre that is wildly popular, also known in many other parts of the world as Baile Funk.

Finding any relevant #Funk content on TikTok is hard because it’s dominated by Brazilians talking about Funk Carioca, a Brazilian music genre ; 4.7 billion views of TikTok content tagged #Funk

It is hard for me to engage with a #Funk hashtag that is mainly about Brazil and Funk Carioca, so I went looking for TikTok hashtags more specific to FSQ and what we are all about — for instance, #PFunk — the hashtag that indicates music by the group Parliament-Funkadelic — who we share a musical affinity with. An even more precise tag is #Funkadelic. In this search for more specific #Funk TikTok hashtags, I found the hashtag, #FridayNightFunkin which I knew nothing about.

Various hashtags with the word #Funk in them and the respective amount of views they have on TikTok

I learned TikTok tracks hashtags by the number of views of content marked with those hashtags, where as Instagram tracks hashtags by the amount of posts carrying a hashtag. So you’ll have wildly different metrics to measure how hashtag marked content is performing on the two different platforms. One single post hashtagged with #Funk for instance could result in 1 million views, while 30,000 unique posts hastagged with #Funk could only lead to 60,000 views (2 views per post).

At time of writing this post, Instagram displays about 20,000 posts on the platform marked with the hashtag #FridayNightFunkin. Meanwhile, TikTok displays 300 million views of content with that hashtag. By the time you read this post, it may be up to 500 million views, or even a billion on TikTok.

I was immediately drawn into the TikTok posts with this #FridayNightFunkin hashtag. If you don’t already know the video game of the same name, you don’t know what you’re looking at first on TikTok. But there was something really cool about the Friday Night Funkin TikTok content when I first found it; most importantly it was the music that was grabbing me.

300 Million Views of TikTok content tagged #FridayNightFunkin

These TikToks carrying that hashtag include people dressed up as the video game characters (known as cosplay), dance competitions, fan art, and overall all kinds of stuff related to the video game. But you have to dig in a bit to figure out that there’s a video game out there connected to these TikToks. The music in these TikToks turns out to be the soundtrack for the game which is quite well, FUNK-y!

What the heck is this? Two TikTok users recreate the video game play of Friday Night Funkin’ in real life

I left TikTok for a minute to recapture my senses after being assaulted by all this hyper-manic content related to the #FridayNightFunkin hashtag. I then Google’d “Friday Night Funkin’” and discovered what I was looking at. Essentially it’s what known as a “rhythm video game” similar to the very popular game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR).

DDR is still an active title, though now 22 years old. For Friday Night Funkin, we are talking about a free game available for download for Mac OS, Windows and Linux. The creator Ninja Muffin 99 is taking donations for support. This is the download page for the game.

And here’s a video overview of what Friday Night Funkin’ as a game is all about.

Here’s the video trailer promoting the game Friday Night Funkin’

The gameplay consists of you, the player as a character called “boyfriend”, game trying to hit all the rhythm marks of the game’s songs. Each level of gameplay — they are called “Weeks” as they are being released individually over a period of weeks — has a different song, and you compete against various characters — the girlfriend, her dad, and her mom in terms of hitting the rhythm marks in the tunes. You’re trying your best to hook up with the girlfriend by winning each individual competition. Here’s a Fandom Wiki if you want to learn more about the game, as I’m just giving the most brief overview here.

The incredible success of the game’s soundtrack and music producer Kawai Sprite

I’m not a gamer and I do not plan on playing Friday Night Funkin’. Yet I will be listening to the game’s soundtrack by Phoenix, Arizona USA based music producer Kawai Sprite, aka Isaac Garcia. It’s available on Bandcamp and Spotify, YouTube and pretty much every streaming music service. Kawai Sprite notes on his Twitter that in September 2020, he had 100 monthly listeners on Spotify. Here’s where he stands today — at almost 200,000 monthly listeners.

The Spotify artist page for Kawai Sprite

Kawai Sprite also calls himself a pop music producer, not a video game composer. The video game soundtrack songs run about 90 seconds to 2 minutes long. Some of the tunes have rung up over a million views (listens) on YouTube, as the album is also distributed there. To my ear, the soundtrack includes songs that cover various music genres including straight funk, electro / freestyle, hyperpop, lo-fi hip hop and melodic house. There is not one overall music genre at work here, so the music should appeal to both casual listeners like myself as well as the Friday Night Funkin’ game players. It’s funky rhythms and fun melodies.

Chartmetric, which keeps a broad swath of data about music artists via Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and a bunch of other sources, uses this data to rank music artists in the industry. The metric is called “Cross Platform Performance”. Kawai Sprite was not even ranked by Chartmetric before December 2020 despite having a few music releases in 2019 before the soundtrack dropped late last year. He entered the CPP ranking at 472,089 on December 19th 2020 — a few weeks before the soundtrack was officialy released. Today Kawai Sprite is ranked at 15,000 and climbing. The longest of the long tail music that is ranked by Chartmetric’s CPP is usually scored at 400,000 while the mid tier independent artists are ranked around the 30,000–10,000 range. The top artist of today will score at #1 and at the time of this post publishing, the top three CPP artists are Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd. Kawai Sprite is among the class of successful independent artists (and actually many artists in that realm also have major label record deals too) at least by CPP ranking.

Chartmetric CPP Ranking for Kawai Sprite shows a rise from obscurity to successful independent artist in the matter of 2 months after the release of his video game sound track for Friday Night Funkin’
One of the songs from the Friday Night Funkin’ soundtrack, “Pico”, now is at over 1 million views

Kawai Sprite — self titled “shitty pop maker” — achieved what most independent music artists would like — millions of streams, and a dedicated following, via his partnership with game maker Ninja Muffin 99.

One of the very well known and great advantages of TikTok, is artists’ songs can go viral within TikTok, if the songs are officially available for TikTok users to create new content on top of. When making new TikTok videos or photo slideshows, users can pick background music from TikTok’s library of official songs, known as TikTok “Sounds”. Musicians working with a digital music distributor that delivers songs to TikTok will be able to get their music on to the platform and into the official TikTok “Sounds Library”. On that note, Kawai Sprite’s #FridayNightFunkin soundtrack is available for anyone to use on TikTok Sounds.

A Missed TikTok Opportunity for Kawai Sprite

In searching the TikTok content related to #FridayNightFunkin, I noticed a missed opportunity for Kawai Sprite. Very few if any of the TikTok posts hashtagged #FridayNightFunkin are using the official “sounds” aka songs from the soundtrack. That’s because for whatever reason, the songs are not appearing in search under “Friday Night Funkin’”. However, if someone searches for the artist “Kawai Sprite” on TikTok Sounds the soundtrack songs do appear. I’m going to reach out to the artist to let him know about this search problem. His music distributor may be able to help him resolve the problem.

Friday Night Funkin’ soundtrack isn’t discoverable by text search, but it is if you search for it’s creator, Kawai Sprite

I do give kudos to Kawai Sprite for officially publishing the soundtrack so he can collect music royalties on the streams and sale of the music.

Kawai Sprite’s publishing registration for the Friday Night Funkin soundtrack

The power of gaming, community and music

What began as my quest to figure out how to engage with funk fans on TikTok, turned into an exploration of how one casual video game — Friday Night Funkin 2020 — fosters a huge community of enthusiasts who create a prolific and diverse set of digital media content related to the title.

Being the game Friday Night Funkin is being released as a series of installments (game levels) starting in November 2020 and into February 2021, I’m not sure how long the Friday Night Funkin enthusiasm — and volume and velocity of related content production — will continue.

It’s mind blowing there are over 1 billion interactions related to the game, mainly through corresponding user generated content on TikTok and a myriad of other digital media platforms. Likely the game’s creator — ninjamuffin 99 — will capitalize on the community by releasing new levels to the game and potentially releasing future titles that will find the same kind of popularity.

Furthermore, the power of musicians collaborating across media segments is an important take away from the Friday Night Funkin’ story.

With regards to music and gaming industries coming together, I always see the collaborations going in the direction of musical artists being integrated into video game experiences (think Travis Scott concert in Fortnite), versus the video game experience leading the music, as it is with Friday Night Funkin’.

Music marketer Amber Horsburg recently wrote a music marketing post titled “How to Brand My Band”. In the piece, she profiles Seattle rapper J’Von and his ability to create community around an animated character he’s made of himself, titled catman.png. Multi media collaborations may create fan and overall brand affinity for a music artist, yet if in executing a multi media practice, an artist happens to tap into a community like Friday Night Funkin’s base, the content can go farther in terms of audience reach and engagement, and the artist’s music can find incredible consumption.

And one more lesson learned here — social media hashtags don’t always translate across the globe. Brazil and the community interested in Funk Carioca music are dominating the TikTok hashtag for #Funk.

I obviously have more homework to do on how to tap into funk interested music communities on TikTok to grow the reach and consumption of my music there and on other streaming platforms.

To the earlier point about the power of multi-media collaborations, maybe there are other media practitioners on TikTok — for instance dancers, animators, video creators — that I can partner FSQ with to develop funk content that these large audiences will enjoy. Meanwhile, my music distributor InGrooves does not automatically deliver our releases to TikTok so we will have to fill out a form to get the FSQ music into the platform.

Regardless, I’m glad my initial TikTok discovery phase for my future artist marketing strategy included coming across Friday Night Funkin’ and Kawai Sprite.

UPDATE: I had my group FSQ turned into Friday Night Funkin’ fan art.

FSQ as Friday Night Funkin’ fan art

Music Data Pro by Chuck Fishman: in depth about music marketing + data — specifically marketing musical artists on streaming services, streaming + radio.