The Next Class of Digital Artists

Music and Influencers, The TikTok Effect, and the guy on Roblox

Welcome to Rohan’s Explorations, a semi-weekly place where I talk about creators, trends and stuff I’m paying attention to. This week I collabed with my friend Maximillian Yu, who is an A&R for a grammy-nominated record, does digital marketing for artists like Travis Scott, and manages a band called Beauty School Dropout.

Earlier this week I texted Max this TikTok baffled at the monthly streams Dixie D’Amelio was hitting, beating out some of my favorite talented artists:

Omar Apollo - 2.9M monthly listeners 

Glass Animals - 7.7M monthly listeners 

Rico Nasty - 3.2M monthly listeners 

Currently Dixie D’Amelio is at 9.6M monthly listeners. 

It’s still pretty crazy to think about, and watching the whole TikTok which includes many artists who I consider fairly large, I was confused. I mean really, who is still singing ᗷᕼᑌᗴᔕᒍYᗴᔕ … But apparently, a lot of people unironically listen to music made by influencers.

Music and Influencer’s Interesting Relationship

We can’t forget the Jake Paul 2017 Armageddon that was It's Everyday Bro, the song is at 270M+ views on Youtube and literally went platinum. 

Creators are constantly putting out music or transitioning to become artists. It’s the smart move because music is the only revenue source that can be consumed infinitely. A youtube video can only be watched so many times, a merch or collab can only be bought so often, but music is constantly playing in our ears.

Few other examples include: 

  • Tiny Meat Gang, made up of Youtube Stars Cody Ko and Noel Miller, at 1.6M monthly listeners. signed with Arista Records. 

  • jxdn, a Sway House member, at 3.1M monthly listeners. Signed to Travis Barker's label, DTA Records.

  • Kevin Creel, one of the first creators I followed making formatted content in 2018 on TikTok. Amassing around 3.1M followers he’s transitioned his other socials to promoting his music. 

We saw this with many of the Disney Channel Stars: Actors turned Musicians. Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, etc. Some which started out more regarded in music than others. 

Unlike conventional music artists, influencer music has stigma since a majority focus on diss tracks and comedic value.

Artists in the TikTok Generation 

In the industry, 1 billion streams was an exceptional accomplishment before the advent of TikTok. Now, if a song hits a billion streams with the assistance of TikTok we’re questioning whether the artist will have a sustainable career. Most teenagers and even us generally don’t know artists names’ or song titles but can recognize the melodies instantly.

TikTok lets artists hit unseen numbers at the price of real fans. 

Let's take a look at a few artists who’ve experienced TikTok virality and compare that song to the follow-up single.

  • Arizona Zervas now signed to Columbia Records.

  • Trevor Daniel now signed to Universal Music Group.

Note the severe drop in streams for the follow-up single for the three artists. Although Arizona Zervas’ didn’t experience as severe of a drop, his latest releases still follow the downward trend. 

Why were these Artists Signed? 

Labels value the massive fanbase these artists gained from their TikTok hit, although the challenge comes in retaining their newly acquired listeners. 

All 3 artists have the potential for long-term success and are in the early stages of developing their musical talent, stage presence, and marketability. Once assigned to a label team, an artist works with them to mature their craft. 

The golden exception to the TikTok effect is Lil Nas X. Columbia Records actioned spectacular marketing strategies, namely the Billy Ray Cyrus Remix, to boost “Old Town Road” after going viral. The label was able to A&R a great follow-up hit “PANINI”, and marketed in a clever way by releasing 4 remixes after Old Town Road helping sustain the lifespan of both the original song and Lil Nas X in the zeitgeist. 

But Lil Nas X is Also a Creator

On Twitter, sitting at 5.4M Followers, he posts memes, interacts with fans and understands the humor of the platform that ascends him beyond a typical artist. 

For his Roblox Concert, (which garnered 33M views) Lil Nas X took to TikTok to make a bunch of content getting over a million views each. Calling himself “the guy from Roblox”, strategically dueting fans’ videos, and following along trends that dictate the platform. 

Lil Nas X has something that some deem impossible to teach and what whole social teams are jealous of - he’s able to convert virality into true fans.

The Creator/Musician Hybrid

For the three TikTok artists we mentioned, their socials on all platforms are pretty inactive. They aren’t telling me new stories, interacting with fans or even fighting for my attention. At most, they simply announce a new project or thank their fans for stream numbers. 

This isn’t their fault, not everyone has the ability or wants to be both entertainers and create exceptional music, but those that can will outshine the rest.

The job of an influencer, who writes, directs, films, edits, and posts their own content falls on to the conventional artists who is already writing, recording, producing their own music.

A few examples include:

  • lilaltoid, sitting at 726K followers on TikTok and who recently won Lil Yatchy’s Coffin freestyle challenge, besides his rap verses he’s uploading a mix of trending sounds and general comedy. 

  • mxmtoon, at 2.4M followers and been making TikTok’s since 2018 following trends.

  • Coveysux, at 1.8M followers with a series explaining each character on his album cover.

Even traditional artists are realizing this. Take a look at Jason Derulo, Charlie Puth, and Lil Yatchy who are constantly interacting with fans and trends on platforms like TikTok. 

Our Predictions

  • TikTok Will Continue to Mold Music. (for better or for worse). TikTok artists will prioritize writing snappy lyrics and infectious melodies that compliment short videos.

  • More Creator Music. More conventional creators will release music resulting in less stigma associated with influencer music.

  • The Creator/Musician Hybrid. More artists who blow up on TikTok will successfully build digital presences, resulting in a new class of digital-first artists.

Thanks for reading Rohan’s Explorations, a semi-weekly place where I talk about creators, trends and stuff I’m paying attention to. This week I collabed with my friend Maximillian Yu, you can follow him on Twitter here

If you’ve made it this far, I’d love for you to email me back your thoughts and/or things you’re also paying attention to. Or you can share this post with someone cool :’)


I left my dream job

It's been awhile since I updated you all on my life + thankful for your time

Hey friend!

It’s been a while (over 6 months) since I put up an article on here, needless to say, I miss bringing you all something fun to read on the weekly + received a bunch of texts throughout this hiatus asking me to bring this back.

To catch you up to speed, in the past 6 months:

  • made the internet make this face 👁 👄 👁 

  • ran influencer marketing at a killer startup for 3 months

  • stayed at a hype house for a week

  • posted a youtube video

  • picked up playing guitar again

  • tried making rugs (like once)

  • overlistened to blonde by frank ocean (but can you really even overlisten to this album?)

  • started selling on depop

  • watched way too much TikTok

  • worked with Colin + Samir on a top-secret project launching soon

You might be asking - 3 months?

Around July, I joined a company carving their own path called MSCHF. It was my first full-time job, which I started remotely from my high school bedroom. I knew I wanted to be in the creator economy so running influencer marketing seemed like the most ideal job for me - just meeting cool creators and working with them - but quickly realized a bunch of struggles I was unprepared at the time for.

Starting a job remotely really made me struggle to develop relationships with the team outside of work, be in a constant state of work since I rarely left my house/room, and keep up a lot of my unhealthy habits. I was slowly getting more stressed and depressed while not understanding these feelings since I thought I had my dream job. I spoke with my managers to improve the situation, but it became clear that it wasn’t the right fit and so we decided it would be best to part ways. Even though my time with MSCHF was brief, I learned a lot from the team and continue to think of them as one of the coolest companies right now.

Two projects I had a blast working on were:

I consulted a few mentors, namely Phil Jacobson and Brendan Mulligan, when I felt these mixed feelings regarding my place at the company. They told me a few powerful ways to measure happiness and success in your current role:

  1. Measure on 30-day cycles. write down monthly what makes you happy and unhappy about work. If there are actionable steps you can take to change these things try to implement it in the next 30 days and come back to it. Writing these milestones will help you keep a clear sense of where you are at and what you’ve improved.

  2. Define your current and future role together. This is working with your management on what you're currently responsible for and building out what that would look like in a few months, even years. This helps everyone get on the same page about responsibility and helps you see what you can eventually grow into.

  3. Remember company culture is moldable. Companies are just collections of people and people grow over time. Especially at the startup level any new addition/subtraction to the team is bound to drastically change the working environment. Being one of the few at the table, you also have a lot of power in shaping the culture.

Future of this Newsletter

I’ve aimed to treat this as a psuedo-crm, keeping my mentors and friends up to date with where I’m at in this journey of life. I’m planning to write weekly/bi-weekly bite-sized treats rather than full deep dives. (my deep dives will be moving somewhere soon 👀) Things to expect from me:

  • Creator spotlights and rising stars

  • Thoughts around monetization, community-building, influencer trends

  • Companies building in the creator economy

  • funny TikToks and memes

As always, thanks for your time + space in your inbox! And if you’ve made it this far text or email me back, I’d love to hear how you’ve been and about any habits you’ve been keeping that make your days slightly brighter.

Institutional racism exists in Tech and VC too, and we must combat it

A brief note from my friend Hanad, an Associate Project Manager at M Accelerator in LA, Black creators to watch, and articles to read on defunding the police.

Last week I tweeted out saying business is not as usual. I still think any ‘social analysis’ take on the current climate is disingenuous to the movement that’s taking place in our country and wanted to dedicate this to sharing resources + amplifying voices.

That being said I want to amplify my black friends and creators I support. I asked my friend Hanad, who I met from entrepreneurial orgs at UCLA, if he had any thoughts he wanted to share. Namely, working in VC or Tech there are systemic issues we sweep under the rug every day. Many VC’s and companies are virtue signaling of how they are against racism with blanket pr statements while failing to recognize they are part of the problem or proposing ways to combat racism.

His note:

Working in Tech and VC, it might be tempting to think that because you’re in a vertical that is highly educated and in liberal cities, you’re in spaces removed from whatever possesses the screaming bigots we see go viral every few months.

Well, one of us did go viral. On the same weekend that Ahmaud Arberry, a black man jogging in a neighborhood, was followed and murdered by 3 white self-deputized citizens, Tom Austin, former managing partner at F2 Ventures in Minneapolis, Minnesota went viral for accusing a group of young black entrepreneurs of “not belonging” in a WeWork facility gym.

He is seen in the video calling the police on these men despite their insistence that they lease an office in the building and have every right to be in that gym too. The video is appalling and it's a glance at an ugly reality I’ve been witness to as a Black man in this field. Black people are thought of “not belonging” in the spaces of our peers like Tom Austin. They do not have a place in VC and Tech. I may personally have found my place but when I look around, I can’t say the same opportunity has been afforded to much else Black people.

Within tech and entrepreneurship, we seem to have some diversity in recent years, white people and a whole spectrum of Asian people. But there is a stark absence of black voices and faces. Black people are seriously underrepresented in the tech industry nationwide and made up only “3.1 percent” of the workforce of the top 8 Tech companies in America in 2017.  

Black representation in Venture Capital is even more abysmal, 81 Percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor.

In a 2015 report, black founders received a “mere one percent of venture capital (VC)” despite making up 12 percent of the U.S population. Lack of access to capital for black people is an assuredly systemic problem in America and it is echoed in the VC space. 

If we are to accept that racism is something that is ingrained into the institutions of America, we need to stop ignoring the issue that pervades in our home turf. Whether someone has or has not acted like Tom Austin within our vertical, our vertical has told black people they do not belong.

It is not enough to be not racist, we have to be anti-racist to break down the mechanisms that block black people from joining us. Instead of looking to find anecdotal examples to dismiss the barriers black people face, I urge you to use the resources at your disposal to educate yourself further on the issue of black underrepresentation in Tech and VC, champion initiatives that drive inclusivity, and amplify the voices of your black peers.

Black people belong in Tech and we belong in VC.

Black Creators

Even the creator world suffers from this inherent bias. Black creators are hard to find in mainstream niches. Working at FS for a bit, I saw this disparity first-hand when I was drafting talent recommendations for client proposals and always made an effort to diversify the roster. Here are a few that I continuously watch.


Currently living in New York, Sneako’s take on content is raw, highly unfiltered and offensive. Even if you may not agree with everything he says, he strongly articulates his message and gets you to think. As a 21-year-old, mixed American he’s built this loyal following that doesn’t need trendy thumbnails or catchy titles. Almost all his videos are demonetized but he makes a living off his merch and Patreon.

  1. Kelly Stamps

Calling her fans the Stampede. Kelly is refreshing. Her humor is dry, intelligent, quirky without trying too hard. She makes her vids feel like early days of youtube creators, no crazy thumbnails and actual conversational topics. She just 24 and many of her videos revolve around productivity, solitude and identity.

  1. Straw Hat Dan

    Dan uploads all original audios on TikTok and makes his on take on every trend. H is consistently hitting 1M views on most vids he posts. short quick-witted commentary with plenty of inside jokes with his fans - No one’s seen his hair yet, why is his basement ceiling so broken, and his range of accents… Def one of my favorite TikTok creators.

Few more to shout out:

Things I’ve been consuming

How Cut and Jubilee have adapted during quarantine

How the new normal has taken production houses to look to video-chatting.

‘Minimum Viable Show’ (a term I caught wind on from Li’s Newsletter) basically describes how we’ve all been relegated to the same production equipment resulting in an equal leveling between the individual and the production studio. The new differentiator is the entertainment value.

YouTube channels with high-production that make formulaic content using ordinary people have been around for a while.

Most notably, Cut and Jubilee take up a big share of this real-estate at 10M and 5M subscribers respectively. I’ve always been very fascinated with this long-form and inquisitive approach to content. Tackling hard subjects and bringing different perspectives to the forefront.

These companies were renting large spaces for their trendy all-white, empty room aesthetic but now are relegated to the democratic webcam we all possess. With Tiger King’s bonus episode exclusively filmed on videochat and John Krasinski’s SGN (a show exclusive to the quarantine era) getting sold to ViacomCBS, it’s safe to say production houses have started to adapt.

Cut and Jubilee have put out a few new formats amid the quarantine era that feed into the benefits of self-isolation. And adapted their older formats.

My favorite’s being Jubilee’s Dating 20 Women From Around the World and Cut’s Around the World Series.

Here are my high-level thoughts:

  • All content produced is now globally-relevant. we’re all living in a similar situation due to self-isolation, relating to someone across the world has never been easier.

  • The ability to recruit people internationally. Before these production houses would literally ask you to drive to their LA-based studios without compensation. Now everyone is a call away.

  • More focus on audio since bad audio is hard to ignore. To a generation who is constantly watching massive creators film with their phones, production value doesn’t really matter but audio is where it counts.

Creators have started using zoom and I’ve seen a few videos on TikTok telling stories using them. My current favorite is the TikTok Bachelor by @tuckerdoss. It’s a 5-part TikTok series, with 3 parts out rn. Watch the first part here.

Here are my Future Predictions:

  • Since the barrier of entry is low to compete with Jubilee/Cut formats, more people will try to do it.

  • Agencies will come out with packages and pitch ideas based around zoom-formatted videos to brands.

  • More creators will take to zoom/video chatting to be a new normal type of media to edit with.

There’s definitely a bigger conversation here with even Bon Appetit making a bunch of ‘@ Home’ content pioneering a mix of webcam and camera style editing so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If someone forwarded you this email click the subscribe button!

Thanks for reading and hearing out my takes. Here’s a few things I’ve been consuming this past week:

Gen Z's obsession with sharing the music

Chandler holding ur favorite album, Bill Clinton memes and a chat with Melody You, creator of @albumreceipts.

Recently Spotify announced Group Sessions, a feature that allows you and your friends to share control of the music being played. Countless people have been waiting for this feature and if you go to any hackathon there’s bound to be a few students making some version of this. (I’ve had multiple friends develop products for class projects and design portfolios) We’ve seen, and even early versions of TTYL that I worked on included sharing music.

There is a real social element of sharing music and no doubt that there is a potential market for brands and companies to integrate into this.

It’s basically impossible to open Instagram and not see one song or album shared on someone’s story. This got me thinking about the ways I’ve seen our generation share music. Today I wanted to show some examples of followings built around this and pose some thoughts on how to capitalize it.

Firstly, the accounts are hyper-specific.

Chandler from Friends cradling an album you love - it rapidly started to flood IG stories late last year. The page has gained a little under half a million followers but now sees low engagement with an occasional viral post. The idea for this page isn’t super unique, I even found a 2-year-old Reddit post on r/PhotoshopRequest asking for the photo.

This page follows a specific format of generating the identical meme with one difference. Many pages started to pop up based around music especially after this blew up (Drake from Drake and Josh, The Pope, etc).

But this leaves no stay-factor.

These images are extremely sharable but there isn’t really any benefit in following at after a point, you can just scroll through the 1350 posts searching for your favorite album and share it on your story. For the Chandler page, they tried to monetize it using Patreon, which might have worked when it was trending virally, but now the Patreon is pretty much dead.

Similarly, photos of Bill Clinton holding vinyl records plagued IG stories mid-April this year. Due to social distancing, many challenges started appearing on IG stories. On this website, you can select the albums and create an image. The meme is from 2012, but no page on Instagram has garnered a following.

The Future is personalized and hyper-specific.

Meet Melody You, an advertising grad from BU. She’s the creator behind a sharable Instagram page titled @albumreceipts, where she creates order-like receipts with the details from a specific album. 

@albumreceipts takes everything about what I’ve said above and takes it to the next level. I was so excited when one of the posts appeared on my IG stories and started to message the person. Next thing I knew, Melody and I exchanged some messages and hoped on a zoom call.

She told me it started out as a quarantine creative project for fun and didn’t think too much of it, mostly making albums for her friends and herself. Now 11 days later, the page has over 50K+ followers and has been shared by Ariana Grande, Smino, Kasey Musgraves - just to name a few.

She mentioned that both the Chandler and Bill Clinton album memes inspired her, as well as similar Reddit posts, but she didn’t have any real expectation it would catch on. By continuing the hyper-specific focus seen in those pages, the novelty of her content is what took to it to the next level.

The stay-factor is based around her personalization. Where anyone could make the memes above and although she might not be the first to make an album receipt, her personal touch on each post makes it so much more distinct. Her Followers have been printing out select posts for their phone cases, asking her to make posters, and requesting for countless albums.

Melody mentioned she’s in the process of monetization and wants to donate the proceeds to Non-profits supporting marginalized communities during this time of uncertainty. Check out the page here.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you have shared music. Have you seen similar IG accounts? What’s been your favorite hyper-specific account?

Also, I would love any candid thoughts on the newsletters! Has weekly been nice? Do you prefer the more thoughtful pieces or the lists of my new discoveries on the internet - or something in between?

I didn’t take this question to my twitter yet, but here are a few tidbits for this week:

Loading more posts…