Photo by Joshua Valle
How Jake Miller Mastered TikTok To Connect With Fans During Lockdown
If you had asked recording artist Jake Miller a few months ago if he thought he’d be a huge hit on TikTok, he probably would have laughed at you. The singer, whose hit "Wait For You" blew up streaming playlists and radio in 2019, was not a fan of TikTok at all until COVID-19 forced him into lockdown with his family in Florida where he grew up.
"It was honestly the first day I got home, my sister was just nonstop dancing on TikTok, and it was really annoying," he says during a lockdown-friendly Zoom chat. "I’m like, 'What are you doing; what is this app?' She kept asking me to do dances with her, and I told her, 'I do not dance. This isn’t happening.'"
However, while tucked away in quarantine, Miller realized pretty quickly that TikTok might be the key to connecting with his fans, especially considering he has no idea when he’ll be able to get on the road again. That was when he made his first TikTok of a song he wrote and filmed in his house. He titled the March 22 video "How Long Will This Last" and recruited his parents and his sister to join him. In the song, he laments about the virus canceling all his plans and having to ration food.
"I would use household items to make the beats, and we would write funny lyrics about what we're doing at home," he says. In the first video, Miller turned to the sound of paper towels ripping and hand soap dispensing as just a couple of the unique sound effects that fit the theme of COVID-19. And though making light of a seriously heavy global crisis could be taken the wrong way by some, for Miller, it’s been a coping mechanism and a way to create content for his fans—not to mention a way to connect with his family.
"It was just a way for me and my family to do something creative together," Miller says. "I think when this is all over, we'll have those videos to kind of watch and look back on. We'll always remember this time as just being weird but fun for us."
Since that first video, Miller has created seven more original songs for TikTok, which he’s now dubbed his Quarantunes EP. His whole family—and even his girlfriend—have appeared in the videos, seemingly enjoying the spotlight as much Miller. "We all write; we all sing," he says. Interspersed with his Quarantunes songs are various other TikTok videos so Miller can keep his profile up and continue to connect with users.
And the videos are working incredibly well to not just engage with Miller’s current fans but to bring new ones in as well. "So many new people are seeing my stuff who have never heard of me. I'm getting Instagram DMs saying, ‘I saw your TikTok video on my phone. I went and looked up your music, and now I'm a huge fan,’ so that's why I do it."
His TikTok account since then has gained over 400K new followers, more than 25 million views, and three million likes. But the growth isn’t contained to TikTok: he’s also gained thousands of new fans on Instagram as well. "Anything you can do on a daily basis as an artist to keep being creative, keep gaining followers, and keep getting new eyes on you," he said. "Because ultimately it all leads back to my music."
27-year-old Miller, who has been making beats and writing music since he was in high school, has always kept his fans at the forefront of his career, so it’s no surprise that he’s used this time to find new ways to interact with them. After years of cranking out songs, in a variety of themes—from suicide awareness to heartbreak—his dedicated fans, dubbed the "Millertary," have been along for the whole ride. "As an artist, I understand how valuable that is and how rare that is," he says. "I feel like as long as I have them, I'll be fine no matter what." They camp out for shows all over the country, get tattoos of his lyrics, and bond over social media even if they’re miles apart. And now with Miller’s TikTok spree, his fans have a whole new place to hang out.
"They all seem to be loving [the TikTok videos]," Miller says. "I don't know how long this whole TikTok phase will last, but right now I'm just doing what I can to stay productive, creative, and not lose my mind in boredom." And the beauty of TikTok is that once someone has uploaded a sound to the social media platform, it’s there for more people to use in their own videos, which can make it spread rapidly. "I definitely encourage people to make their own TikToks to [my music]," he says. "Because I want the music to just spread and spread and spread. TikTok is a really great place to spread your videos to people who have never heard of you."
Other artists have leveraged TikTok in similar ways, including Drake, who utilized the video-sharing platform to blow up "Toosie Slide" as a dance trend before the song and video were actually released a few days later. On the flip side, artists who didn’t yet have record deals have been able to jump-start their careers thanks to TikTok’s algorithm helping their music reach millions of new people. Arizona Zervas, the rapper behind the popular TikTok song "Roxanne," had previously been releasing his music independently, but after "Roxanne" charted in late 2019, Columbia Records snatched him up and signed him to its label.
TikTok, which used to be Musical.ly, only launched in the U.S. in 2019 under that name through Chinese company ByteDance. Since its makeover, the video-sharing platform has grown exponentially and has become the place to discover new things as a consumer and get your talent out there as a performer. The app already has over 800 million users and counting with the number of videos multiplying every single day. What’s unique about TikTok compared to other social media platforms is that it doesn’t necessarily matter if you have any followers to start. Because of the way TikTok adds videos to its For You page—a unique mixture of content provided to users to scroll through—someone with zero followers could end up having a video that quickly goes viral. One viral video or sound that gets picked up by a larger account can catapult a TikToker into an elite level where they suddenly have a huge audience, a fact Miller is aware of and appreciates as an artist continuing to try to gain new fans and share his music. "This is a really great opportunity for if I'm an artist, I'm just starting out, and I have nobody who follows me, but I want people to listen to my music. This is the best way to do it right now."
Miller’s still not sure what the next step is for his TikTok account, whether he’ll continue to make fun little songs or pivot to more serious promo, but for now, he’s enjoying the bit of quirky fun he’s having. He’s still keeping his fans in mind, though, when he creates new music-related videos: "I put some of my unreleased music behind these videos," he says. "Obviously these songs aren't out. They're just kind of little teasers to show people what's to come." And a fact like that just goes to show how much he cares about making his fans happy, especially right now when the world can feel so bleak at times. “In a time like this where I'm not on the road and I can't see them face-to-face, it's super important to just stay in touch with the fans."
One thing Miller knows for certain is that he won’t be writing any real songs about quarantine or COVID-19. He's currently working on new music for a new project due out later this year. The first single from the upcoming EP or album (Miller hasn’t decided yet) is called "Saved Me" and lands May 15. He calls the song his favorite he’s ever written—and from a pool of hundreds of songs, those are big words. "It's always a really exciting time as an artist when you know that you're about to enter a new chapter in a new era," he says. "Musically, ['Saved Me'] sounds different." He plans to head into his new era in what he calls "a good place" because he’s happy in his relationship with his girlfriend and excited about the future of his career. And thanks to TikTok, he’s headed into his new era with a swath of new fans ready to buy and stream his music and buy tickets to shows. "As long as I keep making music that's true to me and they stick with me, I feel like I'll be good forever."