We’ve all had to adapt to a new way of life in 2020 but, for young musicians, change has been in the air for considerably longer. Pilloried by Donald Trump but beloved by pretty much every teenager who owns a smartphone, short-form video service TikTok has not only disrupted the social media landscape, but also started to reshape the music industry.
Born out of a lip-syncing platform known as Musical.ly - this was acquired by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, which merged it with its own TikTok service in 2018 - it can’t have escaped your notice that, over the past couple of years, TikTok has become a global sensation.
The platform’s algorithm, which promotes clips that are performing well, rather than just recommending those from users who are already famous, can put anyone on the fast track to viral fame.
Music has been at the heart of TikTok’s success, and has become a breeding ground for future hits. Nas X’s Old Town Road was launched on the platform, and it’s also provided career boosts for the likes of Lizzo, Doja Cat and Billie Eilish, whose music has been used in millions of TikTok clips.
Which brings us to Illinois-based three-piece Avenue Beat - Sam Backoff, Savana Santos and Sami Bearden - who took to TikTok in June to release F2020, a sweary ode to this dumpster fire of a year. Picking up praise from the likes of Will Smith and Justin Bieber, this has now amassed more than 16 million views.
We spoke to Savana Santos, who produced the track in her home studio, and asked her how they did it...
Congratulations on F2020 becoming a viral TikTok hit. At what point did you realise that the song had taken on a life of its own, and what was your reaction to that?
“Thank you! I think the next morning after putting it on TikTok it had like five million views already? And my phone was blowing up with everyone being like “WTF WTFFF?” That’s the moment where I was like, ‘Oh crap, we might actually have something here’ [laughs].
day 1 of tryna get this song we wrote to pop off so our manager will let us release it lol heLP ##avenuebeat ##originalsong ##fktrump ##blm ##viral ##2020♬ F2020 - Avenue Beat
One of the lyrics in the song is “I put out some music that nobody liked”. Was it a genuine sense of frustration that drove you to write F2020?
“Oh, definitely. Being a musician is a rollercoaster. It can be so hard, because there are so many moments where you feel like ‘what am I even doing? No one cares what I’m creating. Nobody wants to listen to my stuff’. But out of those moments come really good inspiration, and a hustle, and a drive. Which, for me, definitely led to F2020 being created.”
Was the track written specifically with the intention of creating something that would go viral on TikTok, or did its success come as a complete surprise to you?
“The track was honestly just me venting and whining [laughs]. Songwriting is like my lil’ diary, so this track was me just getting up on the mic and freestyling the feelings in my brain. No intention of it going from an MP3 to anywhere else. But look at it now! I’m so proud of my song baby [laughs].”
TikTok has a reputation for being a platform that’s used by a younger audience. Do you think, going forward, that it’ll become increasingly important for up-and-coming artists to have a presence and success there at the start of their careers?
“I think TikTok is amazing for up-and-coming artists because it levels the playing field. No one cares how many followers you have. If you’re making good content, you’ll get the audience. If you’re sharing great music, you’ll get the fans.”
How did you get into music production and what’s your current setup? Presumably you’ve been working from home over the past few months, so how did the writing and production process for F2020 work?
“I think I got into production when I was around 15. I begged my mom for Logic for Christmas, and then I just went to YouTube and spent hours and hours watching videos, tryna soak it up. You can learn anything from YouTube; it’s kind of amazing.
“My current setup is just a little jank home studio. A set of speakers, a shure SM7B, my Apollo Twin, my Mac. I’ve always worked out of my bedroom because I’m a lazy f*ck who loves to roll out of bed in my pajamas and right into a session [laughs].
“The production process for F2020 wasn’t really much of a process rather than me finding a dope guitar loop on Splice that made me feel some typa way, and then writing the whole thing to that. After I had the song written was when I went back in and created a beat/layers to really finish out the song.”
HOW TO PRODUCE A SEMI-HIT SONG IN UR BEDROOM 101; im ur unqualified professor, savana ✨ ##f2020 ##avenuebeat ##ImAMusician♬ F2020 - Avenue Beat
What’s next for Avenue Beat? Would it bother you if you were forever known as ‘a TikTok band’, or is it important to you for your music to reach a wider audience away from the platform?
“Hahaha amazing question. Honestly, I’m starting to realise that expectations for anything only create havoc in my brain. So I feel like, for Avenue Beat, we’re just gonna keep putting out music, and whatever is meant to happen with it will happen with it. And yuh know what, if we’re a one hit wonder? Then so be it; I’ll have a cool story to tell my grandkids at Christmas. Lol.”
Finally, what would be your advice to any musician who wants to create a viral TikTok video?
“That YOU CAN DO IT! I did it in my bedroom on a random afternoon on my laptop in like an hour. I think half the battle is fighting the part of you that says ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not talented enough,’ which is just so astronomically untrue. You just gotta tell that little part of your brain to F off so you can get to your potential, which is limitless.”