Should we be paying for TikTok sounds?
A sound from a recent unhoused creator makes a strong case.
Bing bong! —Kate
There’s a sound on TikTok right now that I can’t get out of my head, and if you’ve used the app at all in the past week, then you probably know the one I'm talking about: “Bing bong!” I’ve been saying to myself as I walk around my apartment. “What do you wanna tell Joe Byron [sic] right now? Sup, baby, take me out to dinner.”
That, and a number of other soundbites from Sidetalk, a “one-minute street show” created by NYU students Trent Simonian and Jack Byrne and frequently hosted by musician Gorilla Nems, have gone out-of-control viral on TikTok, becoming the basis of “the Oscar selfie of TikTok,” a video by Lil Nas X featuring Olivia Rodrigo, Jack Harlow, Normani, and more.
The celebrity-filled video has over 40 million views, but a stitch from a user named @blank_idk1 pointed out something necessary: the man whose voice is behind most of the sound is currently unhoused, and there’s a GoFundMe raising money to help his situation.
“Since you used his sound, you now each owe him $200,” @blank_idk1 says. “I didn’t make this up…these are the rules.”
The man, whose name is TJ, is speaking to the public through the account of Zoë McCreary. The GoFundMe set up in his honor has already earned over $30,000.
“You don’t know how much this means to me,” TJ says in a recent video, reacting to the wave of donations. “I never thought a dumb idiot like me would be this popular.”
Despite the outpouring of support, @blank_idk1’s video rubbed a lot of commenters the wrong way.
“So we should be paying everyone that makes a viral sound?” one user asked. Honestly…maybe?
I go all kinds of ways on this, because the free flow of creativity and the way TikTok facilitates the easy building and adapting and changing of content is exactly the magic that makes the app so remarkable (that, and the recently-leaked algorithm). But when that creativity reaches mainstream status—being lip-synced by glammed-up celebrities—there’s not yet an effective way for the creator to be compensated, and in some cases, their work can get forgotten altogether.
I’m thinking of a trend on the app that had a similar omnipresence back during early quarantine: “Excuse me, her name is Margo.” Ryleigh Hawke and their lizard Margo went so viral for their rap about Margo’s name that it became the basis of a Tiagz song. However, Hawke’s video was actually hopping on a trend originally created by a user named Gracie. Hawke had no way of controlling the fact that their video surpassed Gracie’s in popularity, but it doesn’t mean Gracie doesn’t feel like she got shafted in the process.
Something like virtual tipping still feels clunky on platforms like Twitter, but on TikTok, it would make a lot of sense. Whenever a video has sound potential, users specifically request in the comments for the creator to “make this a sound.” What if they could throw a couple of dollars their way to say thanks? What if TJ could earn money directly through TikTok instead of GoFundMe? What if TikTok paid me for this brilliant idea? All equally important things to think about.