Why 24kGoldn Is TikTok’s Biggest Success Story
It’s no secret that TikTok is having a huge impact on the charts across the globe, with artists such as Doja Cat and BENEE swiftly becoming household names as we find ourselves being both “Supalonely” and yet feeling like a “Boss Bitch” during this lockdown period.
One user benefitting hugely from the short-form video platform is American rapper/singer-songwriter 24kGoldn. The 19-year-old has utilized the app to gain over 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify in just eight months. With multiple viral hits and 2.4 million followers on TikTok, 24kGoldn is the biggest rapper you’ve never heard of.
“Everybody wants to be performing on the big stage at Coachella but very few people want to put in the groundwork that it takes to get there. I love the process”. — 24kGoldn
At the beginning of last year Golden Landis Von Jones, better known as 24kGoldn, took the decision to drop out of the University of Southern California (USC) with the sole intention of making it as an artist.
“Everybody wants to be performing on the big stage at Coachella but very few people want to put in the groundwork that it takes to get there. I love the process”, says Golden. While many 19-year-olds are spending most of their time playing video games and watching Netflix during the lockdown period, Golden is busy writing songs, studying music marketing, and reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Not denying that he is, of course, doing the former too — with Call of Duty being his favorite video game, and Tiger King his new favorite show.
Golden’s love of the process and commitment to pursuing a career in music has been evident since his sophomore year in high school. Never one to shy away from self-promotion, he took advantage of being surrounded by students, or as he saw them, potential fans.
Recounting one of his favorite campaign ideas, Golden says: “In college, I made some badges based off porn ads which normally say, ‘this ugly son of a b*tch is f*cking super hot b*tches’ or something along those lines and I changed it to ‘this ugly son of a b*tch is respecting super hot chicks’. I put my face on the badge and started handing them out all over campus so everyone would recognize me as being the porn badge meme guy who’s also a rapper (laughs).”
At the beginning of 2018, Golden devised his first official marketing plan for his single “Ballin’ Like Shareef”. After gaining significant coverage on blogs as well as support from DJ Booth writer Hershal Pandaya, Golden caught the eye of American record producer D.A. Got That Dope. It wasn’t long before Columbia Records started to show interest.
“D.A. played them some of my records including VALENTINO and they reached out saying they wanted to sign me just three months after I started at USC”, says Golden. “Once the second semester came round I was like damn I cannot do not both at the same time. So I dropped all my classes except for one so I could still have the scholarship. Once the year was over I took a leave of absence, so I can go back whenever I want within the next 10 years.”
Swiftly after signing, in February 2019 24kGoldn released his smash hit “VALENTINO”, which has over 187 million streams on Spotify to date, peaking at #92 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Armed with its catchy hook, brand recognition, and Valentine’s Day on the horizon, the track had some initial success but nothing in the realms of the numbers achieved since the track went viral in August 2019.
“Before TikTok, things were going okay but there wasn’t the rate of growth that I wanted to see”, says Golden. “Rachel from Digital Marketing at Columbia first told me about TikTok, so we put some songs on there but they didn’t really do anything and I didn’t really understand the platform. Then by some miracle, the right people who needed to see VALENTINO saw it, and once we got to something like 12,000 videos I knew it was going to be a hit as I kept refreshing every hour, and the numbers were crazy.”
Recognizing the potential of the platform the 19-year-old created his own account and started to post his own songs, share other artists’ tracks, and make his own funny skits and prank videos. TikTok users soon started to see an increasing number of videos featuring “VALENTINO” and would subsequently head over to streaming platforms to hear the track in full.
“We’ve seen far more people migrate to other platforms from a TikTok campaign in a shorter period of time than any other platform, especially with regards to streaming services”, says Sean Taylor, Co-Founder at ContraBrand Agency.
“Music is in TikTok’s DNA. Where it may feel like promotion on other platforms it’s welcomed as a part of the experience on TikTok.” — Sean Taylor
ContraBrand is a music marketing agency specializing in multi-platform content marketing and brand development, working with artists such as 24kGoldn, 6 Dogs, and Trap Beckham. The agency uses a mix of influencer marketing and traditional advertising to generate a buzz for their artists on TikTok.
“Music is in TikTok’s DNA”, Sean continues. “Where it may feel like promotion on other platforms it’s welcomed as a part of the experience on TikTok. In many cases, users actively go to the app in search of new music. The power that TikTok holds as a curator is reflected by the hundreds of playlists named some variation of ‘TikTok Songs’ on Spotify and YouTube.”
At the time of creating his own personal account in late August 2019, Golden had a very respectable 295,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Three weeks later, popular TikTok influencer avivasofia posted a video of her lip-syncing to “VALENTINO” to her 2.7 million followers, receiving over 545,000 views. Meanwhile, Golden’s duet video reacting to hers garnered 1.2 million views on the same day.
In the following week after those videos were posted, Golden’s monthly Spotify listeners rose from 972,000 to over two million. Fast forward one month to November 1st and his monthly listener count had more than doubled to over 4.7 million.
“The farther away you get from being inside the school system the more of a learning curve it becomes to understand TikTok.” — 24kGoldn
After seeing the initial success, Golden didn’t want to be dubbed as a one-hit-wonder with five minutes of fame on the platform, he wanted to capitalize on the opportunity. “I wanted to be known as 24kGoldn, not just that VALENTINO guy”, he says.
It would be fair to say that the 19-year-old didn’t take to the platform like a duck to water, initially brushing the platform aside when his friends told him to join. “I didn’t really understand it at first”, Golden admits. “I remember thinking, damn I thought I was young but I feel like once you get out of high school there’s a disconnect. The farther away you get from being inside the school system the more of a learning curve it becomes to understand TikTok.
“There are so many different communities that live on TikTok, people that exclusively do dance, people who exclusively do comedy, people who dress up in cosplay, I didn’t know what the f*ck was going on”, he continues. “But the more time you spend on there observing you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t.”
For the release of his single, “CITY OF ANGELS”, Golden was eager to replicate his success while ensuring that his promotion campaign was as genuine and authentic as possible to please his fans.
If you’re an active TikTok user it’s highly likely that you have heard the line “I sold my soul to the devil for designer”, a lyric that has become synonymous with “CITY OF ANGELS” success. The track was initially released as part of 24kGoldn’s debut EP, “DROPPED OUTTA COLLEGE”, in November 2019, gaining five million streams on Spotify prior to the TikTok promotional campaign launching in January.
“Not having real-time control of the snippet is one of the most frustrating parts about TikTok.” — Sean Taylor
Choosing the right snippet can make or break a track on the platform, causing a great deal of stress and lengthy decision making. “In many cases, the clip that distributors send to TikTok is not optimized for how users will interact with it”, says Sean.
“At one point there was a glitch where the sound was suddenly replaced with a different part of the song”, he continues. “For one this wasn’t the best part of the song and it also meant that users would see videos using the sound but couldn’t make videos to that segment anymore, which made for a long and frustrating two weeks. Not having real-time control of the snippet is one of the most frustrating parts about TikTok.”
Despite some hiccups, the campaign has proven to be a roaring success for Golden, with over 300,000 videos being created by users for the original track and over one million videos for the remix. As a result, the track now has over 142 million streams on Spotify.
Golden is, in his own words, a Gen Z artist, constantly building on his knowledge to ensure that he has more leverage in the industry than artists have ever had before. “I’m someone who likes to do my own marketing rather than just paying a team and letting them take care of it all”, says Golden.
“I would watch Sean’s marketing videos on YouTube growing up and he gave me a lot of ideas for how to promote myself at high school. I work best with people who respect that I have my own ideas and would like to have an influence on each part of the process and I think that came across in the campaign we developed”, he adds.
“There are artists with bigger followings than me but they’re big names with fanbases that migrated over instantly as soon as they joined the platform. However, I created my base and built my own community from scratch off my own back.” — 24kGoldn
Golden is not of the opinion that becoming an overnight sensation on TikTok is positive for an artist’s career despite the rate at which that is happening for many young singers, rappers, and creatives alike. “I’m glad that it took time for me to get to the place where I am now”, he says. “If I had just dropped VALENTINO and it instantly blew up it might have been really hard to follow that up and the challenge would be quite overwhelming.”
The 19-year-old views his rise to fame as being very different from that of other artists whose lives have transformed thanks to TikTok. “Nobody’s really done what I’ve done on the platform from the ground up”, says Golden. “There are artists with bigger followings than me but they’re big names with fanbases that migrated over instantly as soon as they joined the platform. However, I created my base and built my own community from scratch off my own back.
“I think that’s why people do respond well to me (on TikTok) because they feel like, oh he’s not just using the app for his own gain, he’s actually contributing to the community and partaking in the culture”, he continues. “Younger people are much savvier now and can tell the difference, even if it’s not obvious. You’ve got to respect their intelligence by making sure you’re as organic as possible.”
Golden is utilizing the lockdown period to continue working on his debut album and is excited for the next chapter of his career. “For me, the purpose of this album is to show people that I can do more than just make hit songs and that I am an artist who can make music that is worth being respected at the highest level. I’m not just some TikTok rapper, I can do this sh*t for real. I want to create an album that is worth being Grammy-nominated.”
Says Sean: “You don’t come across artists like 24kGoldn often. He has a thirst for business acumen and legitimate hustle that you don’t see in a lot of artists with his level of talent. He’s truly involved and his personality translates beyond music. Golden will be much more than a music star.”
While you may not know his name, TikTok has catapulted 24kGoldn onto the world’s stage. Having risen from 295,000 monthly Spotify listeners to over 11 million in just one year seemingly anything is possible.
As Golden tells me without a hint of doubt or hesitation, “I’m already the biggest rapper in my city. I’m going to be the biggest rapper in the world within the next five years.”