I was sitting on a plane recently and noticed the girl in the row in front of me, earphones in, gesticulating into her phone’s front-facing camera. I couldn’t really make out what she was doing but it looked like some kind of upper-body only choreography paired with lip-syncing. She was quite obviously recording her actions and she kept repeating and redoing it.
I admit I was fascinated and wondering what on earth she could be doing. So much so that I ended up describing what I’d observed to someone I talked to a few days later.
“Oh yeah, that’s musical.ly!” said the person, who is also a parent, nonchalantly. “They record themselves lip-syncing to popular hits and then upload it. My daughter and her friends are obsessed with the app.”
Huh. Here I was, an early adopter in her mid-thirties who works in a tech-adjacent field, thinking I was fairly plugged-in — and I’d not heard much about this super popular app. Meanwhile, every teenager’s parent probably knew the ins and out of musical.ly.
Musical.ly: the video social app teens are obsessed with
musical.ly is a video social network app where users create short lip-syncing and dancing videos to popular tunes. The reason parents tend to know a lot about the app is that its target group consists primarily of teens and pre-teens.
60% of musical.ly’s user base is between 13 and 24 — only a short while ago an astonishing 90% of users were from that demographic. This obviously shows that while the core market remains teens, the app is now finding its way onto the phones of older age groups as well.
And with a diversity in age groups comes a diversity in content. Besides classic lip-syncs and dances, “musers” (as musical.ly users are called) now create a lot of original content, from songs, musical comedy and skits to fashion videos and much more.
Originally, the founders of musical.ly had set out to make an educational social networking app, where users could teach and learn via short-form videos. When the app failed to get traction, the founders pivoted and launched musical.ly. The official app was launched in August 2014 and now has more than 200 million users who upload around 12 million videos every day.
How musical.ly works
Musers record, edit and upload 15-second to 1-minute videos. They choose the music — or record their own sound —, and add various filters and effects. Recording options include different speed settings — time-lapse, slow, normal, fast, and epic — which leads to interesting effects when the videos are played back.
For those who are serious about it, musical.ly involves quite a lot more work than is initially apparent, from practicing the lip-syncing to coming up with hand choreography. Doing it well is not easy, which becomes clear in this video where musical.ly star Baby Ariel tries to teach her mother how to record a musical.ly.
Of course, musers have plenty of ways to interact with each other, aside from liking, commenting and following/becoming fans of each other. They can reuse (“remuse”) each other’s original sounds from videos. And they can connect through features like “Ask a Question” and “Duet”. The latter allows them to collaborate on videos without having to be in the same room. The videos are then spliced together or shown side-by-side.
The “Best Fan Forever” option lets musers select which ones of their followers can participate in a duet with them. Musers can also send private messages using the direct.ly feature and live-stream content using musical.ly’s separate live.ly app.
While musical.ly is only a mobile app and can’t be used via a web browser, content can still be shared to Instagram and other social networks, which has really helped the app spread and gain traction.
The new social media stars are born on musical.ly
It looks very much like musical.ly is for Generation Z what YouTube was in the aughts: the place where kids and teens with varying amounts of talent can rise to the surface and become stars. First, they take musical.ly by storm, amassing millions of followers, then they branch out to YouTube, Instagram, etc.
The more hearts (likes), comments and shares a video gets, the more likely it is that it gets featured on the app’s homepage. But it’s not just an algorithm that’s involved here; the team behind the app hand-picks stars and even grants little crown icons (similar to Twitter’s verified icon) to the most popular accounts. Musers often vie for attention using the #featureme hashtag, hoping to make it to the top this way.
While it’s primarily based on lip-syncing, the app is still a huge draw for the vocally inclined. And once they go mainstream, the musical.ly kids bring their fan base with them. The next Justin Bieber might very well be discovered through their videos on musical.ly.
First musical.ly, then the mainstream world
Take musical.ly’s first breakout star, Ariel Martin aka “Baby Ariel”, for example. The 16-year old Floridian who has more than 14 million followers on musical.ly is currently preparing to release her first album. Martin has expanded her stardom to Instagram and YouTube, even creating official tutorials for musical.ly. She still creates “musicals” daily and spends 7 hours a day editing videos for her YouTube channel.
Then there’s Jacob Sartorius, who first went viral with a Vine video speaking out against bullying when he was 11 years old before joining musical.ly. He quickly gained traction on the app and released his first single “Sweatshirt” in May 2016. He promoted the song on musical.ly, and “Sweatshirt” made it into the Billboard 100 — as did Sartorius’ second single.
The original target market for musical.ly might have been teenagers in the U.S., but the app now has users all around the world. Musical.ly is quite big in Germany, for example, with some of the network’s biggest influencers being based there. The currently most popular musical.ly account, which recently overtook Baby Ariel’s, is run by 14-year old German twins Lisa and Lena. They now have 20 million followers — that’s a whopping 10 percent of all musical.ly users — and have launched their own clothing line. And they just won a Shorty Award for “Muser of the Year” as well.
How hashtags work on musical.ly
Musical.ly is creating a strong sense of community by taking what Dubsmash introduced a step further. The way the app is built facilitates interaction between users and keeps people active. Part of that is the avid use of hashtags on the platform.
Musers tag their posts in their videos’ captions. Tapping on a hashtag leads to more content discovery. This keeps musers connected and allow tags to start trending. Hashtags can also be searched for with the app’s search function. Trending tags are prominently displayed on the search screen.
Videos on musical.ly are also grouped into a range of categories — comedy, animals, talent, vlog, etc.
Musical.ly regularly poses so-called challenges — often song-specific contests calling for lip-syncs or dances. The challenges are connected to hashtags as well and offer an opportunity for talented musers to get seen and rise to some fame as the challenges go viral. All entries using the hashtag are collected on the challenge’s hub, which also shows a description of the challenge itself.
Challenges like #WeekendComedySkit return regularly, others are one-time occasions, some come from the musical.ly team, others are obviously sourced from hashtags musers have come up with. Musical.ly even asks musers to come up with a specific challenge for July, for example.
The winning challenge/hashtag will then become an official musical.ly challenge in the next month.
Given how hashtag-friendly the app is, we’d love to add it to our roster of Walls.io-supported networks. Alas, musical.ly hasn’t released an API yet, so we’ll have to just bide our time and be patient.
How to use it for business for brands
While musical.ly offers no advertising options at this time, brands have plenty of ways to leverage the app for their marketing — and it’s all about partnerships, either with musical.ly or its users.
Musical.ly always shows information about the song being used in a video underneath the caption, making the app great for music discovery. More and more artists are turning to musical.ly to gain new fans. They’re promoting their albums or singles and some even launch or tease new music videos on the app.
Artists also create musical.ly contests, asking musers to use their newest song for a chance to win various things, among them meet and greets etc. It works because if someone like Baby Ariel lip-syncs to a new track by an artist, her millions of followers will see it, hear it — and potentially buy the music.
Musical.ly even started making use of the app’s music discovery feature for the #NextWave campaign. Each month, 15 new songs (mostly by emerging artists) are uploaded to the app. The song that generates the most videos is then featured prominently on musical.ly.
Meanwhile, the success and reach of musical.ly’s young stars, in a very ad-worthy target group to boot, has made musical.ly extremely interesting to brands outside the music business as well.
If you’re looking to do some influencer marketing on musical.ly, hunt down popular musers for sponsored posts on musical.ly or elsewhere.
Here’s Baby Ariel promoting the Lionsgate film franchise “Divergent”, for example:
Brands also create challenges and competitions, e.g. Coca-Cola’s music-focused “Share a Coke and a Song” campaign. With #ShareACoke, musers could win a FaceTime with Jason Derulo. The campaign even won a Shorty Award.
In June 2017, musical.ly gave brands another way to leverage the platform by launching original shows. The short videos produced by big media companies are sprinkled carefully among the user-generated content in the app.
The content is free, short, entertaining and often interactive with a call to action for musers to participate in a challenge.
MTV recently promoted the show nick cannon presents: wild ‘n out with a short musical.ly video showing bits from the latest episode and asking musers to upload their own “spit-takes” videos and tag them with #WildNOut.
What’s to come for musical.ly
A month ago, I knew nothing about musical.ly. And now I find it quite fascinating. The app is constantly evolving, adding new features and creating wider opportunities for musers and brands alike. The onboarding process is easy — the only thing keeping me from creating my first video has been my own awkwardness —, but the possibilities for those who master the app are almost endless.
Of course, it‘s impossible to tell what’s to come in the near future, but I wouldn’t expect musical.ly to go away quickly. I rather believe it’ll stick around like YouTube has, incubating young stars with huge social media followings. I even think it has more potential for brands than SnapChat currently has.
Smart marketers will certainly get right on it and familiarise themselves with the app to leverage it for their brands and clients. There are plenty of guides for musical.ly beginners out there — or you can just watch one of Baby Ariel’s tutorials to fully immerse yourself in the Gen Z experience. 😉