TikTok and the Junos: how app supports for artists like Dax turns into award nominations

Popularity of TikTok and other social media platforms means artists can bypass more traditional

mediums of music discovery.

By Nick Krewen

Special to the Star

Initially, Canadian rapper and singer/songwriter Daniel Nwosu Jr. – known in the music world as Dax – wasn’t thrilled about the app known as TikTok.

The 28-year-old native of St. John’s and Labrador, Newfoundland, nominated for Breakthrough Artist of the Year on Monday’s Juno Awards ceremony in Edmonton – largely on the strength of his hit song “Dear Alcohol,” – said he first encountered the Beijing-based mobile app in the U.S. six years ago while working as a janitor.

“My first experience was negativity,” admitted Dax during a phone interview. “I didn’t really understand it. I had a negative experience with it musically. Six years ago, when I was an overnight janitor, I had a song go viral called ‘Cash Me Outside’ – and everyone was using the song, but no one knew I made it.

“So, I was a janitor making $7.25 an hour watching my song go viral and getting no credit for it. It took me a while to get acquainted to it, but I gave it an opportunity during the pandemic. I didn’t want to create content; I just wanted to show people what I do.

“After showing all these crazy music videos I made, people really started to take to them. Then they started to do really well and it just went from there.”

Fast forward to 2023 and Dax has 6.7 million followers on the platform, although he says his YouTube videos – he’s released more than 189 of them – were probably more responsible for landing him a deal with Sony Music.

But he no longer discounts the impact of TikTok.

“If I’m being completely honest and even thinking logically, I don’t think I would be in this position without TikTok, ” Dax said of his Juno nomination. “I think TikTok is a great platform that really helps, especially artists like myself that like to interact – I built a lot of this on my own – it’s almost like going straight to the consumer.

“So, I think TikTok is an amazing app. It allows you to connect. So, I think it’s played a huge role in  my career. TikTok is amazing.”

He goes as far to say that it’s a necessity if you want to gather a following in today’s music scene.

“It’s a platform that you’d be stupid not to use,” he asserted.

“It’s like leaving money on the table. If you’re not using TikTok and your goal is to connect with people and impact them with your music,  then not using it doesn’t make sense. I think every artist should be on there doing something.”

Dax isn’t alone in expounding on the merits of a video-friendly app that was introduced in Canada in 2017.

Many of this year’s Juno nominees –  relative newcomers like Tate McRae, Lauren Spencer-Smith, Faouzia, Ali Gatie and even veterans like The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne – have benefited from the buzz generated by their TikTok presence – and this isn’t the first year that the platform has peppered Canada’s major music awards show with nominees: previous statuette contestants include Jessia, Johnny Orlando, bbno$, Tesher, Powfu, Aidan 347 – the list goes on.

“Every year we see this – and  we certainly have for the last few years,” confirmed Allan Reid, President and CEO of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), The Juno Awards and MusiCounts.

“There’s breakout stories every year that we can correlate back to their support on TikTok. 

“This year alone, someone like Dax, with “Dear Alcohol,” has blown up.  We saw a couple of years ago  Jessia  was the big story – she won Breakthrough Artist of the Year in 2022.  Those moments are definitely happening and driving things. 

“We see that directly with our partnership with  TikTok for the Juno Fan Choice Award, which selected from singles consumption.”

It’s not surprising it’s so impactful: a 2022 survey by eMarketer and insiderintelligence.com forecast that 8.8 million Canadians are TikTok users, with those numbers increasing to 10.1 million by 2026.

And CARAS head Reid says that impact is directly resonating with the Junos.

“In some cases, those consumption numbers directly relate back to how our nominations work,” he explained. “That is the case with Breakthrough Artist and Breakthrough Group – as well as Juno Fan Choice and some of our other categories as well.”

One major difference that Reid is noting with the popularity of such social media platforms is that an artist’s success can bypass the more traditional mediums of music discovery.

“There are platform-specific breakthroughs happening, where you can see somebody become a massive star on TikTok and not have any radio airplay,” Reid observed. “And vice versa.”

Reid says it’s better to try to hit on all cylinders, combining social media success with radio airplay.

“When you’re hitting everything, that’s what really accelerates your stardom.”

Steve Waxman, a former Warner Music Canada vice-president who recently opened his own career guidance firm, agrees with Reid that budding artists should use every tool that’s available to them to advance their career – but he also has a caveat.

“People have a tendency to copycat,” he noted. “If someone does something and is successful with something, they go and try and replicate it themselves, as opposed to just being authentic and original and doing things their own way.

“Use these tools to tell your story, not someone else’s story,” Waxman advises.