The first time I heard about TikTok in the fall of 2019. My colleague at a New York cafe told me how Charli D’Amelio, the most followed person on TikTok, filmed a video at our house. “Who is it?” I asked as she tried to explain the application and D’Amelio to me. As a 22 year old recent college graduate, I thought TikTok was still referring to the song Ke $ ha. I felt out of place for once and dismissed TikTok as just a social media app that’s going to disappear. When the pandemic started, however, I was newly unemployed and forced to move back to my parents’ house in Texas (hopefully temporarily). I finally downloaded TikTok and created a free account, and spent hours mindlessly scrolling through numbing the world’s pain.
When I first saw a video of someone playing a vinyl record, it clicked. Being at home gave me access to 11 years of vinyl records that I had started collecting as a hobby in 2010 when I was 13 – something that was so much a part of my life. I had always wanted to show my records somehow on YouTube or Instagram, but it was too intimidating. With TikTok’s one minute limit, it felt like a challenge, but also just enough time to show off my records individually. Soon I was making videos documenting my collection with vinyl care tips, which I learned during my years of collecting. I have accumulated over 10,000 followers and over 600,000 likes on my videos. I loved the little corner that I joined.
Until I joined TikTok, I was always wondering what to post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. With TikTok, I immediately felt a sort of solace about the post. Now I understand why it was popular: it was accessible. Anyone could go viral. There was no need to put up a facade like on other social media sites. The “For You” page showed you anything and everything. Once you’ve followed and interacted with the accounts, the page might become very specific to your content tastes. The most popular creators were popular because they carved out their own arena and developed a sequel based on that niche, something that I was also developing.
To post my vinyl content, I used a lot of stacked books to prop up my iPhone, shooting the videos outdoors – at 100 degrees San Antonio heat – for excellent natural light. My first try was a heart-shaped record by Lana Del Rey released in 2017. It got over 100,000 views in just a few weeks. I couldn’t believe my initial post was working so well. I tried more videos, but my luck ran out for a few months, stuck at less than 500 views. When I had a tripod and ring light, I used my professional camera to make better videos that presented the recordings in the more detailed way I was aiming for.
I was as anonymous as possible at the start. I had never been on the Internet like this before. Still, after trying to match the initial excitement of seeing my first TikTok vinyl go moderately viral, my account was in limbo until I posted a video on my Selena Quintanilla record. It was one of the first voiceover videos I made, and it got over 20,000 views. It made me want to do more videos. This time, I realized I had to put more of myself in my videos. I really relaunched my account when I created another TikTok about my Lana del rey vinyl record in the shape of a heart. With the voiceover added and a detailed explanation of the record, it got over 200,000 views, beating my viral debut Lana TikTok. Seeing the increased views and increased interaction with people in the comments, I knew which direction I needed to take my content.